Viral Time

Time has brought order into space since Creation. We mark time three times daily, every week, every month, several times a year and now during Sefirah every day. Marking time gives meaning to the moment between our past and our future which we call present.

Subjective time is different for each person and for each family. We all know how work time can seem slow or fast, how we mark chores by the time they take. The European phenomenological school of psychiatry taught us that time drags on in depression, speeds up in mania, is fragmented in schizophrenia and so forth.

There is a special time to which as family therapists we pay particular attention: Family Time. One of the important aspects of Family Time is that it normally oscillates with World time. One important article, for example, explained how in American families the father who returns form the work world enters a different time zone and needs time to adjust.

Family Time is closer to the Unconscious than is World time. The Unconscious is timeless, Freud pointed out. In dreams the most distant events coincide, short movements take forever, long periods race by. Our unconscious can afford to ignore the outside order of time and use time in a different way. Family time has some kind of order, but is really dominated by unanticipated emotional expressions that take their own time.

In Corona times in Israel, the oscillation between World Time and Family Time has been disrupted. The outer world with its order is not routinely connected. Even weekly time is disrupted as we are informed at irregular and unanticipated moments about irregular time periods in the future. We cannot count down the days until return to whatever, the way we are counting Sefira. Families will cope with this matter in different ways, we can at times suggest ways to order time, we have much to learn from family ingenuity.

Here I want to emphasize a time that is part of our work: Therapy Time. Time has always been part of the therapeutic setting. Freud used a regular daily hour. We use a regular weekly hour, perhaps two but also regular. We note how the flow of our clients’ lives and feelings runs in synch with our meetings. We all experience the flow of time in a therapeutic hour. We can note how the first 20 minutes often collect thoughts and become focused at about 20 minutes. We know how thoughts and feelings flow in a different way towards the end of the session, whether it is 60 or 50 or 45 minutes. The idea of the setting is to create an artificial time frame to which the client adjusts herself.

During Corona times the Therapy Time has a special role in Family Times. As the outside is irregular, our regular presence can have an organizing effect on the family. A regular contact can create the unconscious movement in sync with these sessions. Some difficult feelings can be held until a session. Much of the family stress can be decompressed in these sessions.

We usually see the therapeutic setting as distinct from the World – it has its own logic. This is less true in Corona times. Here Therapy Time may need to adjust itself to Family Time. For example, we all know that we set once or twice weekly sessions according to the client’s ability to bear her inner world between sessions. If we now ask ourselves how the impact of our presence affects a client’s Family Time, we may find that our presence is needed more often and perhaps for less time. We have much to learn about Therapy Time during this period. I suggest that each of us pay attention to how Family Time and Therapy Time are working for each client and adjust our presence accordingly.