The Austin Chronicle

Panel Recap: Therapy 2.0: Mental Health for Geeks

By Rebecca Farr, March 19, 2009, 2:11pm, SXSW

Psychiatrist Keely Kolmes and writer Thomas Roche presented this Tuesday afternoon core conversation, which felt much like sitting in an AA meeting or other group therapy session. One after another, for almost an hour, audience members described their experiences with a relatively new category of neurosis – Information Anxiety caused by information overload.

One young woman said she feels she has lost the capacity for solitude and she wonders if it is gone forever. She recently noticed that it has become extremely unusual for her to take a walk or drive the car without checking email and twitter during the walk or drive. She feels that she doesn't have a sense of wholeness unless someone else is validating her experience fairly constantly throughout the day. Others talked about feeling terrible guilt when they didn't electronically check in constantly, about sitting and tweeting in the same room with people they could be talking to. One man felt that the increased capacity to understand comes with responsibility, which feels like a great weight. Several people spoke of boundaries – how technology helps us hide and gives us a false sense of intimacy which can cause problems in online relationships.

Solutions the audience came up with included creating barriers to information, such as not checking email until late in the day, deliberately leaving their iPhone or Blackberry at home or even running software that would lock them out of the computer for scheduled blocks of time. Some people found help online, with support groups as well as task management and time management software.

There were questions: Is there a new type of suffering happening, or is this just a tech replacement for the same old neuroses? Did something like this happen when the telephone was new? Has the definition of mental health changed? How do we define mental health?

While the party line of mainstream psychotherapy seems to be, β€œit's an addiction, like TV, so make them stop it,” there are a growing number of therapists, like Dr. Kolmes, who understand that this is where we live and who work to help us find coping skills.

So what can we do about Information Anxiety?

Dr. Kolmes had a list of five things we can do now to improve our mental health: weekly gratitude practice; breathing and mindfulness practice; connecting with others; exercise; and thought tracking.

You can find a list of resources at Dr. Kolmes' website, as well as a blog. You can read more on Sexerati about how Keely prepared to do this talk and how she would go about helping clients with Information Anxiety.

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