Full disclosure: I’m a 100% online counsellor and a fierce believer in the power of my friend The Internet, as a potential provider of support and self care for everyone.
There have been a number of articles recently questioning whether or not therapy ‘works’ online, and it’s got to be said: they’re pretty dismal and filled with holes that I could spend an entire blog post poking holes in, but I shall restrain myself.
Aside from the problematic language around the word ‘works’, isn’t it just fear-mongering backward-thinking to focus on the mechanics and the problems rather than look forward towards the possibilities? Isn’t it even a bit privileged to assume the only way therapy can be ‘real’ and ‘successful’ is in-person in an office (who does this leave out? Does this say therapy is ONLY for folks who can attend a session in an office and sit with someone in person, even if they are from a different culture or have a disability or feel so anxious it’s a struggle to leave the house?). Sorry, I did say I was going to restrain myself…
The truth is that success in therapy is hugely subjective and largely based on relationship and commitment.
In 2017, when:
- marginalised people use the internet to speak about issues that never saw the light of day
- when we seek and find all manner of information and support from across the entire planet
- and where we even fall in love
Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the internet can make available and facilitate healing, both in relationships and as self-care?
To show you how, here are 4 creative ways to use the Internet in your own self care routine.
Name it to Tame it
The idea of ‘naming’ a problem that is plaguing you has become comical: overused and underrepresented. To have any affect on your ability to deal at all, it really has to be rich and meaningful.
So here’s a way to do that: Spend some time focusing on and getting to know this problem. Say the problem is around anxiety. What are the sensations in your body when the problem is dominating? Is it tingly or heavy? What colour is it? Does it remind you of a person you know or a character from a book or TV show or game? Is it multi-storied (can it be good and bad all at the same time)?
Once you have an idea of this, go to Google Images and type in whatever it is you’ve named this problem. Don’t overthink it; just write whatever it is you came up with. Then scroll through until you find something that just grabs you.
Speaks to you.
IS the problem.
Copy the image and send it to your phone. Put it somewhere you can easily see it and visit it regularly. The more it is ‘external’ of you, the more you bravely get to know it, the more likely you are to be able to tame it. One of the co-creators of Narrative Therapy Michael White based much of his work around this idea: ‘You are not the problem, the problem is the problem’. If you’re curious to know more about this process, i’ve written a post exploring Instant Messenger Counselling Possibilities.
Find others going through the same thing
You are never alone in the age of the Internet. However finding good virtual support groups can be tricky.
That’s what is so great about the Internet! You can often scroll through at least one level of conversation before deciding if the group is for you, and you can leave very easily if you decide a space isn’t the right one after all.
Some advice for finding a safe space: notice if the website is well moderated and if the conversation seems rich and supportive (rather than people just ‘dropping bombshells’ and running). The same goes for Facebook groups. If the Facebook group is closed or private, well facilitated, and has active conversation then it’s a pretty good bet that even if moderators miss something inappropriate the members won’t. Groups like this are nothing short of life saving, and you can find connection and healing in the most unexpected online homes.
To give you a clear idea, here are a collection of groups :
- If you have any kind of mental health issue there’s Healthful Chat, which is a global community of chatters via Instant Messenger or Skype.
- If you’re looking to de-stress and find allies in the practice of calm and concentration, there’s a closed Facebook group A Year of Mindfulness.
- If you are a survivor of sexual abuse or assault, you might turn to Pandy’s which has several layers before you can really join in the conversation. You must be a survivor yourself and there is zero tolerance for trolls.
- If you are dismayed with the state of politics at the moment to the point where it’s affecting your health, there are closed groups like Impeach Trump Now which can help you find allies and friends and activist options even if you live in the tiniest of towns.
- If you find gardening helpful or like the idea of exchanging goods rather than money, you might find a local Facebook group where people are doing just that and it spills into the physical world. In my area there is a group where people post pictures of an overabundance of fruit or veg or things they’ve made, and then ask to swap for things they don’t have. What I see is people then offering to bake with the items as an exchange, or someone saying ‘i’ll swing by yours at 6pm. Would you have time for a cuppa?’. Gorgeous.
