Matrix Podcast: The Past and Present of Teletherapy

The Distance Cure


In this episode of the Social Science Matrix podcast, Julia Sizek, a Phd candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology, interviews UC Berkeley scholars Hannah Zeavin  and Valerie Black about the history and present of teletherapy, which describes all forms of remote therapy, from letter-writing to chatbots. Both researchers study the history and experience of these tools of therapy, which are often assumed to be more impersonal than and inferior to forms of in-person therapy. They discuss the past and present of teletherapy, how the ongoing pandemic has affected mental health care, and the business of artificial intelligence-based therapy.

Valerie Black is a PhD Candidate in anthropology at Berkeley completing her dissertation, “Dehumanizing Care: An Ethnography of Mental Health Artificial Intelligence.” Her multisited dissertation research has been conducted in Silicon Valley at a mental health chatbot company and in Japan at a mental health videogame company. Her research concerns how chatbots and other AI health might reshape our understanding of care and labor. She was recently awarded the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship to complete her work on her dissertation.

Hannah Zeavin is a Lecturer in the Departments of English and History at Berkeley, and sits on the Executive Committee for the Berkeley Center for New Media.she received her PhD from NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication in 2018. Her research considers the role of technology in American life. Her book (2021, MIT Press), The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy, is a transnational history of mediated and distance therapy, starting with Freud himself. Her second book, Mother’s Little Helpers: Technology in the American Family (MIT Press, 2023), considers the history of techno-parenting in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Produced by the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix, the Matrix Podcast features interviews with scholars from across the UC Berkeley campus. Stream the episode above, or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

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