Dear Therapist..."I'm Addicted to My Phone"
You write in your book about how therapy is a concentrated space where there are no distractions.
I want this, but I find it so difficult not to look at my phone. I feel anxious if I'm not looking at it and just walk around holding it. I look at it constantly when I'm at restaurants, watching TV, even in therapy.
Our sessions used to be in the room together and I loved being forced to have my phone in my bag. Therapy online, I hold my phone under my laptop and check it incessantly and even write messages while my therapist is speaking. I don’t think she can tell and I feel so guilty about it. My therapist is lovely.
The other week during a session, my phone died and I got so much out of the session. I was so bad this week though. I looked at my phone the whole time.
Do you have any suggestions? We talked about going back to face-to-face sessions and I think it would help! I think I'm a phone addict.
Dear phone addict,
Your message is brave and evocative and I'm immediately curious about your relationship with authority. Secrets are worth exploring, especially in therapy.
Consider telling on yourself to your therapist. What do you imagine would happen if you brought this up? Would you get in trouble? You're doing something you're not supposed to do – and you call it "bad" – what a delectable opportunity to explore rules and how you're viewed by others.
There's a sense that you're getting away with minor rule breakage, passing notes in class. Do you feel like a child in the dynamic, in this way? Is the guilt towards this therapist you've described as "lovely", but also yourself? Consider what your secret phone use costs you. I wonder if any part of you is wanting her to catch you. What a challenge. How does it feel to be noticed by her but not fully seen, to hide this behaviour?
It's fascinating to consider the shift that understandably happened when you moved to online therapy. With the immense uncertainty of the pandemic and lockdowns and loss and global change, phones felt like a thread of continuity and connection with the world. But even now, wherever you are, there's your phone.
Phones can feel like a comforting transitional object – reassuring and familiar. You're not alone in struggling with phone separation anxiety (PSA). It's also called nomophobia – the fear and anxiety about being apart from your phone. Well done for acknowledging your addiction. Phones creep easily into every area of life, especially if you use it for work emails and social communications and shopping and more.
Unless we cultivate protected spaces for ourselves, phones seem boundless and the battery life is the only limit. I love that you got so much out of the session when your phone died. It's as if you're longing for the boundary but you're going to keep pushing it until you're called out. It can help to put phones out of reach, not just at arm's length, but as far away as you would if you were meeting in the same room. You might find face-to-face sessions more beneficial. The commitment and effort of getting to a session out in the world can help you engage and there's a sense of accountability and protection.
Distracting yourself when your therapist is speaking is a way of tuning out and not listening to what she says. You're avoiding intimacy, defending yourself from difficult feelings. Playing along is not fully playing. Whatever else you're doing, you're there but you're not really there.
But there's more to it than that – it's also about the shame, even in therapy, of revealing but also concealing what is happening. It could be transformative for you to bring in this unlovely side to the "lovely" therapist. Will you be seen as "bad" if this unseen side-story comes in? Therapy is about what's out of sight. Your phone may not be visible in the virtual frame of therapy, but it changes the shape of your experience. Think about the symbolism of your relationship with your phone. The creative potential is rich!
Watch our interview with Charlotte Fox Weber about her new book What We Want