[Current Topics in Psychology]


A.P.A. CONVENTION HIGHLIGHTS

American Psychological Association
107th Annual Convention - August 1999, Boston


[APA 2000: Beck-Ellis Dialogue | Town Hall Meeting | 2001 : A Cyberspace Odyssey | 2002 : Beck & Ellis - Pt.2 | 2003 | 2005 |  2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009  | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2014 ]



These edited reports were originally posted to the Current Topics list-serv August 19-24, 1999.

APA CONVENTION REPORT #1
Thursday, August 19, 1999

Asynchronously "live from Boston"-

Convention Preview

Hi, here is the first news out of APA's 1999 Convention, here in beautiful sunny Boston. (So far...) Reported by Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.

The convention kicks off tomorrow, Friday, but today I attended a pre-convention Institute on psychology in the schools, with breakaway sessions on the impact of the media and a focus on the MTV/APA video, "Warning Signs". The title of this 6th Annual Institute was

New Solutions for the Millennium:
Violence Prevention for Children and Youth
.


Obviously a major theme was the pervasiveness of violence, both in schools (in 1999) as well as on television. There was no single factor to blame, and no simple cause and effect deduced, but several parallel trends --e.g, in film, tv, R-rated videos, and the constant diet of violence in real life as well as virtual life. The trend is frightening when one pauses to consider, for example, that 20 years ago it was unthinkable that 10 year olds would go into schools with semi-automatic weapons seeking revenge on the teacher. Many many aspects of modern life were highlighted, ranging from a constant diet of instant revenge and graphic violence, to the essential need for parental and teacher involvement with their children. Former U.S. undersecretary of education, Janice Jackson, read some poems by children, underscoring how they feel "invisible" in schools, and families and society.

James Fox, author of 13 books on criminal thinking (a consultant in searches for serial killers, and known as the "Dean of Death") gave a very humorous introduction to the topic of violence, including some stories of his dinner with President Clinton. (Details to political junkies by request only, private email to me.) Also, some of the philosophy of Janet Reno, US attorney general was shared, particularly her belief that "demographics are not destiny". There are some scary demographics about adolescent population growth in the next few years, and some concerns expressed about how adolescents in particular don't usually like to hear what not to do. [The implication is that we should target our campaigns toward presenting role models and positive choices rather than relying on fear tactics.] The city of Boston is cited as a leader in the solution, which includes 10,000 summer jobs for teens, community policing, and neighborhood building. Dr. Fox's co-author, Jack Levin did some profiling of serial killers, which is his specialty, and sensitized us as to just how graphic many new videos are (both sexually and in terms of sadistic torture and murder). Pro wrestling, now a major phenomenon, is no longer about good guys vs. bad guys but bad versus badder guys, with names like "Wife Beater". Even a five-year old now has brought weapons to school specifically to kill the teacher. "Unheard of" just a few years ago! Dr. Fox spoke of the "reduction in moral responsibility" and the prevalence of "undersocialized and unsupervised kids". (In the US, there are 5 million children with no adult supervision, who will someday be teenagers with a very thin line between "virtual reality" and reality.) Also, our society is very hungry to affix blame, while the media has abrogated it's historic "ethics" to simply get ratings by covering violence every day.

On a more positive note, some of the solutions are do-able, like education, including the APA-MTV video. [I am one of the people who has been doing workshops with it, in high schools and junior highs. I have also assembled an online resource page on Children and Violence, with links to APA articles and information on Warning Signs.] I noted that the presentations, like our society, didn't touch too much on the basic realities of adolescence in general-- particularly peer pressure, though it did come up. The major feedback APA is getting nation-wide is that kids are hearing the message that "bullying" leads to repressed anger and thoughts of "revenge". Mass-murderers, too, are often preoccupied with this.

The American Psychological Association hopes to educate adolescents about the warning signs of people becoming alienated and angry, enough to kill themselves or others.

The MTV/APA video which came out just days after the Littleton tragedy, was watched by 4 million youth on MTV. (The website immediately got 250,000 hits.) Town meetings also have had very positive results.

Finally, the role of schools was discussed. What are the roles of schools?

1. Instruction- to develop children academically and psycho-socially.
2. Socialization- training to be good decision makers and good citizens of the world.
   (Few children today are likely to live in the same place their whole life).
3. Employment roles-- very contentious. "What is best for the children?"
   (Today's children take care of us and our world tomorrow.)
4. Develop hearts and minds.
5. Impart the spirit of community service and bring schools back under the ownership of
    the neighborhoods.

============

DISCLAIMER- The preceding comes from my notes (except for a few parenthesized comments), and is a synthesis of 3 separate institute sections I attended today. The problems and solutions are characterizations by the speakers I observed, and not necessarily my own opinion or brilliant ideas! :-)

=============

The full convention starts tomorrow, and will probably generate a few stories on television news. This Sunday's Boston Globe will feature an Op-ed piece by James Fox and Jack Levin (the serial killer specialists) for anyone that can get it. (Maybe it's online too?)


