Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Blogs as therapy

A recent article at washingtonpost.com described how people use their blogs as a kind of cathartic therapy. It gave the example of people writing about medical problems, and forming a community with other bloggers who shared that problem.

When discussing with colleagues this idea of "blogging as therapy," a common reply was that this really is nothing new. For as long as people have been writing, they have used it as a form of cathartic self-expression. Personal diaries and journals are a good example. Psychologists and other mental health professionals also have long noted the value of "bibliotherapy" in which people specifically use writing exercises to address and resolve problems in their lives, or simply to enhance their personal growth.

But there's an important difference between blogs and bibliotherapeutic writing. Blog communities actually combine features of personal journaling and support groups. People write to express themselves and their problems, but they also read and react to others who are doing the same. The blog enables much more social interaction than a diary, which traditionally is a strictly private, self-reflective affair.

Given that these types of blogs are a blend between personal writing and social support, an interesting question arises concerning "perceived audience." Do bloggers consider who might be reading their work? Are they writing, both consciously and unconsciously, to someone in particular? The Washington Post article pointed to some examples of bloggers being unpleasantly surprised by who in fact found their way to reading their inner thoughts, almost as if in their own minds the bloggers had lost track of the distinction between a private and public space.

It would be interesting to study how people experience the creation of their blogs. Do they perceive themselves as writing for themselves, as writing for an audience, or as a combination of both? From a psychoanalytic perspective, therapeutic blogging might be conceptualized as a type of "transitional space" in which the person simultaneously experiences the blog as "my space" (private journaling) and "our space" (support group).

26 Comments:

Blogger blue said...

I have two blogs, with just this subject in mind. On Xanga, I have a specific list of subscribers, most of whom I know in the real world. When I write something personal there, I'm expecting a reaction from that particular group. When someone outside that particular group comments, it's an opportunity for me to find someone who might have the subject at hand in common with me, and to learn about someone new.

My blogger account here is in no way associated with my Xanga account, and no one (whom I know) knows of its existence. I like the idea of a blog that is much more open and honest than I can normally be with friends, coworkers, and relatives all reading. If I told a friend here or there about it, or gave any direction to it from my Xanga blog, I would start to be much more restrictive in my writing style. Complete annonymity, freedom from any concern of any certain audience member, allows me freedom to bare all. Even still, I do not list names, just feelings and concerns I would not otherwise share.

There are two reasons I use a blog as my personal diary (I'm speaking of the one here, not Xanga), rather than keep documents on my computer that never see the net:
1) Because I can customize the look so much, there is a strong feeling of "my space" on my blog, as opposed to, say, a Word document. I have enough web design skills to make an offline version of the same, but I don't want it enough to go through the trouble.
2) I'm morbidly curious just what someone might say if they read this blog. So while I don't go advertising my blog to anyone (I wouldn't to you, either, except you don't allow annonymous comments, and I did want to speak), I still leave the option to comment completely open.

8:53 PM  
Blogger John Suler said...

Thanks for the feedback, Blue. It's interesting that you feel you can be more open in your blog than you can with friends.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

When I began writing on my blog it was to express thoughts and start writing...just for me. I didn't want ANYONE to know about it, even though I had nothing to hide. It felt vulnerable to let others into my personal world. But as I went back to things I'd written, it didn't make sense not to share it with those whom I'd written about; mainly my family. A pleasant and unexpected surprise I found through this kind of sharing is the support of other women who are out there thinking and feeling some of the same things. I think above all, it's a way of recording things that are special to me...a way to mark the loveliness of my life.

8:45 PM  
Blogger xinphoe said...

blog- cathartic? may be. For me the blog is a place where I give words to my thoughts. Yeah when i started it was to express myself etc. then i deleted the blog, i started again but now it is a place where i organise my thoughts or just 'say' them. The moment I formulate a thought and read it myself the relevance of writing the thought decreases considerably. I think it is just the process of writing, arriving which is important. Retaining the writings is secondary:)

7:43 PM  
Blogger John Suler said...

Well said, Lori and pooja. I think everyone develops their own unique relationship to and via their blog. It's always interesting to think about the "audience" that we have in mind when we write. I suspect that there always is an audience in mind, whether we realize it or not.

