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UK Myth 3: Text-only communication lacks self-expression

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    March 22, 2014

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    mental health, myth series, behavioural health

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April 2nd, 2014 – Despite great literary works as Shakespeare, people still occasionally wonder if words alone can convey the breadth of human experience. This leads them to question the validity of therapy based on written communications.

Of course, modern online behavioural health and wellness solutions are no longer restricted to text-only communications. However, this in no way minimises the benefits that written communications can offer to therapeutic interventions.

The power of the written word

“Sigmund Freud himself treated some patients exclusively through written text, from a distance rather than in person, and he “saw” others on the couch rather than face-to-face. Freud’s psychoanalytic technique was designed to foster the very disinhibition which naturally occurs so easily on the Internet.” Myths and realities of online clinical work, ISMHO.

Experience suggests that individuals tend towards greater honesty, disinhibition and expression in writing, when compared to face-to-face communication.

“Why, then, is it so hard to believe that a client cannot be emotionally authentic and a therapist empathic and insightful in text?” ask the ISMHO.

Study demonstrates online writing improves communication skills


According to Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, the mobile internet generation is becoming expert in communicating through the written word. She draws her conclusions having conducted the Stanford Study of Writing, a review of 15,000 writing samples from students from 2001 — 2006.

Unlike the writing carried out simply to get a grade at school, the writing young people do online, across blogs, web and social media, is actually far more demanding. These writings are mostly to debate, organize and persuade, and happen in front of an audience. To get their point across, today’s students seem to understand intuitively when the use of text slang and paralinguistic aides such as emoticons, punctuation and capital lettering, will be most effective and when to avoid it.

“Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos“. Assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.” Clive Thompson, Wired magazine

So, the myth that text-only communication lacks the self-expression required for useful therapy is busted. Text-only communication is a valid medium of self-expression. Therapists can glean a great deal of information from written conversation, journal entries, creative writings etc., all of which can aid the ongoing therapeutic process.

In addition, much research has been done to examine the therapeutic benefits of writing. Results of a study by Pennebaker and Glaser point to the effectiveness of using writing as a general preventative therapy. The study demonstrated that people were more able to write about topics they had actively held back from telling others. (Pennebaker, J. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1988). Disclosure of Traumas and Immune Function: Health Implications for Psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(2), 239-245.)

Video and direct conversation complements the written word

Of course, today’s software communications platforms are no longer restricted to the written word alone. With the aid of video the online behavioural health and wellness platform offers the benefits of both an easily accessible platform for recording, gathering and sharing written and visual information, in addition to the potential for real-time communications with direct visual and verbal clues.

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