Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Chandlers is Safer

There's more to this concept about blogging being therapeutic. Before words in previous posts are taken too far out of context, maybe it's a good idea for us to take a closer look; get out the x-ray vision, see what's lurking beneath what apears on the surface, at least, to be a marvelously good time.

Not that we need x-ray vision. If you've blogged awhile you might have come to realize that almost everyone is a little vulnerable, almost everyone is socially sensitive, at least to a degree.

Kids are particularly at risk for harm in social contexts. We think of them as more sensitive than adults. We professionals think of kids as a vulnerable population, in fact.*
And they blog, too, a very social activity with potential risk.

So this post is for them.

A high school student writes to me from North Kingstown High School in Rhode Island, asking if I would mind participating in an interview about blogging and its relationship to therapy.

Not willing to out myself with a phone number, I ask her to send me the questions. For sure I'll answer by email or write a post about it. She can copy, paste, interpret, disagree, then cite me as a reference for her paper.

Citing where you get your information is the kosher thing to do, both on or off the web.

Cyber-safety, you'll see, is the important variable to consider if you're answering the research question, Is Blogging Therapeutic? It's the confounding variable, for those of you who understand what that means.

If you put yourself in danger emotionally when you blog, the experience is not going to be very therapeutic.

Okay. Here we go.

1. How long have you been blogging?
Two and a half years. I can't believe it myself. All I wanted to do was teach. Now you know the color of my . . .

jacket.

2. Do you feel that blogging can have the same therapeutic benefits as keeping a journal?
This has everything to do with who is reading the blog, who is reading the journal.

Let's take a look at a journal, first. It is hard copy, pen and paper, or maybe an electronic file on a computer, a CD, or a flashdrive.

You might leave a paper/pen journal in a drawer, or inadvertantly make an electronic file accessible to others who stalk around the house.

That leaves your mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, house-keeper, or friend an opportunity to find it, read it, make a copy, blackmail you, send it half-way around the world, for all you know. Or perhaps have a heart attack (that would be your mother or father).

So in some ways, blogging knowingly for all to see on the Internet might seem safer. You can make a blog totally private, theoretically, so it is accessible only to those special people you invite. Of course, if you invite them and they don't read your blog, that might hurt.

You can get hurt you with the teeniest bit of criticism, too, open yourself up to all kinds of bruises to the ego as a blogger.

Bloggers can wait for weeks and nobody stops by, which hurts because the expectation, the hope, is that someone will comment eventually. Whereas journals aren't set up for comments. (Although some teachers have students write personal journals as writing exercises. And they might comment; I don't know.)

As far as blogging goes, however, even if it's by invitation only, any guest can copy and paste and show others what you wrote.

But let's just say, you're tough.

You want to blog, even if it leaves you vulnerable to mean comments, blackmail, expulsion from school, that sort of thing. Assuming you know how to clear your browser of cookies and don't allow comments to go to your email, assuming that you blog anonymously and no one knows who you are, then there is a slim hope that your confidences on a blog might be safe from exploitation.

Confiding, expressing deep thoughts, is a variable that makes blogging therapeutic. The writing process, however, is another.

Expressing yourself and getting things off of your chest with a journal OR a blog can be a huge relief, very much like talking can be a huge relief in therapy. On the other hand, if people read what you write and identify you, show your story to all of their friends, well, consider your life public record.

Not everyone wants to be an Ashley Dupre, not even Ashley Dupre.**

Let me make up a fun example to illustrate how blogging, in particular, can backfire.

Journaling can backfire when someone you don't want to read your journal finds it and reads it. The same thing happens to some bloggers who think, who hope, they're anonymous. This example speaks to the kind of stuff I see at work. You'll see that kids, in particular, don't always get the therapy they think they're getting when they blog. But they might wind up in therapy.

A couple comes to therapy and tells me that they have found their daughter's blog and read it regularly. She is a good writer, they have learned, and from reading her blog, they realize that she is very much into it, feels her blog is a fantastic place to just let it all out, all the junk inside.

The kid has netted a host of new friends, too, in the process. She has no idea that her parents are reading her blog.