7:14 PM  
Blogger prospettivalconfine said...

First of all sorry for my english.
I knew your work in oct. 2004 when I was searching material for a little thesis on counseling online. It was very useful.
Now I discover your blog, especially this post. I can confirm your analysis by my personale experience. I've a blog on an italian platform born for politic reason, but after few time become something quite different.
I wrote and write about politic, but I write about myself too. Especially in this last period. And I use the blog like autotherapy. I write consciusness of my readers. I have some readers thet read me often. And I like it. But like "blue" anyone knows me and anyone knows me, except two people, knows the address of my blog. I'll be embaressed if someone if I offline knows find my blog.
I spoke about autotherapy, in strenght sense: because one month ago my ex boyfriend, whose I remain in contact with/for affect, is died, suicide. My blog become a strategy to make form to my ideas, to get out thoughts to difficuolt to support.

6:01 PM  
Blogger prospettivalconfine said...

I don't clearly understand the sense of "here always is an audience in mind, whether we realize it or not"
I try to explain my doubt.
I can think about an audience and
1) try to write thinking the reaction of the reader, a certain kind of reader (or a person I know), trying to provocate some reactions and not others, to leave a the imagine of myself that I want this reader have
or
2)write thinking some readers, maybe some specific readers (other bloggers that I appreciated for their comments and their blog), but with the hope that I can be understood, like I really feel myself
post like a messagge in a bottle that waiting for someone take it

it's quite different.

6:19 PM  
Blogger zeitguy said...

Does a poet write a poem aware of the public, or lost in thought?

Does a blogger write to inform or seduce:
an ur-self (a sort of platonic ideal self, which is built up phrase by phrase by reception),
an exterior person with an historical source (such as an old friend, perhaps unavailable now), a fragment of their own personality which has not been extinguished but cannot establish itself in the 'real world'(such as the artist they were as an adolescent who has given way to the organized adult),
a model audience (such as children project upon their tea party cohorts...)

I wonder.

I blog to wonder sometimes. Other times I blog to exhortate or amuse the one that wonders. Few real people intrude, but I have had audiences in the past, and have generally enjoyed interacting with them.

My current postulate is that people blog to give birth to imaginary beings they want to share the world with...but beings whose seeds are sown in the dark loam of a collective sleep. Once these creatures have emerged, and start to show signs of independence, the blogger can see them better, and judge them. Most often, they die. Sometimes they inherit the loom on which the blogger wove their previous self, and the new cyber-world ravels so.

I don't know if space and psychology intersect in these realms, except in the manner that a Bachelard might explicate. But I look for new clews all the time, with Ariadne shouting at me from the opening of the cave, and the sounds of the Minotaur's breathing coming from the dark within.

Think about the dead blogs. Do they gesture toward each other behind the moon, beckoning an alternate existance into being just beneath our threshold of consciousness, desire, and pain?

What would Rilke make of blogs? Would he retreat to a castle to write and revise on opaque laid papers from the princess' keepsakes? Or would he storm the blogosphere, besting the prosaic angels in their grey flannel lairs?

The difference between a fool and a wise man is that a fool is not allowed to make big mistakes. A blog seems to allow for bigger mistakes than a private journal or letter to a discerning editor...thus a blog seems to beckon toward the shimmering palace of wisdom....

A blog seems to be a megaphone or magic lantern inflating the dimensions of the quotidian to the scale of Gargantua. It gives dust the weight of boulders, and boulders the orbit of new planets around the sun.

But a blog might just be a crack beneath a mousehole, where the mites drop in silence into the dark, and where gravity is the only companion to the transparent bodies that accumulate there.

Does a blog increase the risk of confession over, say, a barroom or a long airplane flight with strange but sympathetic companions? Risk fuels the ardor of the repressed psyche, but the risk of blogging becomes one- sided. The greatest payoff has become great shame, now that the ecosphere of blog fame has been larded with the chattering avatars of early adoption.

Perhaps blogging is an act of love in any event. But the secrets blogged soon bloom and grow thorns against the suitor/blogger who thinks all flowers innocent, and all innocents listen, and all listeners are kind.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Baxt, LMHC, LMFT said...