[The article was titled "The hard (but doable) job of making schools safe" and described "Ideas that won't work" (such as metal detectors, school uniforms, arming the faculty and locking all the doors) as well as some "Ideas that do work", such as decreased class and school size, early conflict resolution lessons, and a diversity of enriched opportunities during extended school days.].

Dr. Jack Levin, will be on national television August 30 on "America's Most Wanted".

That's it from Boston, pre-APA convention. Oh yes, one other tidbit, on a way lighter note... it just so happens that my hotel room overlooks Fenway Park, where a baseball game is just getting underway, and I have a camera and color film with me (as the sun sets and the scoreboard is lit up).... so for any Boston or baseball fans, look for some wonderful images from Boston on a future web page!

Best to all,
Michael

==================================

APA CONVENTION REPORT #2
Friday, August 20, 1999

Asynchronously "live from Boston"-


Today began (for me) as "internet addiction" day, with an early morning seminar on the topic. This was followed by a big town meeting about taking back health care from Managed Care organizations (via affiliations with unions and allied health professions, legislation, consumer coalitions, and lawsuits). Then I checked out the Exhibition Hall, after wrestling with the computer messaging system, which is fairly buggy. Lots of book publishers and software makers, and insurance companies and drug companies were on hand, as usual, giving out goodies ranging from peppermints to CD's to leather memo holders, yo yo's, "stress reducers" and post-it pads. As I was walking around with Noemi, I said to her, "gee, I could use a mouse pad for my laptop up in the hotel room." As if the gods had been listening, out of nowhere someone held out in front of me a Zoloft mouse pad. Zoloft got the award for niftiest pens, too. (And Viagra) Guess they have money to spare! A few of us agreed that the honors for best doo-hickey (colloquial for "gadget", non-Americans!), goes to Liberty Insurance, who is giving out little miniature squeegee-type appliances to clean computer screens with! Viva technology! Which gets me to the...

Cyberpsychology/Online Addiction Panel

As fate would have it, I ran into Storm King (whose work about online support groups and "internet addiction" is featured on my site), and we walked over together to the symposium at the Hynes Convention Center, where we met Azy Barak, an "online therapist" who came in from Israel. The small room was well-filled with a diverse audience. The first speaker was Kimberly ("pathological internet use") Young, who told the story of how she became a pioneer in studying "internet addiction". (The short version is: She saw a friend's marriage devastated by her husband's continuous online activity, and once she began looking at the phenomenon, many others self-identified having an "addiction" or relationship problems as a result of the percentage of time spent online.) Kimberly, and others on the panel, including a social psychologist, spoke of having adapted the DSM-IV criteria for either substance addiction or gambling addiction, so as to include items like:


Probably 5 or more of these would be a pretty good indication of disturbed overall (offline) functioning. Her point was that "the Internet should be something that adds to your life, not something that takes away." The Carnegie-Mellon study was mentioned, where of 169 people studied over 2 years, many became "depressed and isolated". Also, people with no previous adjustment disorders were suddenly becoming compulsive users. Finally, Dr. Young alluded to some of the "controversial issues" such as the definition of "online addiction" itself, and the inability to definitely nail down cause and effect. [Online reprints: here.]

The second speaker (Keith Anderson) presented some case studies, including one of a college student who lived in a dorm where he never got to know his next door neighbor, but drove 3000 miles to meet someone he'd been speaking with online. A July 1999 study found that 8.4% of the study group met the 3-item criteria for pathological use. The recent study replicated earlier findings that 2 major areas of disruption are "meeting new people and sleep patterns". It was also mentioned in passing how some fraternities are now engaging in day trading, while other students are being expelled for exchanging pornography from dorm room to dorm room, or sending threatening email.

The third speaker was Steven Stern, social psychologist, who spoke about "addiction to technologies" (with some side references to addiction to either the computer itself, such as I have described, and also "information addiction", which may moderate dopamine levels, as does the excitement of gambling.) "Social psychology", said Dr. Stern, "is concerned with how technology alters power relationships". He went on to explain that "technology" is not only computers, but "just about anything that increases our natural capabilities", such as eyeglasses, or weather-protected buildings.

Technology does not always improve our lives, by the way, though usually it does. Dr. Stern is concerned about the over-use of the term "internet addiction", because "it is not a parsimonious theoretical explanation of the bahavior we are concerned about". ["Parsimonious", in research, means having the fewest possible assumptions.] He is looking mostly at how massive time spent online displaces time which could be spent interacting (f2f) with other people. Still, he said he is "more concerned about the use of the word 'Internet' than the word "addiction", the latter which is a more specific entity. He mentioned a few "questionable assumptions" about "Internet addiction" and offered some "safer assumptions", such as that "compulsions have been around for much of human history". There was some debate about whether the Internet is intrinsically different than other communications revolutions, and Storm King noted that only with the Internet is there an ability (such as I am doing now) to "broadcast". (This of course includes flaming, taking over chat rooms, etc.)

