Blogging: Group Therapy of the 21st Century?

ByABC News via logo

July 2, 2005 — -- If you're anxious, depressed or just have a gripe to air, there's a good chance you can log on to the Internet and find countless others just like you writing about their problems in personal blogs.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project estimates 11 million Americans have already created personal Web logs, or blogs, and some 30 million people regularly read them. Bloggers write about everything from their favorite band or what they ate for dinner to discussing politics, infertility or problems in the workplace.

Some bloggers and psychologists say that these online journals are a healthy development -- a 21st century version of group therapy.

Heather Armstrong is a stay-at-home mom in Salt Lake City and a blogger. Her blog, called "Dooce," is witty, self-effacing and filled with biting sarcasm.

Armstrong, who called herself a "recovering Mormon," took up blogging to help cope with stress in the workplace, and later, postpartum depression and the trials of motherhood.

Nothing is out of bounds when Armstrong writes her online entries -- she covers everything from dirty diapers to downing tequila shots and her sex life.

"My style of writing is pretty naked and pretty blunt," she said. "I don't like to sugarcoat anything."

And she's particularly blunt about motherhood.

"I was pretty explicit when I spoke about pregnancy and the ugliness of it and the stretch marks and labor and the aftermath of labor," she said.

About a year ago, when her daughter Leta was 4 months old, Armstrong entered a deep postpartum depression.

"I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sit still," she said. "And I finally decided to sort of reveal this on my Web site to let people know that I was experiencing difficulty."

Armstrong and her husband were overwhelmed by the response from readers offering support.

"Blogging sort of provided an outlet and provided the way for me to work through my problems," she said. "Blogging absolutely saved my life."

Her blog has also helped her husband, Jon, understand what she's going through.

"Heather's Web site has given me a great deal of insight into motherhood, depression and into a writer's mind," he said.

Armstrong blogs whenever she can squeeze it in. She catalogues Leta's development every month and her own steady progress.

This month's entry concludes: "I remember people telling me that it would get so much better and I have a feeling that this is what they were talking about."

New York-based psychologist Bonnie Jacobson is not surprised that blogging helped Armstrong so much.

"The gold standard for treating depression is medication and group therapy, and blogging is a form of group therapy," Jacobsen said on "Good Morning America."

Jacobsen said there are potentially thousands of people online who might be going through similar situations and can relate to and offer support to those suffering mental or emotional problems. She added that simply writing about problems can help people understand them better.

Plus, blogs can help people simply feel connected to others.

"In creating a community, you realize you're not alone," Jacobsen said. "You no longer have these secrets that control your life."

But Jacobsen warned that reading or writing blogs is not a substitute for professional help for psychological problems. People writing and reading blogs must keep in mind that the opinions offers are just that -- opinions, and not diagnoses or treatments.

"The danger is in giving advice or taking advice," Jacobsen said. "Never just take what people say literally."

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