Save and Continue

Recently I was playing God of War III, and noticing something I take for granted much of the time, the savepoint. This is something that has become so integrated into video games that gamers hardly notice it after we discover what the particular “savepoint” looks like in the game we are playing. The saved game has been around for decades, and has become increasingly important as games have grown in length and complexity. I was reminded recently by Nancy Rappaport, a colleague and attending psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance about how the concept of the saved game may not be taken for granted. I was trying to explain to Nancy during a workshop certain gaming concepts, and she was explaining that her point of reference in playing video games was Pac-Man, and in a general sense video games from an arcade setting that early on didn’t always have savepoints, where the player was asked if they wanted to “Save and Continue.”

This may be useful to remember when you are becoming frustrated with a gamer who is not as concerned with the quantitative time (bedtime, for example) as they are with the qualitative time of getting to the savepoint. But that actually isn’t what this post is going to be about. Instead I want to return to the concept of what makes an Epic Therapist here:

Epic Therapists remember the importance of saving and continuing.
To start with, therapy is in many ways a savepoint. At certain times in their lives or week our patients arrive at our office, pause, and take stock of things. In his 1914 paper “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through” Freud alludes to this when he remarks that “In these processes it particularly often happens that something is ‘remembered’ which could never have been forgotten because it was never at any time noticed–was never conscious.” Like the savepoint in a game, the patient arrives at the place for the first time, understands how important it is to hold on to that progress, and remembers or saves it from repression. But part of what makes therapy therapy is the therapeutic frame, and at some point the session ends, and the patient goes back out into the rest of their life. They can’t just stay at the savepoint, they have to continue.

Readers have probably noticed by now that I draw frequent parallels to psychoanalytic theory and video games, and this is no exception. Our profession has a rich theoretical history that has grown from individual therapists learning from each other, disagreeing with each other, building on the prior work of each other and diverging from each other. Psychology as a field to flourish has had to frequently “save and continue” by writing these theories down in journals and now blogs, to take stock of what we have learned, but we’ve also had to move forward and continue to challenge pre-existing models. It can never be just save or just continue: To just save would stagnate our thinking and practice, and to just continue would mean we never consider thoughtfully the work we are doing.

In many ways, the problem with healthcare has been few if any savepoints, discouraging providers from taking time between patients to reflect before continuing on to the next patient. Interns in mental health agencies have many no-shows, and with no infrastructure to hold patients responsible to keep their appointments, these interns “continue” through the years where they should be receiving the most training with a fluctuating and diminishing number of patients to practice their craft under supervision.

Ask yourself this: If you were about to have open heart surgery and the doctor told you that he had only had the opportunity in medical school to practice the procedure 3 times because most of his patients cancelled or no-showed, would you feel confident in their ability? And yet we crank our interns through graduate programs based on the number of years rather than skills acquired, because the healthcare system is flawed and and patients are not held accountable for missing/cancelling appointments. This isn’t the interns’ fault, they are trying to get through to their knowledge and experience “savepoint,” but graduate schools and placements inadvertently become the parent shutting off the light because its “bedtime,” and we are producing generation after generation of clinicians who have had inconsistent or insufficient practice. This is continue without the save.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at the radical save mentality that permeates our profession. There are certain parts of the way many of my colleagues practice psychotherapy which have become extremely fixed, and I too fall prey to this at times. The 45-50 hour, a certain therapeutic stance, and my favorite, shunning technology. They bar their adolescent patient’s cellphones at the door rather than exploring who is texting them, refuse to consider Skype as an option let alone suggest it to their patients.

I frequently get referrals emails from several listservs, looking for therapists in Seattle, London, or Singapore. I enjoy practicing in-person therapy immensely, but does it ever occur to these colleagues to consider beginning to practice online as well? Why refer a patient to someone in Taiwan based on location when you could have one of your colleagues whom you know and respect take the patient on? On occasion I reply to these referral requests asking if the patient would be interested in Skype, but for the most part I’ve become reluctant to do that because I am pretty sure it doesn’t go anywhere. In terms of technology these psychotherapists are often in a lock-down save mode, and I foresee that they will resist change as the world continues without them.

My friend and colleague Susan Giurleo and I often find these things frustrating, and I realized today one reason why we may have this in common. We both went to Connecticut College in the late 80s early 90s, between the college presidency of Oakes Ames and Claire Gaudiani. In fact our graduating class became known as “the folks who knew Oakes.” And during this time our college had a motto that was drilled into all of us: Tradition and Innovation. Everywhere we looked, in all the college information and stationary were those words, tradition and innovation. Save and continue.

I have definitely tried to live that in my profession and my life of the mind. I’m a psychodynamically oriented therapist who uses Twitter and plays video games. I teach my students about Freud and Facebook. And I think that perhaps the affinity I find in the fin de siecle of the 19th century is how its denizens struggled to save and continue, to embrace the advances of technology then as we do now in the 21st century. In a recent article at boston.com Chris Brogan alluded to this when he said, ““The excitement for me about [social media] is, it’s gone from ‘Gee whiz!’ to ‘Now what?’ ”

Technology is here to stay and embedded in our lives, and today, like after the Industrial Revolution, we must learn the “now what?” To do this we can’t just rush forward and forget everything we ever knew, but we can’t stay stuck in a mindset from the pre-IBM world. Web 2.0 has arrived, and we need both tradition and innovation if we want to progress.

We must save and continue.

Comments

  1. Mike I love your articles but don’t lose your street cred – it’s God of War III.

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      LOL! That was a deplorable typo, thanks for having my back, Jason!

      • Anytime Mike. You keep writing and I’ll keep reading (Save and Continue). Now what about the scenario where your playing a game and you have inflated you confidence too much by skipping a save point and make a mistake. In the gaming world this means you go back to the last save point and retrace your steps, remembering to save next time. Is there an analogous scenario for this in therapy?

        • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

          Jason, I wanted to write sooner but got a bit swamped. My first thought was that skipping a save point and having to go back is analogous to the empathic failure in therapy. At the moment we realize we “died” we have to retrace our steps and often have to regain ground with the patient in terms of trust and attunement. What do you think?

  2. Hi Mike,

    As someone new just about to enter the profession, my impression is that the therapeutic world is one that is inherently “save and continue.”

    While it is true that many of my cohorts are not (yet) into twitter, blogs or contemplating about conducting therapy online or via skype, they are definitely into updating their skills and learning about as many different therapeutic techniques as possible. In other words, they are following the tradition but looking for innovation and new approaches…

    I admire you leading the way into the gaming arena!

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