Podcasting as Therapy 03

In my last couple of posts, I’ve offered some thoughts about the way that podcasting might be thought of as a form of therapy, or at least be able to contribute to a process of therapy. What prompted my thinking about this was my personal experience producing and sharing podcasts over the last couple of years. Not that I set out to produce podcasts that had a therapeutic effect, but that the sense of wellbeing that I achieved after recording and listening back to the podcasts I’d contributed to, was noticeable and welcome.

The conversational style podcast that I had hosted and made a shared contribution to might be understood as something of a crossover between public communication and therapy. It filled a gap in my expectations that media doesn’t just have to be something that is publicly fulfilling, i.e. designed for consumption by an audience, but could be personally fulfilling, as it is meaningful to those that participate.

I can’t speak for the others who contributed, but having a regular weekly forum in which to share and explore ideas related to our experiences and concerns was enriching and fulfilling. It was worth the effort of getting the equipment together, finding contributors and, finding a venue, recording the podcast and then editing it and posting it online.

Beyond the practical considerations, however, something else goes on with this style of podcast, and I’ve been intrigued by the strong personal desire I’ve noticed in myself to get back to doing these podcasts and to create space in my week for a regular event that I can look forward to, not only because I like the idea of doing a podcast that goes out to the world, as a projection, but also because I find it is a good way to introspectively reflect on issues and concerns both of my own and other people’s concerns.

Blogging in Psychology Today, Guy Winch draws a parallel between podcasting and therapy, but suggests that podcasting has the potential to go beyond what can be offered in a face-to-face therapy, especially when resources are scarce and limited, and shared experiences are more difficult to achieve given time and financial constraints.

Winch points out that the self-help culture has grown considerably in the Western world, partly because organised and regulated therapy approaches are simply incapable of serving the general population’s needs. The self-help culture has become a major industry in its own right, with books, audio-guides, then websites, forums and online courses becoming ever more prevalent and popular.

[I’ve ordered copies of Steve Salerno’s book Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, and Micki McGee’s book Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, to situate the phenomenon more specifically].

Winch suggests that podcasts are an option that we should take seriously if we are to address wider issues of personal development and enrichment, as they can provide an “easily accessible information, support and interventions for those for whom personal therapy is not an option (for geographic, financial, logistic, or other reasons).’

Having never undertaken any form of therapy, knowingly or unknowingly, and with the caveat that it might be something that I should do at some point, I’ve been intrigued to see how advise about making the most from a therapy process, has strong parallels with advice that I would give about hosting a conversational style podcasting.

For example, Margarita Tartakovsky, writing on the PsychCentral blog, suggests that while therapy can seem like a mystery to most people, there are some important things we can learn about the process before we engage in it. Tartakovsky’s suggestion is that we have to make careful choices about who and what form of therapy we engage with. That we should view therapy as a collaboration, that the sessions should be at amenable times, and that we should avoid self-censoring during the session, which usually occurs because we are weary of being judged.

Obviously, a podcast is designed for public consumption, so some self-editing and editing by the host would be appropriate, especially if the conversation veers into controversial or public topics that require an understanding of defamation and liable law, or that start to talk about traumatic or intimate relationships and experiences.

However, as Tartakovsky’s suggests, we should be free to talk about pretty much anything, including the process of talking about our topics of concern. The process of self-reflection is an interesting area to explore, and something that podcasting can really help with. How do we construct a line of thinking? How do we relate our experiences? How do we frame our understanding of each other’s motivations and intentions?

Most of the time we do this subliminally. We seldom have the opportunity to reflect on the way that we explain a predicament or think about how we frame a personal problem or social issues given a set of terms and language processes that we have to hand. Being able to listen back to a podcast that has effectively been recorded as a guided conversation, that draws out our thinking, is incredibly useful.

It might be one way that we find our voice and recognise our intellectual capability to reconsider and move or adapt our thinking? My personal experience with this was useful, because I now feel more confident about my thought processes and the way that I verbalise my thinking from A to B.

I have never been very confident about my intellectual capacity. For the record I am INFJ, which suggests that I have a somewhat complex and multi-layered approach to issues. I am not the kind of thinker who can set simple categories and then work through a linear process in order to make sense of something, I’m driven by an introverted sense of intuition and values-driven thinking processes, that have taken me a long time to begin to understand.

Podcasting has been a great help for me in being able to hear myself, listen to the context of the conversation, reflect on how I have interacted with others in the conversation, and then been able to form an expression of understanding, however temporary and partial, and then move forward with some form of agreement about the topic.

Tartakovsky suggests that it is okay to disagree with the guide in the therapy process, as long as we recognise that there is a process and that we have work to do that enables and facilitates the process in order to achieve our objectives.

I like what Ryan Howes in a blog for Psychology Today suggests, that we have to learn to fish because if we try to predict or control our thinking we won’t benefit from tapping into our subconscious intuition when we are seeking to resolve complex and deep rooted issues.  As Howe’s argues,

A lot of people want advice from their therapist. Therapy is more about helping you come to your own conclusions than having the therapist make decisions for you. This benefits you in the long run but may seem disappointing at the time.

Noam Shpancer in his blog for Psychology Today, suggests that while

No single therapy theory or technique holds a monopoly on healing. Depending on the particular context—when, where, how, and with whom they are used—multiple approaches, explanations, and interventions may prove effective and helpful, or, alternately, ineffective and harmful.

However, when therapy is effective, according to Shpancer, it is founded on principles that sustain the process of healing that therapy is capable of providing. There are some basic points to remember, however, such as:

  • Good therapy is not friendship.
  • Good therapy is evidence-based.
  • Good therapy affirms the client’s basic human dignity and worth.
  • Good therapy encourages and models accurate, honest, and timely feedback and communication.
  • Good therapy = a good therapeutic alliance.
  • Good therapy encourages the client’s independence and competence.
  • Good therapy considers the client’s history and biography.
  • Good therapy takes into account the client’s subjective experience and inner world.
  • Good therapy happens when the client does the work.
  • Good therapy offers support, requires learning, and facilitates action.

Try swapping the word ‘therapy’ at the start of these statements and change it to ‘podcasting’. Does it feel so strange that we can think of podcasting in these terms? That the process of recording and engaging in discussion takes these factors into account? Shpancer suggests that

If you are in therapy feeling alone and unsupported, if you haven’t learned anything new, and if your behaviour has not changed at all, then you’re not in therapy, at least not in therapy that’s any good.

Perhaps this is a good way to evaluate and understand the benefits of a conversational or therapeutic style of podcast? Rather than looking at the way a podcast functions in informational terms, as part of a mass media communications system, we should ask how we feel and what we have learnt both from participating in podcasts and listening to them?

Essentially, podcasting as a form of therapy, or aligned with therapeutic intentions, has to be considered by non-media-centric criteria. Judging the participative experience from a reflective and contemplative point of view, that recognises the inner-world of ideas and experience, rather than simply the exterior world of categories and measurements. This then means that we need to take more care and focus on the nuances of social communication if we are to grasp the difference between alternative forms of media presentation.

In the next blog I want to explore some thoughts about the need to challenge the transactional model of communication, and how we might instead look for a values and reflection-led model of social communication. We spend to much of our time thinking about how our media is constructed and operates as an object, and we spend little time considering how we can use media to make the world meaningful, purposeful and whole.