Binge Streaming and Psychotherapy - Our Cultures Desire For Now


Binge Streaming and Psychotherapy - Our Cultures Desire For Now, By David Fulton

In a world before iPhones, apps and Instagram I made a trip to the local Best Buy. It was 2005 and I was expecting to have a minor surgery. The recovery time lent itself to enjoying movies or TV shows in abundance. I had heard so many great things about this new show on ABC called Lost and decided to purchase season one’s DVD’s. No Blue-ray or high definition, just twenty-five episodes of what I thought would be standard television. Following my procedure, I settled in with my liquids, blankets, and three days of free time to rest to begin this curious journey into a group of people stranded on a mysterious island. One episode turned into two, two turned into four, and four turned into the entire first season in one sitting! So much for rest and recovery. 

It was amazing television! With each episode’s cliff hangers and shocking endings, I could do something I had never done before. I could simply press a button on my remote and instantly be back into the drama and the answer (Lost has few) to my edge of the couch anxiety. I did not have to wait a week to see what was going to happen next. In many ways binge watching took away the decades long process of week to week viewing and launched us into a world of being immersed in immediacy.

 It was brilliant and highly addictive.

Binge streaming has taken some of the “work” it required to be a viewer. Traditional week to week viewing allowed us space and time to reflect on the story, dialogue with others for potential plot twists and gave the story time to marinade in our minds. This is why psychotherapy is most effective occurring on a weekly basis. Therapy then becomes the place we dialogue about the week, process how the past impacts the present and assess the life you want to live. Binging takes away engagement with the material. It also absolves us of wrestling with ourselves and our own story in a way that disengages interest and moves into indulgence. Single handedly, Netflix has become the biggest buffet in the world except they do not serve mediocre prime rib or General Tso’s chicken but rather stories. And stories give us the opportunity to have one foot in the story and one foot in our lives. Story allows us to see ourselves in the characters and yet remain removed from situations and intensity. Our tears, joys and ambivalence regarding scenes and characters mirror a part of ourselves that we have resolved or are working toward resolving. If this process is rushed we fail to let the story penetrate our story and thus are robbed of its full potential.

Being in consistent weekly or bi-weekly psychotherapy requires a similar buy in. It requires us to look in, look back and look forward with the information we have regarding the first two.  And if rushed, this process flies over potential pieces of information which could be the key process to unlocking our story. One key piece of data in a movie or TV show can change the whole narrative arc. It is the therapists task to engage your story, and in many ways, be a relational historian of the character you have been and imagine newness amidst pain.

We want everything now. The crazy thing is now with a swipe or a click we can have any food we want delivered, a ride at our door in moments, or even gasoline delivered to our car while we sleep.  All of these apps providing ease and convenience are designed to do one thing…making life easier by removing some of the work. Now don’t get me wrong, these apps can be a lovely form of self-care providing ease amidst stressful moments. However, boiled out they speak to a larger reality in our culture that comes with an inscribed subtext of instant gratification. If we take our consumption mindset into the therapeutic process we rob ourselves of the struggle. The struggle is what makes a show.  The struggle is where the growth is. The process takes time.

Take your pick…slow cooked ribs or microwaved ribs, baking homemade cookies or buying store bought Chips Ahoy.

We crave the 6 minute abs advertisements but we know the answer isn’t with ease…the answer is found in the work. Showing up. Doing the work. Being consistent. But most importantly not doing it alone. Hence the success of CrossFit or other group based fitness classes. Which is why your therapist is with you. To bear witness to the unfolding drama of your life. It is like I tell clients…buckle up and grab some snacks and a good playlist because we are going on a long road trip. Often the scenery will be dull and uneventful and other times we will be glued to the window gasping in awe at the beauty behind every turn. But it is both the mundane moments and the breathtaking views that create the context for change and that process must not be rushed.  Nayyirah Waheed writes, “Be easy. Take your time. You are coming home. To yourself.”