Top Ten Reasons For Social Workers to be Web 2.0 Literate

Gold top 10 winner

10. You’re at a party and want to demonstrate that the social work profession is part of the 21st century–that we, like our clients, can change and learn new things.

9. You’re interested in understanding the cultural context of the lives of your clients who interact in the Web 2.0 world, especially since social media has overtaken pornography in becoming the #1 activity of the web and is growing more popular every day (Social Media Revolution).

8. You want to use the fact that your adolescent clients are gamers as an asset in treatment (see Tanks, Trauma, and Epic Loot and Want to Change Behavior AND Feel Heroic? There’s an App for That…)

7. You want to really know what’s happening, moment by moment, the next time there is a major disaster somewhere. (Disaster Experts: Twitter is Serious Stuff)

6. You might like to share a resource with a client (or a friend) that will help coordinate caregiving and create a caregiving community for an aging parent who lives miles away.

5. You want to connect to, share with, and learn from a vibrant, interactive community of social workers from all over the world (for example, check out Social Work Blog Directory and my list of Social Workers on Twitter).

4. You foresee what’s ahead: that more and more people will be expecting their health care providers to interact with them via social media, and that this will shift the dynamics in health care relationships (see The Real Challenge of Health Care Social Media and upcoming Pew Internet report, “The Rise of the e-Patient: Understanding Social Networks and Online Health Information Seeking”).

3. You like the idea of people in your community seeing the assets that are near them, searching for those that are free, and being able to add the important ones that they see have been missed (see Arounja as one community is using it).

2. You are looking for a way to help your agency (or favorite organization) to develop fast, inexpensive ways to communicate with stakeholders and build support, including financial support (see NTen)

1. You want to let the world know what you had for dinner.

I would love to see more reasons…please add some!

Photo courtesy of Sam Churchill

Mobile Devices in Psychotherapy: Bane or Benefit?

A clinical treatment planning book with an iPod Touch on top

Mobile Devices and Clinical Practice: Unlikely Partners?

Every therapist has probably had the experience of a client’s cell phone ringing in the middle of a session, usually at the most inopportune moments. So it might come as a surprise for some therapists to hear that these devices might actually help with therapy. I think that smartphones and other mobile devices have the potential to enhance therapy in many ways and that we’re only starting to explore these possibilities.

One straightforward example is measuring mood and symptoms with mobile apps. I realize that many therapists don’t use ongoing measures in their therapy practice. However, I have found that using brief, repeated measures provides significant value in my practice. It provides a way to track progress with enough sensitivity to pick up small changes over time–or the lack of changes. It allows the client and I both to quickly assess how the week has gone. And it illuminates patterns in symptoms or growth–when we track these on a graph over time and then note the timing of significant life/therapeutic events, we can learn things together about what might be happening for a client. For example, we might learn than a person’s anxiety symptoms got significantly worse after a schedule disruption or a change in diet. Measurement scales can be standardized, where the scores have meaning in relationship to some clinical and normative data. Or scales can simply be a self-monitoring tool, a scale that helps an individual rate levels of symptoms, but where the scores don’t have any specific meaning related to clinical standards.

So I was particularly excited when I learned of this new application for Android phones developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), T2 Mood Tracker. It has several categories of symptoms to rate: anxiety, depression, general well-being, head injury, post-traumatic stress, stress, and a custom category that will allow users to create their own scales. It also will graph the ratings, allow you to enter a note for a particular date,  and allow the notes to be password protected. It even will allow the user to set reminders to enter a mood rating.

Individual ratings for General Well-Being on the Droid X

T2 Mood Tracker General Well-Being Scale (Droid X)

While T2 Mood Tracker is not yet available for the iPhone, there are plans for an iPhone app in the first half of 2011. And while I haven’t had a chance to look at it closely, I did notice that there is a different app in the iPhone app store called MoodReporter that also seemed to track symptom levels and allows you to add a brief note.

T2  has also developed an app for the iPhone and Android called Tactical Breather, designed to be “used to gain control over physiological and psychological responses to stress.” This highlights another fruitful area for mobile phone application development: apps to teach specific coping skills, for example, use of soothing imagery and anxiety reduction breath training. I haven’t yet seen any good apps with this type of content–would love to hear of any you have found.

What roles can you see, if any, for mobile devices in psychotherapy?

