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Business - Written by on Friday, January 9, 2009 18:35 - 11 Comments

Freud meets Facebook

I’m Jeff Perron, a Research Analyst Intern at nGenera in Toronto. I’m immersed in some pretty fascinating research at nGenera and am happy to be able to share some of my interesting finds. Any feedback and comments are very much appreciated.

We’ve all heard about how technology, namely the internet, is ruining lives in a number of different ways. Personally, instead of resisting and complaining about the fact that we live in a “plugged-in world,” I’m more interested in how digital interconnectedness can directly improve quality of life. One field that is important to quality of life that could benefit from embracing innovation is mental health counselling.

Traditionally, mental health counselling is delivered behind the closed doors of health care institutions and the private offices of the professional delivering the treatment. This represents a significant barrier to care that is particularly relevant to NetGeners, who can be reluctant to access traditional, face-to-face counselling (particularly in instances of social phobia or agoraphobia). 

In this article, I learned that psychologists seem to be picking-up on the need to make changes to the traditional model of counselling in order to provide more help to more people. What exactly are they suggesting be used as a tool in counselling NetGeners? Social networking sites, namely Facebook.

Online counselling (or e-counselling), is not entirely new. (The Wikinomics Playbook [p. 31] actually discusses how wikinomics principles can be applied to mental health treatment). However, more engaging e-counselling models are foreign to many mental health professionals, particularly for use with NetGeners (although check out this grief-counselling site for teens).

It is promising to learn of mental health professionals who are “reaching out” by adopting new modes of engagement in order to meet the needs of NetGeners. The full potential of social networking sites as counselling tools has obviously not yet been realized. However, to provide the highest level of care to the greatest number of people it will be necessary for health care providers to tap-into these channels.



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Jan 9, 2009 19:23

The permalink to the previous post (http://www.wikinomics.com/blog/index.php/2009/01/09/broad-bandages-aren%e2%80%99t-the-solution/) isn’t working properly. It yields only a box reading “No comments yet.” Also, comments are disabled on the previous post. I’m using the latest version of Firefox on Tiger.

Naumi Haque
Jan 10, 2009 13:44

Problem solved – thanks for the heads up Paul.

Dr. J
Jan 10, 2009 22:22

Of course, the issues of confidentiality have yet to be well-researched and figured out such that the ‘typical’ practitioner could engage in this kind of communication and remain within ethical codes and legal regulations.

Jeff Perron
Jan 12, 2009 9:56

Dr. J,

Certainly. I agree that not all practitioners should “jump online” and counsel clients indiscriminately.

I think that the type of counselling that I mention in the post deserves very serious consideration as a feasible alternative/adjunct to traditional forms. More research is needed, but hopefully such research isn’t discouraged by practitioners who may be reluctant to see such innovative practices in use.

Thank you for your comment!


Dr. J
Jan 12, 2009 11:22

I agree. But the regulation of the profession tends to lag behind the innovation, and in this context (and every context) a regulator will have to ask how the public is protected by any given practice.

Currently, a key issue is cross-jurisdictional services, where someone in one locale is delivering (virtually) a service to someone located in a place they aren’t licensed to work.

In a way, a simple idea like using Facebook chat to counsel someone (something I have done, but to a colleague in a problem-solving context), spins us off into issues like trade and mobility barriers across provinces (and States, although the legislative climate for mobility is different in the U.S. than in Canada.)

On a related note, I am an avid Flickr user and one day I noticed a post in a group I belong to. It started something like “How do you…” so I thought I’d check and see what kind of technical advice I could learn from. It continued (I’m paraphrasing here) with something like “How do you cope with depression? I know it’s off-topic but I take pictures to help me feel better. But lately it just isn’t working the same.” What ensued was one of the more supportive discussion threads I’ve seen in a long time. If you filtered out the outliers (as I think of them – all the “therapists suck” comments, all the “get over yourself and move on” comments – which were fewer than I expected) the net result was a) a sense that many people experienced depression in some form or another (expected given the base rate) and b) that many people did many interesting things to cope with it, and ultimately transcend it. So, in the end, looking for photo talk, I, as a psychologist, walked away with an informal survey of what people have found works in their everyday life. Which, of course, I added to my mental library of things to suggest for the next client I see who struggles with depression.

How very Wikinomical :-)

Jan 13, 2009 7:45

I am counsellor, though of other type. I am a legal counsellor, but this same discussion applies to our profession.

I like the idea of net interaction for any problem to be solved, but I think that one of the critical issues to be solved when dealing with psychological problems, is to be able to face your situation and have those difficult conversations in the traditional way, not hidden behind a computer.

Jeff Perron
Jan 13, 2009 10:00

Dr. J. – I’m glad you brought up the concerns around regulation. In most cases, I believe, regulation does its job to protect the involved parties. In other cases it is a symptom of bureaucracy that likely poses a barrier to implementations that will help a great number of people.

Your example is a great one, speaking to the power of collaboration and, dare I say, therapy, outside a traditional setting. Thanks for sharing that!

Jeff Perron
Jan 13, 2009 10:09

Nano – I certainly believe that “exposure” as opposed to insulation is critical. My thought is however, that these online interactions can act as a bridge between living with the feelings of isolation/insulation and real-world exposure.

Digitized interactions can never replace rich, face-to-face interactions (so long as humans possess DNA that evolved in an environment of face-to-face interactions). From what I gather, you share this belief (correct me if I’m wrong).

Thank you and keep the comments coming!

Jan 13, 2009 14:15

Face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced, however, net counseling could prove to be a way to convince those who do not believe in therapy or psychologists. If they have a taste of the benefits, they might change their views towards therapy.

Jeff Perron
Jan 13, 2009 14:25

Nano – That’s a great point. My thinking was more along the lines of “easing” the client into social interaction. The idea that online counselling may be used as a sort of “trial run” for face-to-face counselling hadn’t come to mind. Thanks!

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Does the Web make us happy? - Part One
Mar 30, 2009 20:00

[...] a number of examples pro (a CBS report on internet addiction) and contra (an earlier post on how the power of the Web is being harnessed by therapists to treat clients) the Web’s ability to elicit happiness come to [...]

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