Joseph Walther, editor in chief of the Journal of Online Behavior, also took issue with some of the jargon, like "talk-a-holics" (McCloskey & Richmond, 1995) and "Online-a-holics" (Young, 1998). He prefers the "operational definition" of Griffith (1998) who speaks about salience (of the online lifestyle) and mood modification, among other things. He noted that we could say "communication is addictive" if we apply the loose term "addiction" to everything from chocolate to soap operas. He encourages researchers to focus "more on activities, not the medium", and feels "the common definitions of addiction are inappropriate" in general. [Website: http://www.fenichel.com/walther.pdf]

John Grohol, the final speaker, didn't have time to speak! :-(

--

The "Saving Your Practice" town meeting was interesting, politically and historically, but too dry to repeat here (except for one very distraught person, apparently from a Managed Care company, who stood up and screamed to the town meeting that we were all "cowards" and the solution lay in affilitating with truck drivers!) OK... Mixed in with that, were some very interesting anecdotes from some of the long-time movers and shakers in independent practice issues, as well as a call for NYSUT, the teacher's union, to endorse National Healthcare Rescue Day.

Opening Ceremony: 107th Annual Convention

This afternoon the Convention's opening ceremony took place. After a multi-cultural tribute including a Hawaiian chant, some native-American (Sioux) chanting/singing (to spread positive spirits and receptivity), and gospel music. Then the keynote speech was delivered by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Very powerful with a tragic coincidence, this year's theme is how we are "all one voice" of humanity, and all entitled to adequate health care. The special focus is on building bridges across ethnicity and race, and also the treatment of patients and families suffering from Cancer. The introduction to Jesse Jackson, following a rousing appreciation of the gospel music, was very sober: He had been a few minutes late, just coming from the cemetary where he buried his brother, 55 years old, died of Cancer due to "late diagnosis" and lack of success "fighting the HMO".

Rev. Jackson, either very hoarse or choking up, spoke passionately about how while welfare has decreased poverty has gotten worse. The people who clean the bathrooms in hospitals, change bedpans, etc, the people who pick fruit in fields and toil in factories, are "one illness away" from despair. He noted that the hospital orderly who changes bedsheets and works honorably for little pay, probably won't be able to be cared for in that very hospital bed. And how "greed is a progressive Cancer of our souls killing our national organs". And he touched on the need to be humble about our presence in the world (e.g., "English is a great language, but do not make it a religion. Jesus did not speak English and God did not deliver the 10 commandments in English".) And time and again, he emphasized the need for universal access to health care, and for compassion in the face of so much greed. He also voiced dismay about the political process whereby the year 2000 election in the US threatens to be about whether "one candidate used coke".

Psychology in the Media...

Back in my hotel room, now, I'm watching Geraldo on MSNBC with a panel including Jerry Falwell, Rob Reiner, Joyce Brothers, Al Sharpton, and Alan Dershowitz. Every single one of them is agreed (a miracle!) that children are too unsupervised and fed too much violence. (Sound familiar?) Sharpton and Dershowitz are saying that building more and more prisons for kids is not the answer. Joyce Brothers and Rob Reiner mentioned the role of parents, and Jerry Falwell didn't answer a question about whether all the gay-bashing by celebrity preachers doesn't constitute violence as well, creating insensitivity to the rights of others to live. Interesting.

Weather's still good throughout the day, but clouding up, and we're expecting the rain to engulf Boston by tomorrow for the weekend.

There you have some of the freshest news in psychology you can get anywhere! Hope it's interesting. Tomorrow, probably on a rainy day here, I'll be attending a National Town Meeting on, what else? Health Care systems and options. At least if I can find the admission ticket, I'll be there! :-) And, as Walter Cronkite used to say, "that's the way it is" on Friday, August 20, 1999, at APA.

Live from Boston, your humble reporter,

Michael

============

DISCLAIMER#2
(Could this be because I spent the morning listening to a panel of legal experts?)

The preceding quotes and information come from my notes and handouts by the speakers, and to the best of my knowledge is accurate. I welcome any corrections to the statistics or sources presented. The issues and solutions are reported as presented by the speakers I observed, and not necessarily my own opinion or brilliant ideas! :-)

=============

APA CONVENTION REPORT #3
August 21, 1999 (Rainy/Cool Boston)

Asynchronously "live from Boston"-


Today's posting will be brief, as it is Saturday, and been a long day beginning very early. Now I am about to take in some social activities. (Hey, nobody is paying me to work 24/7!)

