August 19, 2009

Anonymous social networks open the gates for digital therapy

Experience Project treats its members as individuals, not conditions

David SparkFeeling alone during a moment of crisis can compound the gravity of a situation. While it may not be possible for people to be physically by your side, social networks allow people to find you and communicate with you, making you feel less alone.

young woman lying on a sofa with a male psychiatrist taking notesSometimes you don’t want your friends to help you because you don’t want your friends to know your problems. That’s why we often divulge our darkest concerns to therapists and psychiatrists. Beyond having the training to help us, they’re morally and professionally bound to not repeat anything you say to them.

Problem is professional therapy costs money. But anonymous social networks don’t.

Experience Project (EP) is a unique social network in that it promotes anonymity. Most social networks focus on promoting yourself as a brand and connecting you to your friends by name. EP members are anonymous and are able to connect through each other’s stories. EP is not the first anonymous social network. It’s just the first one I know of that doesn’t have a predefined agenda. With other social networks joining them automatically identifies you as a rape survivor, someone suffering from MS, or some other ailment or a physical/emotional tragedy. While these social networks are all valid and helpful, people are first seen by their issue or ailment. It’s hard to break out of that image and when you overcome that issue, then there’s no reason to be on that specific social network.

I spoke to many members of Experience Project to learn how they came upon discovering EP and how the anonymous social network helped them cope with their concerns.

Freedom to speak through anonymity

ExperienceProject_logoEP member, Mello, doesn’t have the ability to express her true concerns and feelings with her own family and friends. Her home unfortunately is not a sanctuary as she copes with depression. Participating on EP every day, she looks forward to the opportunity to express herself and connect with other people without worry of being judged. Those bottled up feelings that get expressed on EP anonymously become the currency for relationships. “What you keep hidden from others is what causes people to friend you,” said Mello, “It becomes addictive.” portrait of a young female psychiatrist in session with a young male patient

“I need to get rid of this instead of carrying it around with me,” said Mello of her unexpressed thoughts. At one time she just wanted to drop everything and start a new life. She admits that the act of writing the previously unspoken is physically therapeutic. “Once I write it, it’s gone.”

While publicly expressing her concerns lifts an emotional burden, the responses on EP made her realize that she’s not alone. There are many others who can relate (Who hasn’t wanted to start a new life?) and have had similar troubles. They bond through these concerns.

Mello ended up meeting her husband, username BlueGeorgia, on EP and Mello attests to their success being that they knew very intimate details of each other before they ever met. In the end, when they got married, they invited three other EP members to the wedding, but not her parents.

As I spoke to more EP members, the stories were all very similar. All of them appreciated the anonymity because it allowed them to share deep secrets. One woman, who goes by the handle FunGirl, had been sexually abused by a family member (EP story 1, EP story 2, free registration required). FunGirl admits to being in tears when she writes her stories of which have numbered more than 2,500. “I would never share the things I’ve said on Experience Project on Facebook or MySpace,” she admits. Like Mello, publishing stories has been a part of her healing.

You’re not the only one who is feeling this way

That’s a core theme that many EP users discuss. Before you publish a story on EP you feel alone. You feel like a victim and that you’re the only one who has these problems. But through the response, users quickly realize they’re not alone.

woman lying on a couch beside a man writing in a notebookMichelle discovered Experience Project during a very dark time in her marriage. She was searching the Web using terms such as “problem marriage” and “sexual problems.” She stumbled upon EP and just started reading, soon realizing she wasn’t the only one going through the same marital problems.

“When I’m in a crisis, the first place I go to is EP,” said Sherri, an active EP user who blogged anonymously on LiveJournal for many years. She has a history of hurting herself with cutting and overdosing on medication. EP has become her lifeline for emergency therapy.

“You can never get to see a therapist when you’re in a crisis. You need help in that moment, not four days from now when that crisis has passed,” said Sherri, “I can go on EP and this is how I’m feeling. As soon as I’ve written it down, two or three people have responded and I feel less wanting to want to hurt myself… It’s like being in a support group. I can get responses within seconds of being online.”

For more on social networks helping out in a crisis, read my article on Mashable entitled, “5 Unique Stories of Social Media Saving the Day” or listen to my interview with Curtis Sliwa on WABC radio on the subject.David Spark, a partner in Socialmedia.biz, helps businesses grow by developing thought leadership through storytelling and covering live events. Contact David by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

  • jdlasica

    Terrific post, David, I didn't know anything about Experience Project. Truly worthy network.

  • Cesar

    Such an interesting post David with good interviews!

  • Jason

    Hey, I met two of those people that you interviewed from EP! Cool! It's a great site. I've been on there for over a year. Nice post.

  • Jason

    Hey, I met two of those people that you interviewed from EP! Cool! It's a great site. I've been on there for over a year. Nice post.

  • http://none Doug Harris

    This all sounds fine, but at this point, after I and others have checked the place out, it seems to be ending up a place where there is no anonymity after being there a while, the small group of folks that run this EP community back charitie(s) that seem to want to guilt and flush money out of the people who join, pressuring them oh so lightly with oh poor this person and that, why arent they taking that supposed charity they hit everyone up for, to the world? And also let it be checked out by the media. instead of hiding out and having no accountability, why is it that the owners of this place allow that? Why aer they running a money making operation that has no accountability at all? People do not go to forums and expect to be squeezed and pressured for money, as they are doing. And they are. I checked it out because I had several young relatives there, and when I went I checked it out for a while, met some nice people, but something about how this is looking really isnt right. People have stresses and problems now adays, they get their, supposedly make EP friends, and then sooner or later are pressured to give to this organization…and many pay for EP, and you are also charged when you do something as simple as sending little image gifts, the few that are free, are fine, and any you upload should be as well, but you pay a dollar per gift if you have no tokens..it goes on and on and on, its a money making scheme and its starting to look far worse.
    Again, just my humble opinion, be careful!

  • Elizabeth (Beth)

    I agree 100% with Doug. I'm sure more of us would agree if we realised EXACTLY how these websites and social media sites work. The point is not many of us do. Even if we do we do not admit even to ourselves how little we really do know about the owners and moneymakers who profit from our lack of knowledge.