I would like to share with you my short experience doing video sessions with children from ages four to fifteen during this troubled period. I still work in my office, which is in a part of my home, so they can see me and the office on the video. Most of the children have chosen to continue the therapy. I tell the parents to let their child stay in a quiet room alone with the phone on video call. The children can then move with the phone…and the troubles begin! I can see their private universe; they show me their room, their bed, their toys, the pictures on the wall. They make me visit the entire apartment, their brothers’ and sisters’ rooms, even the parents’ room—a direct primitive scene! The camera is always moving, so it is sometimes difficult for me to follow, but this is interesting because I can see the world as they want to show it to me, with their eyes. I see the world from their one-meter height and it changes my outlook. Suddenly everything seems very big to me: the furniture, the parents. I can better remember what it’s like to be small, surrounded by things that seem giant, and maybe I can better reconnect with my infant parts and identify with them. Some of my patients draw on paper and show me their drawings. With one five-year-old child, we made up a fight with puppet and figurines, but this time it was my toys against his toys; a lot of aggressiveness emerged with this usually inhibited boy. With another child, I played mime games and dice games; with another, the hand game rock, paper, scissors; with another, we prepared a meal with a play “dinette” set by asking “What do you have at home?” and “What do I have in my office?” And then we shared a common meal. With another child, we played a hide-and-seek game, but it was difficult for me to find the child outside the screen. One child was in his kitchen and started to show me all the things he was forbidden to touch, touching the oven or bringing food out of the fridge, and I had to say, “No, stop!”
At the end of our time together, the children all want to continue the video session. Some ask me to show them their drawing folder that I keep in my office, and it was a relief for them to see that things stay in the same place. At first, the children seemed happy to stay at home, not go to school, and spend time with their parents, but it has only been four days, and now they are beginning to miss school friends and teachers. Some of them showed me their work from school, their notebooks, with a lot of emotion.
I will continue to work like this; for the moment, I don’t know how long it will be possible to keep contact, but I think we can do a lot of things on video session with children that bring up interesting things, that we can maybe theorize after.
…I can now add a few comments because now I have had three more weeks of practice in Paris working with children with video. It is interesting and helpful (I hope) but very exhausting for the analyst because it asks for a lot of concentration. Sometimes there are technical problems with sounds or image, and it is discouraging. For the children, it can also be difficult to maintain the video contact. In my experience, video allows for the emergence of a lot of aggressivity in the sessions. The child can lock his analyst in his toy box or wherever he wants by moving the phone. The child can attack the analyst directly on the screen. Sometimes I have felt like a turtle turned over on its shell which can no longer move. Now on the third week of confinement, I observe that more and more fantasies and drawings of the virus are coming into the sessions with anxiety of death or with the themes of healing or hospitals.
I can share with you a beautiful moment from a session last week. A six-year-old little girl created a moving story of a big ball rolling in the street that fell on a magic clock. The magic clock didn’t work anymore, everything was blocked; all the cars, all the people stopped—everything was blocked, and the big ball was sticky, and that got bigger and bigger. I asked the girl if we could do something to fight this ball, and she said, “No, we can’t do anything. We tried a lot for a long time, but nothing worked.” She was very discouraged at this time, and I too felt hopeless along with her. But I asked: “Are you sure we can’t do anything?” And she remained silent for a moment. We were both very sad, filled with a feeling of hopelessness at this moment. And suddenly she said, “No I know what will happen! Blue fairies will work a lot to make a big catapult to get rid of the ball—a big, big, giant catapult. It will be long and hard, but the blue fairies will make it work! And after that, the magic clocks will work again.” She made me feel very joyful and hopeful at this time, and I thanked her for that. The blue fairies made me think of all the nurses at the hospital who are actually working to heal people. I think during this session, even with the distance of video, this little girl was very connected with my own feeling of despair, and we were able to overcome it together in a therapeutic experience.
Julia-Flore Alibert, MD, is a child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst member of Société psychanalytique de Paris, working in private practice in Paris and in an institute for deaf children.
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