Message from the Vice President – Ian Goldsmith
AAFT reflection and looking back over the past 12 months:
By March / April, Covid-19 was the only news. Flatten the curve, social distancing, debates about masks, travel restrictions, Cruise ships with infected patrons, borders closed to overseas travelers, lock downs, quarantine, working from home, masks or no masks, economic downturn and so on. I am sure you will have heard all this in your part of the world.
Again confused debate, was Covid even real, was it really serious, is lockdown really necessary, is it worth the economic pain? How long would this last?
We postponed our annual Family Therapy Conference in Perth just as you had to do the same with your Conference in Seoul.
In Australia ‘telehealth’ became suddenly a mechanism for doing therapy. Zoom and its equivalents became popular. Would ‘on line’ therapy be effective? Maybe this increased the number of people who could be reached – distance and a widely spaced population is, after all, common in Australia. Could couple or family therapy be effective or manageable on line?
Australia’s second wave in August was confined to the state of Victoria – think Melbourne. Other States closed their borders and thereby community transmission was restricted. Interstate travel stopped. The severe lockdown in Victoria went on for 12 weeks. Community transmission is now zero.
As I write this in early December we watch the rest of the world in various degrees of restriction still attempting to curb the spread of this virus. It feels very lucky to live ‘down under’ at the moment.
What of Family Therapy? What do we take from this Covid experience?
Is it too tempting to hope that the foundation idea of Family and Systemic Therapy, namely that we are all interconnected, that one person’s actions do impact others, might have become more prominent as a consequence of the pandemic?
Might this stress on collective responsibility begin to undermine the over arching neoliberal economic emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty? A loose observation is that those societies where this idea dominates have struggled to contain community transmission of the virus.
Might a greater emphasis on collective responsibility even flow through to tackling climate change and inequality, two great systemic challenges for the world? Or am I being too optimistic?
In Australia, despite 200 years of oppression and worse, indigenous wisdom from our First Nations peoples is emerging. They stress the theme of collective responsibility.
As Bruce Pascoe writes in Dark Emu, in indigenous societies, any decision made had to include the consequences for “those we will never know”. And Tyson Yunkaporta, in his book Sand Talk (cheekily subtitled How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World) says any individual who believed “I am greater than …” met with sanction and disapproval.
Using another Family and Systemic lens, might a different narrative emerge about how we see ourselves in relation to each other? It seems unfortunate that we adopted “social distancing” as the description for, what is in reality, “physical distancing”.
Strictly speaking, social distancing is not good, pandemic or no pandemic. Noreena Hertz, in her aptly titled book “The Lonely Century”, highlights just how much loneliness, or social isolation, or social distancing, has become its own epidemic. We need social connection, not distancing.
And so we get the end of 2020, already! In a year where time, sometimes, seemed to stand still, it now seems we have the end of the year upon us so quickly.
My colleagues from Bower Place in Adelaide remind us that one sense of “time” is that of an “internal form of intuition”. Symptoms can distort time anchoring people in the past or the unsolvable present. The emergence of phrases like “new Covid normal”, or “post pandemic” suggest efforts to grapple with time.
My colleagues urge us to consider that “lockdown has been a great distorter of time and a dimension we should explore with clients to both understand and support change.” As Family and Systemic Therapists, this, then becomes one of a number of new contexts for us to remain mindful of as we go about our work in 2021.
Best wishes to all of our members.