She freely posts about her sex life and her many relationships. The comments on her blog also reveal that she has quite a bit of experience with older boys who praise her body.

She is thirteen.
You might think this is a good thing, perhaps, that her parents have learned about her promiscuity. You might even wonder if her whole reason for blogging, perhaps, was to out herself, to get caught, get help.

Maybe. But maybe not. You can't count on every parent to leap to therapy for the family. And not everyone parent is going to be able to resist losing it, reading that sort of stuff. There is such a thing as child abuse.

So it's about who is reading it.

3. Do you feel that blogging acts as a type of group therapy?
Sure. But let's first look at the active agents in real group therapy, face to face group therapy, the type you see in Bob Newhart's office on television, or whoever the latest TV group therapist is these days.

The active agents are all about feeling accepted, even loved, supported, and understood. A therapy group is a place of trust and safety. You can be yourself. Other group members might call you on your weaknesses, your faults, but there's a therapist there to keep it safe.

It's encouraged, too, that group members lift one another up, say positive things. You can learn social skill, including how to take criticism in real face to face group therapy. Then you're better prepared to face the great outdoors.

The one with a real sky. Sunny? Cloudy? Stormy? You can cope.

If you're blogging to get the same benefits, it's likely you are trying to establish yourself as a member of a small virtual community. And you can be one, too, if you visit other blogs. People comment, lend support, express love on one another's blogs. Even if only a few bloggers comment, but comment nicely, it feels good and feeling good is therapeutic. So it can feel very much like group therapy.

There really is potential to establish good relationships here in cyberspace as a blogger. Just don't get in denial about the downside.

4. Is there a specific age group/or personality that you feel would benefit most from blogging?
It's not as much about age, as it is the ability, the maturity to edit. And editing curbs your self-expression, as such potentially robs the process of that therapeutic agent. If you aren't careful, at any age, your secrets are open access.

And unfortunately, anonymity, as cool as it sounds, might really be impossible. (Here's that downside). You want your friends at school to know what's going on in your head, and you want certain people to read your blog. But those secrets of yours, on a blog are potentially out to anyone who stumbles upon it. At any age. Forever, really. Even if you try to keep the blog by invitation only. Life is full of betrayal.

In my humble opinion, it may not be possible to have that community and friendship and stay anonymous. There are people who might betray you, but you might out yourself in a weak moment. The temptation to tell people you blog is HUGE. It's overpowering. And if you don't watch what you write, self-exposure leaves you vulnerable to embarrassing not only yourself, but your family, your friends, or anyone you even remotely refer to in a story.

And it surely takes some of the fun out of the whole thing, editing.

But therapy, to tell you the truth, isn't always fun.

On the other hand, you can get the benefits of a community, without getting so personal. You can do that by writing only what you don't mind the whole world reading, and by visiting other bloggers and commenting appropriately on their blogs. They'll return to visit you, to say hello. Maybe often.

5. Are there negative aspects to blogging? If so, what are they?
Well, we've mentioned a few. Aside from the potential disclosure of unbelievably personal experiences to millions (potentially) of strangers, one of the negative aspects of blogging is possible trauma to the blogger, to the degree that it can become post-traumatic stress.

Toxic comments can do this to you.

Most bloggers enable comments. Unless you keep a blog private or don't allow comments (ask your techie friends how) you open yourself up to input from heartless individuals who say some very cruel, insensitive, derogatory, even vulgar things.

Some people can manage or delete comments like these and shrug them off. A kid, on the other hand, might have trouble forgetting the mental images that racist, homophobic, misogynistic predators leave behind.

In other words, you might need therapy from this process of trying to get therapy from blogging. It can be really ugly.

The cool thing about blogging, obviously, is that it brings people together. The downside, unfortunately, is that it opens you up to spammers and cyber-abuse, your average insecure, vitriolic human with nothing better to do. Blogging is not for the feint-hearted. Trust me.

6. Do you feel that it is beneficial to use a blog as an online diary?
I know people do it and I think it could be a really good thing as long as they don't publish it. Using blog space as free cyberspace is a great way to establish a diary, and it is secure. Save your diary as a draft. Don't publish it. It's still a diary, a record of your thoughts and feelings at a certain time of life.

