Anonymous social networks open the gates for digital therapy
Experience Project treats its members as individuals, not conditions
Feeling 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.
Sometimes 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
EP 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.”
“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.
Michelle 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.