"In a world with abundant, actionable health data - both from electronic medical records and our everyday observations - we will be empowered to make better decisions and our relationships with doctors may significantly change."
My last post focused on psychologists’ concerns about self-help; i.e.: the danger of google-pathic checklists diagnosing abusers, users, and manipulative losers. The criticism is that identifying with those who were maliciously deceived leads to a victim mentality---the perception that a partner had never loved at all, but only manipulated our love to serve him or herself.
Now undeniably, countless numbers of websites have populated the Internet, demonizing celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and any authority figure whose larger-than-life-character can be comfortably reduced to a google-pathic diagnosis of malignant narcissism. However, most people resist pointing fingers unless there is sufficient reasoning to support such allegations. Websites such as those, discredit the serious work it takes to admit a beloved might be pathologically narcissistic and therefore, incapable of normal and healthy relationship.
When we search the net with keywords like Narcissist, Psychopath, Infidel, Liar-head, Pretender, and Rat Bazturd, we’re linked to thousands of sites about narcissism. Some are professional, some aren’t. I prefer a mix of both.
I've been writing cyber messages since 2002 and haven't yet found words fully descriptive of ‘objectification’, the precipitant to feeling disconnected from one’s soul. This disconnect is similar to, but unique from, rejection. Rejection hurts; objectification silences…clipping the tongue of even the most verbally fluent or educated. This is why it is imperative to find people who empathize with this 'felt' experience.
The advantage of the layperson's blog or website is personal experience in a descriptive narrative. Perhaps it’s terminologically incorrect to say “narcissists steal souls” but in the victim’s reality, anything short of metaphor misses the mark of emotional accuracy. The non-credentialed layperson is thus free to write from the heart, using meaningful metaphor in lieu of psychological jargon. Readers connect with one other’s stories, vicariously making emotional connections within themselves.
Professional websites describe theory with erudite language and psychological concepts defining human pathology. Readers glean in a head full of information, eventually making connections between psychological theory and human behavior within the rubric of what is considered ‘normal’.
Head and heart.
Head and heart.
Healing connects the head and heart
In my e-experience, professional websites educated my brain while the penetrating honesty of self-disclosure healed my heart. Nonetheless, educating gray matter failed to instruct matters of the heart. Isn’t it reasonable then, to seek respectful collaboration between academic research and experiential wisdom?
As concerned as some psychologists are about google-pathing people with DSM checklists, it may also be fair to suggest psychologists misdiagnose pathology where there isn’t any. Lay folk are reproached for having been given a hammer and subsequently seeing everything as a nail; but the corollary may also be true: once a clinician has a diagnostic manual, any client complaining of the human condition gets nailed to the wall. Psychologists ‘see’ what they expect to ‘see’, not unlike the rest of us who did not expect to see pathology.
Now don't get me wrong. I've personally known lousy therapists and equally lousy online groups. This doesn’t mean I dismiss the therapeutic value of psychological intervention. It means I think critically about subordinating myself to external authority, either singular or group authority. As cyber self-helpers discriminate between healthy and unhealthy groups/communities, we also wise-up to healthy or unhealthy professional support.
It’s my sense that E-Self-help is finally gaining respect, despite the ridicule, dismissal, and suggestion that non-professional groups are comprised of The Blind leading the Blind. Self-help has been demonized as dangerous; and yes, there are dysfunctional groups oblivious to oppressive GroupThink. And sure, there are crackpot gurus mesmerizing people and leading them over the edge of narcissistic cliffs, encouraging self-admiration and destructive self-actualization as desirable goals.
From my experience however, people eventually differentiate healthy from unhealthy groups---maybe even more quickly than separating healthy therapists from unhealthy ones. At least with self-help deference is not expected, it’s earned.
Self-help is highly effective when people relate to one another as peers, without an established hierarchy of authority. This in itself is empowering because we are not asking an authority to verify our ‘normality’. We begin to feel safe in our skin again after communicating with people like ourselves. And in a process of identification, increase our self-esteem and self-confidence.
On occasion, I've joined online commentaries discussing cooperation between professionals and lay people support. Professionals discount the credibility of self-help the way some laypeople discredit therapeutic legitimacy. Unfortunately, discussions quickly polarize and rather than valuing one other's contributions, people defend their turf, dismissing the credibility of the ‘opponent’. This is Either-Or thinking, a black and white mentality: pitting self-help and professional help against one another as if either side has all the answers.
I'd like to end this "Soliloquy to Self-Help" by encouraging people to read this essay by Tom Ferguson. Later this week, I hope to consolidate my thoughts about what constitutes a healthy self-help community from one that re-victimizes the victim.
p.s. Next Post: Choosing a Safe Support Group
A Guided Tour of Self-Help Cyberspace by Tom Ferguson, M.D.
"...I almost hate to admit how many hours I've spent over the last three years looking at what happens when consumers go online for health purposes. I think that as health professionals we're at a disadvantage in learning about this area. We're already behind because we were taught that we can learn all we need to know about health care from other health professionals, not from our patients. But in this area, it's frequently our lay colleagues who are doing the most pioneering work.
"Now let me identify two different consumer populations among those who use online health resources. First, there's the online newbie who's not particularly familiar with what's out there. And second, there's the veteran online self-helper, who's comfortable with the Net culture, has been using these resources for a year or more, and typically logs on to his or her regular haunts several times a week. I'm particularly interested in this second population---the veteran online self-helpers because I think their patterns of online behavior are typical of what we're going to see consumers doing in the years to come.
"So what do these veteran online self-helpers do online? Above all else, they communicate back and forth with other people. They send and receive e-mail. They read and contribute to the online mailing lists that cover their areas of concern. They visit the discussion areas on the commercial services and the newsgroups. And may attend scheduled or ad-hoc love chat groups that in many cases serve as online support groups. They sometimes search for information by doing a search of the Web by subscribing to an inexpensive news services to help them keep up on their areas of interest. And increasingly these days, they may create their own mailing list, Web site, or other online resources. But above all, they exchange experiences and opinions with others who share their special concerns..."
"...This is a fairly typical example of the high-quality responses people receive when they reach out to online self-help groups for support.
"I recently had an opportunity to cite this case example at a medical conference in New Orleans for psychologists and psychiatrists. After my talk, two very distinguished therapists came up to talk to me. They'd been asking themselves the question: "If this person had come to us as a patient, would we have been able to provide the same level of good help and support he received from the self-helpers he found online?" And they had decided, in all humility, that although they are both very well trained, highly-respected therapists, that they probably would not have been able to help him in nearly such an immediate, compassionate, practical, and powerful way.
"Now not all the interactions on the online support groups are this helpful and wise. But many of them are. I must say I've been very impressed by the ability of these online communities to provide high-quality information and support on both the emotional, and on the practical level. And they're often, though not always---quite impressive on a purely technical level as well..."
e-Patients Can Help. Let Us. Our Families’ Lives Are At Stake by Dave deBronkart
Dr. Tom Ferguson, Who Urged Self-Education, Dies at 62 by Nadine Brozan