Managed Care, Sex, and Violence

The day began for me with a Town Hall forum, with a panel of trial lawyers, a Federal Judge, a legislator, reporter, and healthcare administrator for Motorola, presenting the employer point of view. The focus was on "Legal Accountability in Market-Driven Health Care", i.e., the legal constraints on the healthcare industries, or lack thereof. Can/should Federal Law be re-written so that HMO's/MCO's can be sued (which is currently illegal under ERISA)? The discussion was moderated by APA's Russ Newman (who was featured in the APA/MTV video "Warning Signs", btw), and by Court TV's Arthur Miller (Harvard Law professor). It was at times rather dry, unlike the weather, as when technical legal aspects were discussed about ERISA law. But in general the discussion was very lively and provacative, with a few insights and humorous notes about participants' respective professions. It was clear there are no easy answers but there was a universal feeling that healthcare policies should be for the benefit of patients, not insurers. Motorola's spokesperson described an enlightened corporate approach which was designed to whittle through the middlemen of managed care, while a trial lawyer described the evolution of the Managed Care system as it was developed by and for business, not consumers.

From there I went for a little lighter fare: Albert Ellis, probably the world's most famous living therapist. He spoke about his origins as a "sexologist" as well as about why and how he developed his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. In brief, he found psychoanalysis very "deep", but too focused on minutia without an over-riding "philosophy". Also, he said, "Freud wasn't sexy enough" (!).

Now becoming Managed Care, Sex, and Violence day, from Ellis I went to a symposium on adolescent violence, chaired by my NYSPA colleague Elizabeth Carll. Several researchers presented data on who the victims and victimizers are in cities around America, by demographic group. Those of us personally touched by violence were asked to stand up. Almost the whole room did. Violence is pervasive, whether experienced second-hand, by friends or family, or the constant dose on TV or in the neighborhood. Dr. Raymond Lorion described how school violence is not new, but that disproportionate retaliation is what is new. He described epidemiological research (e.g., Mark Singer) which posits two main types of violence, "retaliatory" and "anticipatory". Dr. Fernando Soriano, of the National Latino Research Center underscored the role of culture, and the high risk for violence related to adolescents' struggle to develop an identity. He has been studying, along with Bandura at Stanford University, the mechanisms of developing "bi-cultural self-efficacy." Also work is being done to try to re-establish some sense of consequence and morality among the victimizers, through "moral engagement training", designed to counteract the automatic suspension of learned concepts of right versus wrong. It was also noted that engaging parents is often not a simple task. Finally it was noted (from the audience) that there is a gender gap in the research, which often focuses on males, who in fact do commit the most physical and sexual violence. Still, girls are catching up, and though they may act out in different ways, they too are becoming more aggressive, and/or provocative in sparking violence among others.

From managed care to sex and violence... what next? Well, for the cyberpsychology-interested, I attended a media forum on "Sex, TV, Movies and the Net". The presenter was Ed Donnerstein, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UC- Santa Barbara, and he really was excellent. It was an excellent overview (and one which seemed to shock some of the audience judging from the woman next to me repeatedly stating "Oh my god!") of how prevalent banner ads for "adult sites" are on the Internet, and how easy it is for children to use searches to find sexual material, or violent images, or a fusion. Research was presented about TV versus R-rated films in their levels of sex or violence or both. Interestingly, males are the victims of killing far more than females on TV but it is the opposite in gory R-rated movies, which tend to fuse sex and violence. [This, imo, appeals to male adolescents, as they're less likely to encounter males as victims in these movies, and more likely to view sex, both of which are often seen as positives.] Research shows male adolescents (but not females) use the ratings to decide which movies to see. (The stronger the rating the better.) Discussion ensued about the various filters, search engines etc, but (as you've heard before) the role of supervision is still quite important, as young children now learn the internet and have ever-faster connect rates. However, censorship was not seen as realistic, or desirable.

[Another issue I became keyed into is the extent to which college freshmen are either excluded or included as the representative benchmark of the trends in online use. When reviewing the online usage research, it seemps important to keep in mind that we may be generalizing from college students, even as Internet users get progressively younger.]

Here's a handout now: Dr. Donnerstein referred to several interesting studies conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and their findings can be found online at http://www.kff.org

And now it is social hour time, for the Division of Clinical Psychology...

Tomorrow's agenda--Sunday-- is an early Breakfast meeting on educational advocacy, followed by a symposium on New Findings on the Effects of Internet Use. It's moderated by Marlene Maheu, a pioneer in "telehealth", and with some researchers including the Carnegie-Mellon team which recently reported how excessive online time leads to isolation and depression. Then a lunchtime discussion with Dr. Joyce Brothers, a comedy jam put on by the media division (including Albert Ellis doing stand-up comedy!) and dinner with the International Society of Mental Health Online (www.ismho.org) of which I'm a founding member and exec board member.

