The difference between online therapy groups and chat rooms
Until recently, I hadn’t been in a bog standard chat room for a while…not since my misspent youth whiled away online in the company of my yahoo buddies! I’ve encountered a few newbies in my online therapy groups recently, and this left me wondering how I might be able to make the therapy groups I offer less intimidating to the technologically bashful 🙂 . I reached the conclusion that I needed to try and recreate my first time by diving back into the middle of the internet and finding a generic chat room I wouldn’t usually access. My feelings about the experience surprised me!
SO…I went into my chosen average looking chat room and quickly realized I’d made a mistake. I hadn’t turned off the personal message function!! Many of you will already know what’s likely to have happened next, but for those of you that don’t, I was immediately inundated with unwanted male attention. “A/S/L” tessellated across my screen as the windows popped up and I found myself edging backwards away from my desk as though responding to a threat in the room. I didn’t answer any PM’s and tried to engage the others in the room in general chit chat but I got the feeling that I was a goldfish in a sea of piranhas…a “fresh meat” sensation flooded over me and left me cold.
Nevertheless I dived back in….the people in the chat room appeared loud, even though there was no noise, and the individuals there seemed to be clamoring for attention and speaking at cross purposes. Trying to engage with these people was like standing in the middle of a department store at the start of the January sales asking passersby if they fancied a chat! To say the contrast between this chat room, and the rooms I’m usually in online was STARK, would be a tremendous understatement 🙂
Maybe it’s an age thing 🙂 , because when I reflect back on early experiences of using chat rooms I know I felt differently about the situations unfolding within them and the characters I found there! I was about 21 when I used to use chatrooms….I was outgoing and enjoyed engaging with large groups of people so they met my requirements at the time. I wasn’t concerned about sharing a common goal with others in the room and I didn’t enter the room with a specific agenda in mind. The chat rooms I went in were for entertainment purposes and on that front they certainly delivered. I remember feeling as though a whole new world had opened up to me at the time and I spoke to my friends about how liberating the experience was. I think my only frustrations stemmed from not being able to type fast enough, not a frustration I suffer from anymore LOL.
I still love the chat rooms I’m involved in but they’re mainly work related now….I’m either delivering a therapy group or facilitating a peer supervision session but the thrill of communicating with others in real-time and in writing hasn’t lessened over time. I’m glad I chose to sample the old rooms again though because I don’t think you can ever lose sight of just how hard it is for people to access therapy no matter what medium they use to access it. It takes courage to seek help and if there’s an extra barrier to people seeking help because of their perception of what that help will look like, it’s our job to know about it, and correct it. There’s a lot of help out there on the internet for a myriad of problems so maybe we need to get better at telling people about the differences between online chat rooms and online support/therapy groups and reassuring them that they’ll be safe, they’ll be heard and they’ll be welcome?
Thanks for reading 🙂
Jane Fahy (RMBACP)
Clinical Services Manager