ONLINE THERAPY – Communicating Support in Online Therapy

People are attracted to online therapy for a number of reasons. These groups offer people both informational support (e.g., links to useful Web sites, experiences of other participants) and emotional support (e.g., messages of comfort or encouragement).

The two most common types of communication occurring in virtual support groups are actually statements of support and self-disclosures.

The participants in an electronic bulletin board focused on suicide survivors demonstrated a great deal of support for one another. In fact, statements of empathetic understanding were the most frequently used during the 11 months the researchers followed messages. An example statement of this type is, “I really do feel and share your pain. I understand where you are coming from”.

In addition to statements of support, people who posted to the BBS also engaged in frequent self-disclosures. In these statements, participants shared their experiences with the topic. Intimate details and emotional energy were frequently incorporated into such disclosures, which unto themselves have therapeutic value.

The energy and time a person takes in the very act of formulating and expressing his or her distress may provide at least some release from tension and anxiety.

Given these qualities, virtual support groups seem to assist people in coping with their problems, but as J. Miller and Gergen (1998) point out, they may be less successful in helping people move beyond their problems. In their review of messages, they found very few statements directed at growth or transformation. In traditional therapy, the therapist might suggest alternative interpretations of events or offer new plans of action for the client to adopt. In the substantial lack of such suggestions.