But for now, on to my Saturday evening, so as not to become isolated or depressed! :-)

But just a quick note, now, to mention that there are hundreds of symposia, workshops, forums, and special events going on during this huge convention of psychologists. These glimpses reflect only my own interests--particularly in healthcare policy, adolescence, violence, psychotherapy, and communication via the Internet--and my ability (or lack thereof) to juggle my schedule to blend some very serious topics with some more interesting and "fun" topics. There are mini-conventions going on specific to science, practice, minority issues, and academic issues, to name a few interest areas of concern to our diverse membership. There are divisional events, organizational activities, and on and on. But I know that some of my own "hot topics" are interesting to others as well, and it is for you who I post this historical record, which hopefully carries with it some of the overall flavor of this convention, and of psychology at the end of the millennium.

Greetings again from Boston!
-Michael

==================================

APA CONVENTION REPORT #4
Sunday, August 22, 1999

Asynchronously "live from Boston"-


For me the day began at dawn once again, with a 7:30 AM breakfast forum sponsored by APA's Public Policy Office. Due to the weather, the speaker, was unable to catch a plane to Boston from Washington, so he spoke by speakerphone. Neil Sampson is Deputy Associate Administrator of HRSA's Bureuau of Health Professions. His presentation was primarily an overview of funding opportunities for education in the health professions, with pie charts, and statistics. I wished I had had more sleep! :-) But the day got better quickly... even the rain cleared up by mid-day.

Large-scale Internet Use Studies (ABC, Carnegie-Mellon, & MSNBC)
Who Uses the Net, How, and How Much?


At 9AM I attended one of Marlene Maheu's telehealth symposiums, where the first speaker was Dr. David Greenfield (who I dinner with this evening, it turns out.) He addressed the phenomenon of "internet addiction" (for lack of a better term) among college students. [An interview with Dr. Greenfield on the prevalence of "internet addiction" appeared on the front page of the Boston Herald the next day, titled "Internet proves a Web of addiction for 11 million worldwide".] He quoted students, e.g., "I have more friends online than I did in school", and repeated stories of staying up all night, checking email 30-40 times a day, etc. He spoke of the media frenzy now over these various internet related addictions--online gambling, shopping and sex in particular; "clearly something is happening". Dr. Greenfield did a study in conjunction with ABC, which ran a 35-item study on its web site, which generated 18,000 responses in a 2-week period, over half of which came in on just the first 2 days. After discussing the statistical challenges of such large numbers, and the efforts which had to be made to eliminate fake and multiple responses, he discussed a few findings. For starts, 50% of respondents said they lie online in representing themself, "but they could be lying". The sample, mirroring other experiments, was 71% mail. It used Kimberly Young's criteria (modified DSM IV diagnosis of compulsive gambling) and found that very definitely a large number of people self-reported online behavior which would appear to be "addicted". Broken down into How Internet "Addicts" spend time online, results included:

Some assumptions in the findings (similar to other studies) suggested a "disinhibition" among heavy online users, which was acknowledged by 40% of the "non-addicted" group (over 16,000 people). Of the "addicts" (900+), 80 % reported disinhibition. Another common experience is accelerated intimacy (reported by 41% of "non-addicts" and 75% of "addicts"). [As I type this I wonder if this suggests that "addicts" are more self-aware of the reinforcers they obtain through internet use than non-addicts, or if, as a later speaker suggests, the methodology is weak in that the numbers reflect the self-selection process.] 83% of "addicts" report feeling "overwhelmed" by the presence of the screen. The sense of time gets warped too, something I'm sure we've all experienced. Time flies online.... Seven factors emerged from this large-scale study as predictive of "internet addiction":

  1. Time warp
  2. Their perception of being addicted
  3. Age (the younger the more likely)
  4. Intensity of experience
  5. Secrecy about use (within family)
  6. Compulsiveness
  7. Consequences for family of the online preoccupation

Several paradigms were offered for all sorts of online "addictions" including gambling, day trading, "information addicts", etc. "It's like pulling the handle on a slot machine... a variable reinforcement schedule".


--

Next, researcher Barry Gordon discussed another large study, on Sexuality on the Internet, conducted by MSNBC. It had 59 items. On the first day they got 5300 responses, in all 9200 people. They looked at websurfer preferences and found that males preferred online websites (for sexual content) while females preferred interactive chat rooms by a margin of 2:1. 8% of respondents spent 11 or more hours a week online surfing for sexual pictures or interaction. "Extreme sexual users" were 6:1 male, and 6.3% of the sample. They tended to be 2 years younger than non-extreme users, and among the females they were still younger. Most fell in the category of "singles, not dating".
--
Next was Dr. Sara Kiesler, co-author of the "Internet Paradox" study in the American Psychologist which recently made news with the finding of Social isolation and depression among Pittsburgh families who were given computers and internet access. A few findings continue to be developed, as the research continues. First, male adolescents sometimes like to "play with the researchers". Of 100 families, given pre- and post-tests, it was noted that teenagers tend to dominate the family computer and are "over-represented as family gurus". If parents didn't understand the computer, 27% of Dads asked their sons, 40% of Moms asked their daughers, 12% of sons asked a brother, and 18% of daughters asked a brother or sister. Looking at how this sample used the Internet (with the computers and servers wired to track websurfing and email use), "communication dominated information access. Email was used in at least 60% of Internet sessions and the web was used in 39%. Email precedes web use in 80% of sessions where both were used". Many people check for email and then log right off if there is none. "Teens come home from school and with instant messaging pick up where they left off with friends 10 minutes ago."