You can write whatever you want, and if you're the only one who knows your password, no one else will read what you leave in cyberspace, assuming you leave it up there as a draft. When you want to read your diary, you can open the draft up, read it, and save it again until you're fifty and nostalgic.

No one else need know. And it's still on-line. Safe from the house-keeper.

therapydoc
*Researchers worry about the effects of their studies on vulnerable subjects, or populations.

**Ashley Dupre, a.k.a. Kristin, is the name of the nemisis of Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York, who hired her for her "escort" services. He didn't know who she was and she, according to her interview, had no idea who he was.

16 comments:

Mark said...

I think you did a very good job outlining the upside and pitfalls of using blogging as a therapeutic tool.

linrob63 said...

I created a blog so that I could participate in one of your carnivals last year. I kept at it, though I am not disciplined about it.

I have journaled from time to time, but I found that allowing access to what I had written was liberating. Journals are private --secret -- and for me, secret connotes shame.

I get to be anonymous and still find my voice. It is cool when someone drops by...cooler still if s/he leaves a note.

It's been good for me. Thanks for being the catalyst.

therapydoc said...

You're so welcome.

Mary LA said...

Very interesting entry. You don't mention blogging communities but the recovery blogging communities online are very supportive and encouraging.

Moderated comments means that I can put the crazy posters on a spamming list and never have to worry about them. And if I feel a comment is inappropriate, I answer privately and don't publish that comment.

Anonymous said...

You do a great job of outlining the upside of blogging-as-therapy -- and yet I'm still stuck on two parts of blogging that seem to be potentially hurtful or harmful (or both) when it comes to therapy-through blogging.

The first is anonymity -- obviously important if you are sharing personal details that you don't want to share with people who know you IRL. Although bloggers seem to develop "small, close virtual communities", these can (and do) disappear overnight -- without a word. Anonymous people come and go from the blogsphere. I can't count the number of blogs I have read on truly intimate topics (infertility, infidelity, child abuse, divorce, cancer and dying) where people have suddenly "disappeared" -- one day they simply stop blogging. The blog has apparently outlived it's usefulness -- as have the members who created a "small, close, intimate community" around that blog. Generally not the stuff that most "small, close communities" are made of...

The second is the fact that when you blog, you have no control over who reads and comments on your blog. This seems especially critical for a teen or young adult who looks for feedback and comments -- and does not have the experience to figure out who is making sense and who might have another agenda. Your story about the 13 year-old is an excellent example of this...one could imagine that many people encouraged her behavior, enjoyed hearing her exploits, and contributed to the psychological trauma that was already happening in her life. Although I haven't read this particular blog, I've seen it on happen on other blogs -- especially those written by teens or young adults. I'm sure you've seen it too.

The recent tragedy where a teen committed suicide online while others watched is yet another example of how many people will, at worst, encourage behaviors that are damaging and, at the least, will not actively try to stop it.

For these reasons, I worry about people who blog for therapy (esp. teens) -- those who reveal their secrets to people they know nothing about and take advice from strangers on deeply personal and important issues. Don't you?

therapydoc said...

But the damage done to the reader is in the reading. Kids don't need that kind of abuse. You don't either. But as an adult you have a better chance of deleting it and forgetting about it, not without a little pain, maybe.

Not all kids, not all adults either, for sure, have the capacity to ignore mean comments, expecially graphic comments that, for example, threaten rape or violence.

therapydoc said...

Mary, the comment above, the damage done to the reader is for you. I don't know why these responses are out of order using blogger.

To ANONYMOUS, thank you so much for that discussion. I forgot all about the fact that your "community" disappears, it is, indeed virtual and likes its virtuality. And that kid who killed himself on-line. Oy.

So people, look for real people, too. There are some very good ones right next door (or down the block, the real block, the real town, the one you live in)

But to say I didn't bring up the downside wouldn't be true. I cut and paste below so that readers, in case others didn't catch it, don't miss the point of the post.

Cyber-safety, you'll see, is the important variable. . .

If you put yourself in danger emotionally when you blog, the experience is not going to be very therapeutic. . .

Just don't get in denial about the downside.

