Sunday, July 31, 2005

Cyberspace therapeutics

There's no doubt that cyberspace can be used for therapeutic purposes. In fact, some clinicians are doing email and chat psychotherapy, which are fascinating analogues to in-person therapy. As a clinical psychologist, I was intrigued by these kinds of interventions when they first appeared online and have had many interesting discussions with professionals who do this type of work. My colleague Michael Fenichel and I founded one of the first online case study groups to explore the pros and cons of psychotherapy in cyberspace.

But I've also been drawn to thinking about the therapeutics of cyberspace on a wider scale. Other than analogues to individual psychotherapy, how else might cyberspace help people address social and psychological issues in their lives? Well, there are thousands of online support and self-help groups that address almost any issue you can name. But what about computerized psychotherapy? Or the online communities that people join, the relationships they form, the information they discover, or even imaginary gaming and role-playing environments. Can they be therapeutic too? I think so, which led me to develop a psychoeducational program called eQuest that encourages a person to address and resolve some personal issue by exploring online resources, relationships, and groups.

The basic philosophy of eQuest is that developing a healthy online lifestyle can improve one's in-person lifestyle (and vice versa). Although a consultant might assist a person in this objective, such professional guidance isn't always necessary. On their own, people can discover and benefit from the therapeutic features of cyberspace.

Now this conclusion might seem obvious, but it's important to examine it in light of an important debate in the history of clinical psychology - a debate between what I'll call the Stuck Theories and the Growth Theories. The Stuck Theories (like traditional psychoanalysis) maintain that people are so locked into their psychological and social problems that they cannot change on their own. Some outside intervention, as from a mental health professional, is required. On the other hand, the Growth Theories (as in many humanstic approaches) state that people have an intrinic potential to change for the better, that this potential might be blocked by outside forces, but the internal push to change will thrive as soon as the right opportunities present themselves.

I'm leaning towards the rosy and optimistic Growth Theories when I say this, but I think cyberspace can provide those opportunities. The Internet is all about empowering the individual. When developing an online lifestyle, people have so many possibilties to explore - information, relationships, media for self-expression - that they are bound to find the right ones to open that path to personal growth.


Blogger Kool said...

Hi John,
I'm a medical doctor with a 17 yr old addict engrossed in World of Warcraft. I like ur idea that the internet may eventually be used to help him cure his "disease" :-) Meanwhile how can we best help him right the work/play imbalance & counter the dark forces?

2:55 AM  
Blogger John Suler said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:02 PM  
Blogger John Suler said...

There are some good web sites and books on how to attain that sort of balance. For example, check out Kimberly Young's site:

This page might be helpful too:

5:03 PM  
Blogger John Suler said...

That last url should end with a "html"

5:04 PM  
Blogger Kool said...

Thanks John, I've looked up both sites ; will work with the school & follow ur advice to lessen his need for gaming & to integrate his different worlds. I also got Anthony Wolf's updated book for parents coping with teenaged children; the internet merited one whole new chapter! My current strategy is to cut off my broadband, then re-negotiate with the rebel in my house for a work/play balance. Wish me success.

7:20 PM  
Blogger John Suler said...

Good luck!

4:27 PM  

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