Effects on family communication-- Families generally communicated more, but the more hours online for teens, the more of "a decline in social interaction", which is not so pronounced in adults.

--

Finally, Viktor Brenner spoke about "generalizeablility in Internet-based (survey) research", and basically said, amidst very complex statistical arguments, that "we need to think more about limitations of our method. We introduce online many possible sources of bias." He observed that with mismanaged statistical arguments, "you can make a case that f2f communication is maladaptive and interferes with Internet use".

===========

Next stop: Conversation with Dr. Joyce Brothers

Wow. She really is something special. Introduced as "the founder of media psychology", Dr. Brothers spoke about her own life, which is just full of firsts. But most recently she has been active in counseling survivors of Littleton's tragedy: "I did everything but microwave oven". She recently spoke about this on the Larry King show.

She was introduced by an admiring Division 46 president Frank Farley, who wanted to know "how do you know all these things? She spoke of her memory and her determination to be self-reliant for information. Also she told the story of how she had resigned from APA a long time ago, and how she won the "64,000 Dollar Question" television show in 1955, answering a question on boxing which the producers had been assured would be impossible to correctly answer. (The producer was immmediately fired.) They never wanted her to win, and disliked her especially because she refused to wear make-up. Also she was ahead of her time in child-raising practices too, using a sling to carry her baby when jumbo carriages were popular, and referring to playpens as "prisons". She was also the first woman doctoral student in psychology at Columbia, where they asked her to step aside so a man could be admitted, and she refused.

Why else is Joyce Brothers special? She was offered a million dollars to endorse a soap "for nervous perspiration". "Sorry, I don't want to be known as 'Sweat'." She has been regularly on TV since 1958, and her proudest accomplishment is conveying to audiences that "you don't have to be crazy to seek help". She told many personal vignettes of how she went out of her way to help strangers, and still does. She counseled people to make a difference and do what we know in our hearts to be right. In a Q&A she took some questions on media, on crisis intervention, and finally "counseling on the internet". She noted that it is "amazing how few good sites there are. I put myself out as a 21 year old, blonde, need sex every night, living on my father's inheritance." And she got flooded with mail, not surprisingly. "People are taking a very big risk", she said. "They may find someone very well credentialled and others who may be very good without great credentials. But in general I would look for good credentials. And keep in mind, credentials can be fudged too." Would she ever franchise her own name? "No. I can't be responsible for other people."

Married in 1949, a brilliant student at Columbia, she decided against psychiatry because her husband was a physician and women at that time did not want to "compete" with their husbands. So she did psychology. She got all A's except for one C on a paper suggesting that schizophrenia might have a biological basis (contrary to prevailing theories of family pathology). "Thirty years later I got a letter from that professor saying 'here's the A I owe you'".

Another comment addressed life on the Internet. A major problem, she said, is that "there isn't any editor on the Internet. Many of the stories that you follow down turn out to be some kind of strange hype." In closing, with respect to the emphasis on sex she noted that in 1958 she presented a show during her four-week initial contract, on premature ejaculation. All the tv execs freaked out, and then seemed relieved, and then gave her free reign to use whatever language she wanted. She could talk about orgasm, whatever else she wanted, as long as she didn't use the word.... "satisfaction". Today "it's strange...people respond badly to the discussion of masturbation... the word is shock.....Until Monica Lewinsky, oral sex meant talking dirty."

Someone asked how it felt being in Littleton after all that despair, and she said it was difficult, but "like a physician who knows a patient might die, you feel sad but you deal with it. You can be helpful in even the most dreadful tragedies....I knew in my heart that it wouldn't be the last time..."

Dr. Brothers' closing advice to the psychologists present was to "ultimately do what gives you self-respect, what's right for you!"

==========

OK, from Internet addiction to sex and communication addiction, to statistics to Dr. Joyce Brothers and now, finally...

