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Four Years of ShrinkTalk.Net and a College Student Asks an Important Question: Is the Site Controversial?

Posted Jul 05 2011 9:21pm

As I continue to eat and drink virtually everything in sight – this is what I call the Month of Hedonism for Writing a Book and Screw Everything Else – it escaped me that last week was the four year anniversary of ShrinkTalk.Net. Normally I post hate mail as a twisted form of celebration (I’m absolutely fascinated by people who take the time to write walls of hate on websites), but this year I thought I’d include some correspondence with a college student and his classmates who had questions about the site. We had an interesting dialogue which you can read, with commentary, below:

1. Do your clients know you write about them? Do you obtain any kind of release of information from them aside from a verbal agreement?

- There is a bit of a misunderstanding here. I don’t write about my clients. I write stories based on my experiences as a Psychologist. That includes writing things about my practice and my colleagues. My job is to ensure that my clients’ confidentiality is protected, and I take that part of the writing extremely seriously.

I don’t know how many clients know about ShrinkTalk or my book. I don’t announce it to them, but I don’t hide it either. But asking them to sign a written release or agree to a verbal one is not relevant, given what I said above, and could even be considered a form of solicitation, which is definitely unethical.

2. Do your clients read your blog? If so, what do they think about it?

- The ones who read it and actually talk to me about it say very positive things. But many of them have known me for awhile now and recognize what I’m trying to accomplish. I could see how, on first blush, someone might not take to the site right away, but if you really read the messages built into the stories, they are more important than what you might expect.

3. Do you feel that your site is controversial, and how do you feel about it being discussed in an ethics course? What would you say to someone who believed that your site was unethical?

- I like the idea of ShrinkTalk being discussed in an ethics class. Anything that gets people to think is a good thing. I believe it would be a stretch, though, to call it controversial. We’re talking about a website about psychology here, not a sex tape. If someone believes it’s unethical, my first thought is that he/she is missing the boat on what ShrinkTalk is all about. This is a site designed to debunk the myths about mental health, to break down stigmas for the mentally ill, to teach psychological principles in a way that’s not dry or boring and to help people understand what the life of a shrink is all about. These are not bad things, and using clinical material is done all the time in psychological and medical journals. The only reason you don’t hear those publications being labeled as unethical is because they are sterile and clinical. But the principles remain the same. So those who see the site and unethical need to look a little more closely, understand more fully, and save the Ethics Whistle for those situations that really call for it.

At that point I asked the student to keep me informed about what his classmates thought about my responses. It wasn’t as positive as I had hoped:

Truth be told everyone had mixed feelings about your publications. Though we all could see the merit in the spirit of your musings the general consensus is that it crosses into that ethical grey area.

The major comments about your site are that though you use words like ‘shrink’ and ‘crazy’ in a humorous context it still projects a negative image onto professionals, and those seeking psychological services. Also, it was noted that though the basis of your efforts may be good it comes across as gimmicky, and you seem to be more a brand than a therapist with promoting your site, book, facebook, and twitter.

Over all, the feeling my classmates and I were left with is that though not really unethical it does come across as unprofessional.

Once again I thank you for answering my questions as it helped guide the conversation of the class. If we have not offended you with our thoughts by now [edited for flow] could you tell us what your colleagues think?

I was impressed that even though he was telling me that he and his classmates saw me as a Dr. Phil wannabe, he wanted to know more. That’s pretty gutsy:

What do my colleagues think? Well, I got fired from a very well-paying job for doing it, but that’s mainly because I was connected at that time to Tucker Max , who is a very polarizing figure. My boss enjoyed the content and it likely wouldn’t be an issue now because I’m writing on my own. Most of the professionals I talk to really like it, save for the very conservative analyst-types. Some have expressed concerns similar to yours, but when they’ve really taken a close look, read the mission statement, dug into some posts, saw the comments and the positive response it’s gotten, they almost always change their mind.

Of course there is branding involved here, it would be silly to even challenge that notion. I’m not interested in being the next Dr. Drew, but a small dose of fame is appealing to me. But branding doesn’t take away from public benefit, and the site has helped a lot of people. It’s not a popular site because there’s some anonymous, ranting lunatic telling jokes at the expense of the mentally ill. It’s caught on because it’s a different take told by someone in the field who is sincerely saying, “everyone is crazy, we all have our problems, myself included, but that’s okay. Get the help if you need it. I did and it was wonderful. Don’t keep a stigma going that doesn’t need to exist.” My goal is to have people say “I’m going to therapy,” the same way they would say, “I’m going to the dentist.” When people no longer feel shame about mental health, I’ll feel like the job will be done.

I’m sure he and his classmates haven’t changed their opinion of me based on that response – they could be laughing out loud at my expense – but the message here is that you can’t worry about things like that. I have clients, friends and family who both literally and figuratively chase down people to seek their approval, to obtain validation, to be told they’re doing a job well done. You can’t ask that of everyone, it simply won’t work. You saw a snippet of me doing it here and it failed. No one will approve of everything you do, all of the time. You have to simply pursue what you believe is right and worthy. If validation from others comes from that, great. If not, take your approval from within, knowing you continue to push for your cause.

If you’ve been around this site for one day, all four years or something in between, let me just say thank you. Your comments (positive, critical and flat-out hateful) have been awesome to read and has made this experience absolutely fabulous. Stick around, there’s more to come.

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