Once you dedicate a little time (and are feeling ok with a little vulnerability) the possibilities are endless! Quite literally.
Name it to savour it
Naming is not all taming, not all doom and gloom! Here’s another way to use the Google Images idea:
Think of something you value- something that is really important to you. Something you love engaging in, something meaningful and special to you. Now think on a specific memory that supports why that value is important to you. For example ‘social justice’ might become ‘women’s march’. Or cooking meals from scratch might come from a childhood memory of ‘cooking with mum’.
For my own example, here’s the third picture, nestled amongst a bunch of awesome, that comes up when I type ‘Women’s March’ into Google images:
I then typed ‘Women’s March 2017’ into YouTube and one of the first clips I find is this speech “America Ferrera destroys Donald Trump”
I spent some time basking in the images and watching Ferrera speak, and I felt connected to something bigger, something meaningful. I let it stay there, resisted the temptation to delve any further, and went for a walk after I watched the full speech.
The trick with ‘name it to savour it’ is to give yourself a TIME LIMIT. Do NOT get sucked into a clickhole of stories and articles and comments sections and get yourself all worked up. Just bathe yourself in the energy of a few images or videos. Allow them to energise you, or strengthen a value you have, connect to something bigger.
Instagram can also be awesome for positive vibes: fill your feed with something that you aspire to honour about yourself. My Instagram feed is currently chockers with differently shaped and fat women because I’m learning to love my own ever-changing body.
One of the criticisms in the age of social media is the 24 hour news cycle. It happens, we go nuts about it, and we forget it the next day. It doesn’t have to be like that- the Internet is a phenomenal archive of incredible achievements and human inspiration and bravery.
Find a great blog or a free course to enhance your life
Guess what? There is loads of free stuff on the Internet! Crazy right? A lot of therapists- me included– blog regularly dishing out supportive ideas to folks. You don’t have to be in therapy to grab a hold of this, they are just out there. Free. To help you without any obligation at all.
It’s a way for us to offer something to the community, and also to guide the people who are most likely to click with us and get the most benefit from working with us, to the virtual door. Which I believe is a much better recipe for success in therapy than just being sent to any old Joe by the Doctor who barely knows you. You know you best. So even if the site is selling something (a book or a course or therapy), you don’t have to buy! And if you are doing online counselling, you may even have something at the ready to get into straight after a session to enhance your journey.
And then there are a myriad of courses available. Here’s how to find one:
- Think of a way that you express yourself and then hit Google.
- I just Googled ‘Art Therapy Activities’ and this site Art Therapy Blog came up in the list, with regular updates of fully fledged activities and all the supplies you need for each one (I’m just going to say it: colouring-in is pretty much nothing at all compared to this).
- I then tried ‘writing therapy prompts’ and this delightful page Create Write Now came up in the list. Looks like she’s up to number #358 in the prompt list so there’s plenty of ideas there.
- Some of this stuff takes a little time to find. Tip: go past page 1 on the search. Looking through to page 7, I found websites for journaling prompts for grief and loss or depression and anxiety, and Art Therapy pages where people had contributed their images and talked about what they meant.
The truth is there aren’t ‘quick fixes’ to most of the feelings and situations that plague us, and the Internet can be a wonderful help on a journey of self-discovery, community and support. Just spending a little strategic time to find the RIGHT thing for you can do wonders.
Equally it can help to spend time clearing away the ones that no longer matter to you: unsubscribing, exiting FB groups, and leaving spaces you no longer need.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling sad or being angry (in fact these are very important emotions), but it’s just as important to find ways to energise ourselves, to feel ‘good enough’ to fight another day, and to seek connection so we aren’t standing alone.
Instead of spending three hours this Sunday night scrolling through Facebook feeling jealous about everyone’s happy photos, or getting yourself worked up about global issues, why don’t you lock in a few hours to take some time out and engage in a little self-care?
Tell me about it if you do (or add any further ideas in the comments below). I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re keen on journaling, sign up for the blog to get FREE prompts and an invite to join a Facebook group to chat about all stuff personal writing. And do reach out to me if you’re looking for an refreshingly energising therapist, that’s what i’m here for.
Main Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash