Central to this research was exploring characteristics facilitating and disinhibiting meetings at relational depth to explore underlying driving factors of change. The overall aim was to explore relationships between masks and relational depth. Viewing masks as a characteristic sought to understand further the socio-cultural impacts of masks on client/patient care and decision-making to meet at depth. This research demonstrates immediate social and international context due to COVID-19.
A phenomenological methodology was utilised. The primary research vehicle was an examination of primary data from semi-structured interviews. Four therapists who had used masks within sessions (where both therapist and clients wore masks) provided data on meetings at relational depth.
Interpretative phenomenological analysis revealed four themes: ‘epicentre of aetiology’, ‘loss’, ‘masked-disinhibition’ and ‘disconnection paradox: depth through disconnection’. Findings suggest masks are a characteristic that can facilitate and inhibit meetings at depth—acknowledging common factors, including how therapists related to masks as an extended part of the client, and mutuality within disconnection to masks, not one another, was significant.
Findings suggest the exigent presence of masks could facilitate or inhibit meetings at depth, regulated by what masks represented to therapists/clients at moments of contact. Yet, when both therapist and client appeared mutually disconnected (to masks, not each other), they found moments of relational depth within the disconnection. Masks are suggested as a characteristic that can influence meetings at depth. Opportunities for depth seemed reliant on individual capabilities to offer depth, emphasising therapists’ experiential awareness of their interoceptive process.