I am a therapist myself and find it helpful to blog. It is always useful to write about how you are feeling. There is a fine line between self disclosure and talking about your feelings in my business. It is nice to just blog and have some fun from time-to-time

12:15 PM  
Blogger Maria Silveira said...

My humble contribution to the discussion. As a blogger and confessed depressive personality, with several suicide attempts varying from mild to very serious ones.

I happen to think that one of my most relevant 'qualities' - if I may call it a qaulity - is the love for sharing. If I see, hear, experience something special I immediately feel like sharing. Also, being an 'accidental turist' due to my professional and natural tendencies - I don't discard the possibility of profession having been chosen by those tendencies - I am a somewhat lonely person so I have chosen to share my 'discoveries' with this unknown universe, the Internet. My first blogs were just me rambling about this and that the other and I did get some visitors and comments. Having been away from the Internet the blog died of natural causes. A new depressive crisis brought me back to blogging in a more organised way. People kept asking me to tell the tale of my adventurous life and praising my writing abilities. When this new crisis arrived many friends asked me to sit down and write, writing being - in their words - the best way to handle this difficult moment. Obviously, it would have been the same if I had a journal but a blog provides me designing possibilites unavailable in a Word document, for instance and with some blog platforms, such as over-blog, one can even add songs to the articles! And that is what I have been doing at the moment. Telling the tale, writing letters that he - the one who abused me and brought me to this state of mind - will never read (there is a tiny little hope that one day he will, though), describing how it has started and trying to know what could come up from those simultaneous pieces of writings/ramblings, if it would be possible to put them together. Like putting my pieces back together as well. It is helping me with the healing - although Zoloft could do better and faster - and it is bringing people from 'real life' to ring me and comment about my articles. Embarassed of bein seen (if commenting on the blog) with a depressive person who has been locked up in a Swiss hospital because of that? Maybe. These new blogs have for me something about confession and exposure of my flaws and mistakes and maybe a faint attempt of explaining my bad behaviour in my bad times.

Thank you for the book and for the blogs. Both of them make me feel a lot less weird.

3:00 AM  
Blogger The Envoy said...

This rings true indeed. I blog both to shout out my thoughts from time to time, but also to escape from my offline life, effectively living a double life online.
Quite "therapeutic" to say the least, with all forms of escapism which mankind has utilized over the ages (yes, even chess is a form of escapism from the harsh realities of life, such traditional games are precursors of modern day video games).

8:19 AM  
Blogger Iqbal said...

hey man i checked this site and wow its actually great. www.drtherapist.weebly.com
thought i could held :D

10:34 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks for the feedback, Blue. It's interesting that you feel you can be more open in your blog than you can with friends. handicappers

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12:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, I think that blogging can actually be a great therapeutic habit because you can express what you truly feel in your own "personal" space in the Web. If anyone wants to learn about other therapies, you can visit this great site: www.talkwelisten.com
enjoy!

11:25 PM  
Blogger vantagepointcounseling said...

This is an interesting perspective on blogging and how it can be therapeutic. As a Tucson Therapist, I often encourage my clients to write. Writing on a public forum has some potential drawbacks, but with the write type of comments and feedback, it can be a way of stepping into more effective forms of self-analysis and growth.

9:01 PM  
Blogger David Hotz said...

Personally, I think blogs have their use for both a client and for marketing. Therapy blogs are limited to the point that you can't usually help a person the same on a blog as you can by providing a counseling session. But you can provide some help info on what you do, some basic advice and market deals on your services. One thing I like to do with a blog is express certain experiences that could apply to people.

Now as a business, your blog is there to market, attract traffic and improve your site SEO ranking. Blogging is good as long as you do more a few months of regular posts to make it worth coming back. Many sites only blog for a short time and then stop. It does require time and something worth talking about.

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10:33 AM  
Blogger IT Knowledge Exchange said...

'Psychology of cyberspace' seems more difficult than human psychology. Competition makes this place unfair & problematic. ....!!!!

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11:45 AM  
Blogger sir kodak said...

well this is true people take these blogs much too seriously for their problems. Which makes things even worse because it is not important every case is similar to your case.
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4:46 AM  
Blogger Richard J D'Souza said...

If your blog comments are "open" you are blogging to an audience. It certainly has a therapeutic appeal.

1:57 PM  

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