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The Therapeutic Value of Cyberspace

The Therapeutic Value of Cyberspace 
For People With Psychiatric Disabilities

Cyberspace is a narrow band-width medium for communication. By this I mean that it is totally dependent upon words: not gestures, postures, facial expressions etc. We humans are all involved - to one degree or another- with the process of "meaning-making", and to do this in cyberspace requires a certain clarity and specificity not required in real time.

To elaborate: knowledge is a socially constructed activity.

Just to communicate with one another using words, we must arrive at a "gist" that we can all live with: an agreed upon meaning that we share for the time we are talking. A waiter in a restaurant in a foreign country may produce for you a sausage if you ask for a hot dog: the problem here is one of "gist" - the waiter thinks he knows what you have asked for and is very close to right. But if you are hungry and really crave a hot dog, a sausage won't do. This is miscommunication at it's best.

Communicating in cyberspace forces us to be very precise in order to be understood correctly. This is probably the first benefit to people with psychiatric disabilities: the process of formulating words to:

communicate with others, and

to describe feelings without gestures or facial expressions.

My suspicion is that this process has therapeutic value in its own right.

Cyberspace also allows us to create ourselves. What you know of me comes through what I "say" to you: not how I look, how bad my tremor is, whether I've taken a shower or even brushed my teeth. In cyberspace my mind stands alone, free from whatever real-time difficulties I am having. In cyberspace I may be "brilliant" (read "lucid"), in reality I may be unwashed and unkempt. This "best face" of me, projected through the narrow band-width medium, is me getting to experience the best parts of me for a time.

Again, I suspect the therapeutic value of this experience in intrinsic. And I hope cumulative. As I experience myself more and more as "brilliant" (again, "lucid"), I believe my self esteem is being repaired and I expect more and more "brilliance" (lucidity, at least) from myself.

Real time chat in cyberspace, I suspect, has therapeutic value as well. Based on the idea that we need to formulate for clarity, and that we "create" ourselves for the time we are in cyberspace, cyberspace affords us some unique opportunities. Not only do we have an anonymous venue for practicing our beleaguered social skills, but we have opportunities to interact with others around topics and events that might exceed our immediate reach. What I have come to find out is that in this medium, and for as long as I can sustain my focus, I can have a completely normal interactive experience with a group of people who have no idea I'm crazy unless I tell them. This is therapeutic, I think. It has cut down on isolation, helped me to remember what I once knew, and given me ideas for use in my own process.

Online chat is available 24/7. This is obviously a plus for a person who keeps an erratic schedule sometimes due to my mood. "Friends" in the chat room are glad to see me come in and don't even blink when I leave. I have no responsibility to them or for them, yet there is a connection for a time that serves to keep me grounded in something other than my life as a mental patient and distracted from the pain of living with bipolar disorder. I exaggerate my perception of myself and my circumstances a little here, but I have no doubt that in moments when that is all I know of myself I will still have a place to go where I am more. And that is therapeutic also.