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Still Just A Tool: Web Therapy Critiques the Internet
by Survey of Interactive Media `

By Dominic Matheny

 
 

In Web Therapy, Lisa Kudrow’s Fiona Wallice is a misguided and selfish woman, who believes that conducting therapy in 3-minute sessions via iChat is the most effective way to hold sessions. In this way, Fiona says, they can avoid talking about things that don’t matter – people can avoid speaking about things as mundane as “dreams” or “experiences”. In the attached clip, she tells her patient that he should only mention such things if “they’re important” and that she will “guide him”. This would seem at face value a damning criticism of putting the process of psychoanalysis, conceived as taking place with an analysand and an analyst in the same room discussions subconscious problems, on the Internet as an endeavor that is inherently flawed. This suggestion seems to be coded with a suggestion that somehow the Internet, despite the very real types of things that may happen therein (generation of capital, communication, etc.) is a world composed only of the false. It is this construction that creates an unease for us in “real” processes, even those as culturally ambivalent as psychotherapy that are moved to this medium.

 

But Web Therapy is not criticizing using the Internet for therapy explicitly, or if it is, it is doing so in error. Doing sessions via some sort of iChat is not a frowned-upon process – in fact, less personal methods such as phone therapy and e-mail therapy are used by licensed psychotherapists, and considered to be valid treatment options. The problem that Web Therapy critiques as it regards the Internet is two-fold. First, it is now possible for those with no expertise (we later learn that Fiona is not accredited, and not legally a therapist) to feign it. A combination of Max Weber’s “charismatic authority” and “traditional authority” combine to allow the most charismatic or effective speakers – or the most forceful – to claim domain over others. This process has been increased by the effect whereby commenters become experts, and everyone has the right to express a valid criticism (or an invalid). And it is dangerous for Fiona to continue work as a psychotherapist – this much is evident from the moment she decries “dreams and feelings” which add up to “a whole lot of nothin’”. Secondly, Fiona’s obvious disconnect from reality and her ability to immerse herself in her own narcissism to the exclusion of reality is a direct result of a culture in which Fiona can surround herself with those willing to believe in her aforementioned authority. It is Ms. Wallice’s disconnection from reality in a web culture that allows her to become an authoritative force. While her authority depends on people willing to give it to her like all other forms, it is also the case (unlike that of traditional authority of other psychotherapists, or actual lawmakers, etc.) that those individuals whom determine her authority have a vested interest in supporting the authority afforded by the Internet. Fiona is authoritative on the Internet, because well, everyone is , and if everyone is authoritative on the Internet, so am I! In this manner, I return to my title - the Internet itself may change the paradigms in which processes take place, and in some, those changes have been a sea change. Regarding this particular issue, we can see how the Internet remains somewhat powerless to change such an entrenched process. This time, the Internet remains merely a tool.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Web Therapy by L Studios (2008) How does the process of psychotherapy change when purposefully perverted? How does the Internet change processes conceived at times when the Internet was not around? Do these processes become null?