There was a closing celebration of the Media Division's mini-convention on Sex, Love and Psychology, featuring something picked up on by many national newspapers, simply for its title: The Second APA Comedy Jam, with the Sexual Peccadillo Players. (I couldn't make this up if I tried!) Stuart Fischoff, a Hollywood media psychologist who began his performance dressed as a Jeddi, did a poetry slam spoofing both Hollywood ("where instant gratification isn't fast enough") and the patient-client relationship as portrayed in movies. He brought the house down, concluding by satirizing his own romantic career, as the typical film script might read, whereby his Gestaltist lover needed a chair and his behavior therapist beau complained of only partial reinforcement. Where could we go from there? Try Albert Ellis singing his collection of humorous songs, ex-APA president Ronald Fox lecturing on the art of handling direct-marketing phone calls, and rapid-fire stand-up comedy from psychologist Lenore Walker. In between acts, Albert Ellis moved between his songbook selections, choosing his favorite 40's-50's tunes, and (I kid you not) leading in his rich voice, a chorus of ordinarily straight-laced clinicians in songs with titles such as "You for me, and me for me", "I'm just wild about Worry", "Should I part with my neurosis?", and "Hymn to Therapy", to name a few. (They are copyright and for sale, so I can't reprint the lyrics.)

OK, that's the inside edition of today at Boston APA. Time to catch a little sleep. Tomorrow is "Internet Therapy" day with John Grohol, Storm King, Azy Barak and a few others... then back to New York to sleep for a few days!

That's it for now. Best from Boston....

Michael

==================================

APA CONVENTION REPORT #5
*Final Report* thru 8-23-99


Internet Applications: Social and Therapeutic Value

My final early morning, in a state of virtual sleep-deprivation, was spent at a symposium on " Internet and Motion" which described some research and active support group history and evoked a discussion of online dynamics and opportunities. The panel was chaired by Dr. John Grohol, now the senior content manager for mental health at DrKoop.com. The first speakers, Drs. Janet Morahan-Martin and Phyllis Schumacher presented as a team, citing their own research as well as that of others into the social aspects and consequences of Internet use. Their findings suggest that while some may report that going to the computer makes them less lonely, but (quoting their paper here), "this suggests a vicious circle whereeby lonely individuals go online to fill social voids and emptiness in their life, but their online time creates voids [in] their RL social life and creates other RL problems." According to the presenters, " loneliness occurs when a person's network of social relationships is smaller or less satisfying than the person desired".

When subjects in their study were asked about the reasons for their substantial Internet use, killing time, relaxation, and social support were mentioned. The study group spent most of their time with email. The aspect of social anxiety and the control which online communication offers was also described, along with the difference between long-term versus state loneliness. (75% of first year college students, a very widely studied group, report being lonely.) Other interesting statistics: 52.8 % of lonely people versus only 33.8% of non-lonely people " lurked" rather than actively joining in interactive communication. Some theories underlying loneliness (e.g., fear of rejection) were discussed, as were the typical dynamics seen in chat rooms (including self-disclosure and other components not so dissimilar to that observed in f2f group therapy. On a positive note, there are opportunities to raise self-esteem. "The Internet is the world's largest come-as-you-are party", and can be liberating, and promote disinhibition.

--

Storm King, who has been studying support groups online for several years now, spoke about the current practice and challenge of "Internet Group Therapy". Many aspects of relating online are unique, starting with the need to reverse the basic social norm: Don't talk to strangers. Acknowledging that conducting "group therapy" is controversial, Storm noted that one cannot compare f2f with virtual "therapy", and "maybe they shouldn't be the same". Both psychologists and clients need to understand text-based relationships, and there are entire theories, such as the "hyperpersonal theory" of flaming (Joseph Walters), and theories about online love, etc. The opportunities for distortion, misunderstanding, projection and transference are all great, along with the common experience of disinhibition. As Einstein stated how "nature abhors a vacuum", Storm argued that the online mind so too struggles to fill in the blanks about who we are speaking with and how they might be reacting to us. This is why in his opinion (and mine too!), "Internet group work needs a trained professional", and does not appear to be very well suited for extreme psychopathology.

Perhaps, it was suggested, the online modality could be used as a supplement for traditional therapies. It also has great utility for patients seeking support for progressive diseases, who might otherwise be either physically unable to attend, or psychologically unable to witness others with the same condition, getting worse.

Finally, some of the ethical and legal considerations were presented, along with the difficulty of enforcement. APA for example, can come up with guidelines, but there would be no way to impose them on another country. [I for one think that just as all politics is local, so too is psychotherapy, though I know there are exceptions!]

The next presentation was on MUDs (multi-user-dungeons originally, now multi-user dimensions). Ironically, this hi-tech presentation was limited because of the incompatibility of his disc with the computer on hand. (One might wonder what would happen to the course of "therapy" when the ISP goes down or a computer crashes?) Anyway, Dr. James Sempsi presented an interesting description of the psychosocial dynamics in virtual reality communities. He described it as "like an interactive novel", where you log in and find yourself in a familiar place, with familiar (yet anonymous) people. He did research in 31 MUD's, using a Social Climate Scale, and found higher levels of expressiveness and innovation than among f2f group members, with less empahasis on leader control. The antithesis of the classroom lecture model, such findings have implications, Dr. Sempsi suggested, for designing effective distance education.