Creating Community in Times of Grief: Facebook in Action

Social Networking Sites like Facebook Offer Powerful Ways to Bring Together People Who are Grieving

In my last post I talked about some of the web-based tools that can provide a platform for people to share their grief.  Now I would like to explore a bit when a social worker or a some other type of therapist might consider suggesting these tools to clients. Clearly, using an online platform only makes sense if someone is online and generally comfortable in these environments. But more and more this is the case. A recent Pew study of American Internet use found that large numbers of people are online from levels of 93% for teens and young adults to 38% among adults age 65 and over.

A Simple Truth

Let’s start with the simple assumption that human interaction is helpful for people who are grieving, especially when it’s interaction that provides support and opportunities to remember the deceased. While our culture provides face-to-face opportunities for this human interaction, it tends to drop off quickly once the formal mourning rituals are complete. And people may have limited access to these real-world rituals because of distance, or relationship to the family of the deceased.  Having alternate ways of sharing grief becomes especially important if people have limited access to the real-world rituals, but in a culture that provides little time and space for grieving, these ways can be helpful to many people.

Of course, the strength of Web 2.0 tools is that they bring the means for creativity, collaboration, and connectivity to everyone on the Internet. So it only follows that Web 2.0 could be helpful to anyone who is grieving and is comfortable online. As was noted in Grieving in Virtual Spaces, there are range of online platforms that could be helpful to those who are grieving. However, the increased popularity of social networking sites suggests that these are the best places to begin.  The Pew Internet Survey found that among those who were online 73% percent of teens and 47% of adults were using social networking sites like Facebook.

Facebook pages can be created as an individual profiles, where people add someone as a friend; as a community page where someone joins the page by choosing to “like” it; or as a group, where someone chooses to join it. These last two situations lend themselves well to creating memorial sites.

Creating Community

Creating a meaningful memorial Facebook site could be a remarkable healing project. In addition to providing a chance to pull together photos, videos, and music, there is the chance to share memories, poetry or notes with other members of the community. Moreover, similar to what can happen at a wake, people can learn about all the sides of who someone was through the memories and thoughts that others share. Over time, a sense of community can develop that can provide some ongoing mutual support as people comment on each other’s contributions.

One advantage of using a community Facebook page as a memorial site is that it is an enduring place for people to go over time. At a time when mainstream U.S. culture is ready to take the focus off of grieving after the funeral, an enduring virtual page acknowledges that grief continues.

A Community Alter--Members are Invited to Share Remembrances: Facebook Can Mirror This

As noted above, sometimes the page doesn’t start as a memorial site but is transformed into one after it’s creator dies. I have a friend who periodically will go to her deceased child’s Facebook  page and leave the child notes. It reminds me of the experience I had of writing letters to my dad after he died, or the letters I have asked my clients to write to the people they have lost, except that these are shorter notes, probably closer to the snippets of  conversation that can continue  in our heads with someone who has died.  Of course the other big difference is that this is public within the  community of people who follow her child’s page.  In this way, it is a very different ritual of grieving that has the  advantage of letting a community know that grief continues (something our culture forgets) and that relationships beyond death in the hearts of those who cared for  the deceased. It also allows a community the information they might need  that would encourage them to reach out to a member who might be struggling. In this way, this tool creates new options for grieving–options that didn’t exist before Web 2.0.

One important factor to consider when evaluating a venue is who will have control over the healing environment. For example, if the Facebook page started as an individual’s personal page, then it’s possible that at some point in the future the family might choose to remove the page–and, of course, the administrators of a community page  or a group might choose to do the same, although at least there are more options to share the administrative roles for these pages with a group of people. Clearly if something is really important to someone they should select a virtual space that ensures they will have access–either because they have the direct control themselves, or because they know that others share their goals. For this reason, a site that is set up to memorialize someone has the definitive advantage of a clarity of purpose that makes it more likely it will be around for a while.

Photo Credits: How to Build Community courtesy of Niall Kennedy.  Dia de los Muertos, courtesy of Michael Redman.

Grieving in Virtual Spaces

Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Memorial Wall in Second Life

So many of the cultural practices involved in grieving are healing because they bring people together to share their grief. The sharp edges of grief are softened when we come together with others to grieve together. Recent events in my life have left me thinking a lot about the power of virtual spaces in helping people grieve.

