Friday, August 5, 2011

YouTubing for the Greater Good

Have I ever told you about what I'm interested in with regards to school and research? I know that in the past I have mentioned being a graduate student (and many of the fun/not-so fun things that that entails), but I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned the specifics. I'm thinking about this now because I'm sitting in the Washington D.C. convention center attending the American Psychological Association (APA) annual convention. I've been doing my best to attend relevant lectures and symposiums, network, and learn as much as I can both about the material itself and the professional world I've been cautiously trying to navigate.

This will probably make a lot of logical sense and therefore not be a surprise to you, but my research interests lie in social networking. What initially drew me to this was a complete accident. My brother was in a band when I was at my last graduate program and like most bands these days, post videos of their songs and performances on YouTube. I started clicking on links of suggested videos that websites always put in the sidebars and stumbled upon some videos of young women talking about their struggles with Eating Disorders. At the time I had been taking a seminar on EDs (with the thought that one day I would treat someone with an eating disorder and therefore it would be a good idea to take a class about them), so the videos intrigued me. I probably spend over an hour that day watching several 3-4 minute clips detailing the ups and downs of the recovery, relapse, and loss associated with the deadly disease. Having known people who have struggled with an Eating Disorder, it was hard but also moving to watch videos like the following one:

I wondered what prompted the women to post the videos. Was there a doctor out there who thought it would be a good creative therapy project? Was this in response to the Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia websites (essentially instructional and support websites for Anorexics and Bulimics looking for tips about how to sustain their disorder)? Was it completely spontaneous? In high school and college I blogged almost every day about my life and the blog took on a life of its own as I explored my world and struggled to deal with my own emotional demons. Were these videos the posters' own versions of that? I still don't know the answers to a lot of these questions. At the time, I wrote a very long term paper about it in hopes to understand the videos and how they could be helpful. And now I plan to turn that paper into my dissertation.

Since then I have conducted a study looking at self-disclosure on YouTube and am working on a case study on phototherapy with a woman with Bulimia and a research study about images on Facebook and body-image. Surprisingly, despite the massive attention social networking gets in popular media today, there is not a lot of research out there about it. When applying to graduate schools I had a hard time finding professors at APA Accredited programs who were studying the material. And now that I'm here, it seems that there are many graduate students who are actually the ones picking up the banner and leading the way with this research.

It's an exciting time for me to be able to meet some of my own peers here at APA because for 4 years now I have been sitting and waiting for the research to catch up. When I first wrote my paper for my Eating Disorders class not one article had been written about YouTube and it's emotional repercussions. There was one article about making friends on Facebook and how that would translate in real life and a handful on blogging and personal websites (which had been around for at least 10+ years already). And maybe there were two handfuls on chat rooms. All in all, I'd say less than 40 articles. That may seem like a lot, but when there are thousands (possibly millions) on depression, you realize how paltry that number is. Especially when regular newspaper articles about kids committing suicide prompt someone in the general public to do something before we professionals do. They can recognize the importance of social media when it comes to the LGBT community (It Gets Better Project) or Suicide Prevention (Post Secret's founder and his work with 1-800-Suicide and the mental health community as a whole) and it amazes me that we are not recognizing not only the potential usage of new technologies to help people, but what ramifications they might have as well.

I'll leave you with this video of a young woman who is courageously battling Borderline Personality Disorder. I watched this video a few months ago and was very moved by her honesty and candidness. The internet has so much potential, but can also do a lot of harm as well. I think the next generation of research psychologists recognize that, and I'm really excited to be part of that group.

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