Couple years ago, I had the privilege of working with an elderly gentleman who immigrated to the U.S. more than five decades ago as a very young man. Although he has lived in the U.S. for a very long time, it was apparent that he still strongly identified with his home country both socially and culturally. Even the voices in his head spoke to him in his native language.
As a budding therapist, I was eager to establish a trusting therapeutic relationship with him, but it was probably very difficult for him to trust someone whom he thought was very different from him. In fact, we were very different in terms of gender, age, language, education, religion, family upbringing, acculturation level, etc. However, the more and more we got to know each other, we realized we had quite a few things in common, such as our love for slapstick humor, old movies, dancing, art, and spicy food. He became very nostalgic when he shared his teen years back in his home country and struggled to draw what he remembered from those years onto a piece of paper. Every little surrounding in his neighborhood embodied some kind of personal history for him: trees, walls, buildings, narrow alleys, cobble stone paths, benches, doors and even signs. Sometimes he would get frustrated because he couldn’t convey what his hometown was really like to me.
One day, I brought an iPad to our session. I used Google Map to find his hometown and zoomed in on satellite mode and street view. He thought I was performing magic! It felt like we were on a “magic carpet” swishing through his hometown where he was in charge of giving me a tour through time and space. The small little shops he used to hangout, the church he used to attend, the tree where he concocted silly mischiefs with his friends…they were all in this little screen device I brought in, and he was able to navigate and tell me exactly what kind of childhood he had. We shared laughs and awes as we journeyed through the streets of his hometown that surprisingly hasn’t changed much. He was sad how some things had changed but that provided us with more insight and awareness into what was really bothering him about his current relationships. At the end of the session, it was time for us to return back to present time and I could tell he didn’t want it to end. Both of us felt that this particular session solidified our therapeutic relationship in many ways.
It was the first and last session I ever used an iPad with this elderly gentleman because we both felt that the virtual trip was special enough. However, he told me that he wanted to learn how to use a computer to connect more with his grandkids who were too busy to visit him. That kind of thinking was truly monumental for him as he was showing motivation and taking initiative!
I don’t see anything wrong with using some help from technology to join with family members, especially during holidays. Many people theorize that technology creates social isolation and less meaningful connections between people, but perhaps it is only our fear that separates us from others and not technology itself.