If you aren't careful, at any age, your secrets are open access. . .

it may not be possible to have that community and friendship and stay anonymous

. . .post-traumatic stress.

. . .heartless individuals who say some very cruel, insensitive, derogatory, even vulgar things

you might need therapy from this process of trying to get therapy from blogging

The downside, unfortunately, is that it opens you up to spammers and cyber-abuse, your average insecure, vitriolic human with nothing better to do


And now we have to add, EMOTIONAL ABANDONMENT!

Anonymous said...

EMOTIONAL ABANDONMENT!

how do you deal with that from your mom?

Jack said...

I was outed more than once. Long story that I'll save for a different time.

Changed the way that I write, but overall I still feel the same way. There are things that I write about that I'd rather not discuss face to face.

But if someone did find it and confront me it is not like I couldn't discuss these things. It is something that I don't want to have happen, but am prepared for.

rosysunset said...

My take on it is this: I am not intentionally going to share as I'm not seeking lots of comments or to develop a community, but it would be irresponsible to write things about myself or anyone else for that matter, that would pose a problem if my "cover" was blown. I have a journal of raw, rambling emotion that is pretty different from the stories and stuff I blog about.

I think another reason to blog is that it gives a little bit more focus to the act of writing. It makes me want to talk about an idea, or write a story as if it is not just for myself (even if I'm the only person who ever reads it). I think a little bit more about the craft of writing in a blogging medium, which is fun sometimes.

The biggest issue that I think about is if somehow a future employer or colleague figured it out. I could see reaching a time in my life when I delete a blog for that reason, though I think anonymity in a professional realm is easier to assure....

Mary LA said...

Just catching up with the comments here.

Blogging should be approached with common sense and realistic expectations. Real-life communities are also fragile and I have been through the heartbreak of suicidal fiends who suddenly disappear without warning. That is reality, whether online or in real life. Often the people we think we know best are a mystery to us and this is true of online friends too.

When somebody contacts me over the Internet, he or she may be just who they say they are. But I proceed with caution and don't confide for a long while. The fact is that I can't smell liquor on their breath, I can't look into their eyes or see the trembling hands. I can't see the trustworthy smile.

Responsible blogging is the key issue for me. Anyone can find and read my blog and legal issues around libel or defamatory speech apply to blogs. I don't break others' anonymity and I use pseudonyms. I don't attack anyone online. I don't talk about stuff that makes me feel too vulnerable. I look for support in real life first.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Anonymous said...

Doc, I saw your passing references to the downside of blogging... it seems to underestimate the power of this medium to alienate and isolate in the name of a "virtual community". The online suicide is an extreme example -- yet it exemplifies the kind of detachment that permeates online interaction. Another instance is a reference to the terrorist attack in Mumbai, one person wrote: "Mumbai is not a city under attack as much as it is a social media experiment in action." With a community of friends like this, who needs enemies?

Ick.

Syd said...

I've enjoyed blogging but remind myself that I need to keep some things as personal. I can't air everything here, just as I don't in a meeting. Instead, it's about solutions and not so much about the pain. But that's how I like to share in meetings too--discuss the solutions and not stay in the problem.

Passionate Life said...

Great post! Blogging is certainly very therapeutic for me as well as others who share my interaction style and/or experiences. It certainly can be tricky particularly when you do what I do and post about your dating experiences. My blog is anonymous and I am very careful to alter the details of the person I am talking about so that nobody would recognize her. However, if the person herself were to come across my blog they would most likely recognize themselves.

In my four years of blogging it only happened once. The woman in question wasn't someone that I dated but rather someone I was considering dating. She had a mixed reaction. At first she commented positively on many of my posts. Then once I realized it was her, I apologized to her, but she became upset about a sensitive topic (I was struggling, very respectfully, with our ethnic differences and she was rejected a lot because of her ethnicity) and asked me to remove all posts about her, which I did.

I did feel terrible about that incident but overall I think four years of mostly positive experiences outweigh one negative one. So yes it can be both beneficial and dangerous but for me and I think most bloggers, blogging is well worth it.

therapydoc said...

Passionate, I love that pic OyBay on your blog.

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