Certainly coming together face to face is vitally important. But this is always time limited and it’s also not always possible. Virtual spaces can provide a way to extend the reach of a community.  There are many forms that these spaces can take: forums and listservs, virtual condolence books, memorial websites,  and Facebook pages are some simple examples.  A more complex example of a virtual memorial can occur in 3-D space, creating memorials in virtual worlds.

  • Forums, Listservs, Chat Rooms: a virtual bulletin board or email listserv can both become a form of virtual group when a shared grief experience emerges, or when they formed with the purpose of providing a safe grieving space. They function very much like a group, except they are asynchronous, that is, the members are interacting from different points in time and space. Chat rooms, on the other hand, are synchronous virtual groups, which requires that all members be on at the same time. These are harder to organize, as a result, although you can find them online. I haven’t seen any dedicated to grief issues, but they may well be out there. There even can occur within virtual worlds like Second Life, where avatars will get together at a common place and time to discuss a shared topic; in this case it’s the getting together with other avatars that forms the core of the grieving experience, not the space itself. While members of forums, listservs, and chat rooms might end up grieving the death of an individual member, most often they are groups devoted to some shared type of grieving experience, e.g., parents of murdered children, etc.
  • Virtual Condolence Books: At the simplest level, these places can provide an opportunity to convey condolences, thought, and memories to the family of the deceased, often across a distance: virtual condolence books serve this function well. I just shared some thoughts with my cousins on the loss of their mom, my aunt, someone I haven’t seen since I was a child. I wasn’t able to make it to the memorial service that was being held many states away from me, but it was a way for me to convey some thoughts about my aunt to them. Certainly, sympathy cards can convey this too, but there is something powerful about seeing all the condolences together. I was disappointed to see, however, that the site only stays active for one month, although there is the option to buy a year, a “forever” website, or a bound book for the family.
  • Websites:–or a simpler option, Facebook pages–also offer a chance to share condolences with the family. However, this medium allow for richer sharing opportunities, a virtual memorial space that invites diverse members to share, not just those who were the closest to the deceased, as is the case in real world memorial services. I just started a memorial Facebook page last week for a colleague/friend, a psychologist, who died suddenly in a biking accident. In addition to the information about memorial events and the photos that have been shared, a friend of his posted a link to music (Into the West, from Lord of the Rings 3) as a tribute, and a couple who had received treatment from him shared their thoughts, as well. This type of virtual space has the potential to allow people to go one step further and  interact with one another. In this way it it can facilitate the development of some sense of community, a group of people coming together to share their grief. At the same time, people are free to “lurk,” that is, choose not to participate but to experience the site at a private level.
  • Virtual World Memorials: My last example of a virtual grieving place are memorials created in 3-D, virtual worlds, like Second Life. A quick place search on “memorial” yields a long list. I visited two: Transgender Hate Crimes and Suicide Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial Wall, a reproduction of the real world monument. The first illustrates how virtual worlds can provide an opportunity to create memorial spaces that are unique to those platforms–the latter demonstrates the ability to create representations of real world places that have significant meaning. There’s so much more to explore when it comes to virtual world spaces that I will pick this up in a future post.

    Transgender Second Life Memorial

    Transgender Memorial in Second Life

All of these examples illustrate some ways in which virtual spaces can mimic “real-world” grieving rituals. But I think the real power of these spaces lies in their ability to provide novel ways to facilitate grief work–options that haven’t been open to us previously. For example, an event memorial website provides a grieving space for a much larger community than one would ever have ready access to in the real world. These can spring up “ad hoc” in the comments around news stories of terrible events. But they are more enduring when they become sites devoted to the event/tragedy. This September 11th Memorial is one such example. The International AIDs Candlelight Memorial is another. These sites offer opportunities to share grief with people all over the world. Just taking a moment to look through the 12250 dedications (as of 8/8/10, 6pm EDT) at the AIDS site one sees dedications to individuals, and some to much larger groups of people. These sites offer an opportunity to link to a global community around an important issue or event. The AIDS site, in particular, links to many sources of updated information about the AIDs epidemic, providing a good example of an effort to transform grief into some action that will bring meaning to the loss. This same opportunity arises with virtual world memorial sites, but in addition to providing all the opportunities that a website might provide, they can provide unique opportunities for interaction among individuals within the environment, or between individuals and the environment.

I would love to hear any thoughts/experiences you have on this topic in the comments.

Future blog posts on this topic: virtual spaces can create new rituals for grieving,  how social workers might use these tools with their clients.