Additional information online:

To see more about the world of MUD's, check out www.mudconnector.com

--

The final panelist was Dr. Katelyn McKenna, from NYU, who spoke on "Relationship formation on the Internet." She noted how people were initially afraid to have telephones because of the fear that people would be listening even if the phone were on the hook. Others feared that AC power, when introduced, would leak out of wall sockets. And then there was Bela Lugosi in "Murder by Television". She believes there is similar panic now about the dangers of the internet.

Dr. McKenna discussed the Home Net study, which found slight correlations between internet use and social isolation. She also cited studies describing strong friendships which formed among MUD players.

There are 4 key differences between online and f2f relationships:
  1. Anonymity
  2. Physical Appearance/Visual Cues
  3. Physical Distance doesn't matter
  4. Time becomes immaterial

--

My final symposium at APA was titled Internet Support Groups--Group Therapy by E-Mail and Chat

Chaired by Storm King, panelists included Drs. Steve Herman and Azy Barak, and graduate student Nicole English, a computer expert who is currently involved in piloting support groups for Cancer patients at her university-affiliated medical center. Again, the irony of dependency on technology was apparent when it was learned there there was no projector or computer onhand for the presenters to visually display their research. But they proceeded nevertheless. (Actually, Nicole, a former professional dancer, glided gracefully around a lo-tech overhead projector which she used for her presentation.)

Dr. Barak, from the University of Haifa, described his "empirical evaluation of brief group therapy via Internet Chat rooms", describing the advantages and disadvantages of "asynchronous communication" For example, one benefit is that of "time and place elasticity", while a potential disadvantage is how communication lacks immediacy. He refered to the work of John Suler in studying chat room dynamics (including such factors as "feeling of presence" and "perceived inclusion") as well as the technical aspects of setting up a chat room in a manner which ensures confidentiality. Dr. Barak described a study comparing f2f versus chat formats for brief therapy groups (which some felt may have been too brief!). Some of the findings suggested that both treatment groups felt some beneficial effect relative to a control (non-treatment) group. Online therapists noted a faster process of emotional involvement, while f2f therapists described more member aggression and active therapist support. [I found it very interesting that those in the chat condition were typically not interested in meeting face to face, which left me wondering about the role of self-selection for the study, which is apparently a notorious factor in research using college students in 1999. I also wonder whether online "group therapy" does not in fact prepare members for better functioning in online groups, as opposed to f2f!]

[Online reprint: http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~azy/cherapy.htm ]

Next, Nicole English presented on The Effectiveness of Online vs. Traditional Support Groups for Cancer Patients. Her university's health psychology program is currently doing preliminary research on comparing online versus offline support groups for Cancer patients (breast cancer patients currently in remission). Using 3 scales, including adjective checklists, the university employs browser-based software and Volano chat software to facilitate easy access to the chat room. There is support from the medical community for this use of online support, and the study and services are expected to expand.

The final presenter was Dr. Steve Herman, who described his "Hi-tech Online PsychoEducation and Support (HOPES)" model as one which "combineds self-help with online support". He described how the internet is transforming society, particularly with regard to information-seeking and self-help in the area of health and mental health. Over 70 million Americans (that's 1/3 of our population!) report having searched the Internet for health-related information. The most searched-for term is "depression" (19%) followed by "cancer" (15%), the latter discussed by the previous presenter as well as being a major focus of this year's APA convention.

The audience was reminded of former APA president George Miller's call for "giving psychology away", as a public service. Four out of 5 people do not seek psychotherapy when they are distressed, but might be more likely to seek information or self-help, which can be facilitated online. Some feel that attempting "online therapy", however is an inefficient use of the Internet, "essentially a watered down form of face to face therapy ....essentially removing the most useful information." Dr. Herman's primary focus is on self-help and bibliotherapy, which have found to be particularly useful for anxiety, obesity, and other conditions which can benefit from self-treatment.

--

And that concludes this onsite report from the American Psychological Association's last convention of this century, and millennium. It is hoped that this presentation may have both historical and practical value as we enter the 21st Century and continue to seek answers for individual and societal problems.

Again, I have made a good-faith effort to accurately present quotations, research citations, and statistics presented in symposia and speaker handouts. I would be happy to correct any errors which are brought to my attention. I am grateful to the APA as well as the individual presenters and their sponsors for making this event as rich and varied as it was, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to enhance my own knowledge as well as to get to meet and/or spend time with many of the presenters highlighted above. Much of the focus herein has been on societal issues which are important to us all, and I am honored to be able to make my own contribution toward "giving psychology away" via the extraordinary power of the Internet.


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