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Your blog can be group therapy

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  • Report: Some 12 million people have a blog; many use it for group therapy
  • Experts: Blogging shouldn't replace face-to-face counseling
  • Study: Men blog about politics, technology and money
  • Study: Women tend to blog more about private lives
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By Anna Jane Grossman
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(LifeWire) -- When a 24-year-old woman who called herself "90DayJane" launched a blog in February announcing she would write about her life and feelings for three months and then commit suicide, 150,000 readers flocked to the site. Some came to offer help, some to delight in the drama. Others speculated it was all a hoax.

Stacey Kim says blogging helps her cope with being a widow and a single mom to twins Riley, left, and Madeleine.

Few, however, questioned why she would share her deepest thoughts and feelings with strangers online. In the age of cyber-voyeurism, the better question might be: Why wouldn't she?

Overeating, alcoholism, depression -- name the problem and you'll find someone's personal blog on the subject. Roughly 12 million Americans have blogs, according to polls by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, and many seem to use them as a form of group therapy.

A 2005 survey by Digital Marketing Services for AOL.com a found nearly half of the 600 people polled derived therapeutic benefits from personal blogging.

'Instant support system'

For Stacey Kim, a 36-year-old book editor who lives in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Massachusetts, emotional blogging has become a reflex. On April 11, 2007, Kim curled up next to her husband and held him as he succumbed to a long battle with pancreatic cancer. The next morning, she went online to post about the experience.

"It cemented the reality that he was gone," Kim says. "I got hundreds of comments back that were all so loving and supportive. It gave me a really tangible sense of community."

She blogs about life as the widowed mother of 22-month-old twins at snickollet.blogspot.com.

"Right after he died, people kept asking if I was in therapy," says Kim, "and I'd say, 'No, but I have a blog.'"

Writing long has been considered a therapeutic outlet for people facing problems. A 2003 British Psychological Society study of 36 people suggested that writing about emotions could even speed the healing of physical wounds: Researchers found that small wounds healed more quickly in those who wrote about traumatic personal events than in those who wrote about mundane activities.

But it's the public nature of blogs that creates the sense of support.

Reading someone else's blog can be surprisingly beneficial, says MightyGirl.net blogger Margaret Mason, 32. She reads about other women's experiences with everything from in-laws to apartment-hunting at blogs like SuburbanBliss.net and SuperHeroDesigns.com.

"Blogging can create an instant support system, especially at a time when you might not have the energy or resources to seek out people who've shared your experiences," says Mason, author of "No One Cares What You Had For Lunch," a book on keeping a blog interesting.

A way to be heard

John Suler, a psychology professor at Rider University in New Jersey, has studied the overlap of psychology and cyberspace. Blog audiences are usually small, he says, but "going public with one's thoughts and experiences can be a self-affirming process."

He and other experts say blogging shouldn't replace face-to-face counseling -- although it can complement sessions when a patient shares their writing with the therapist.

"Some psychologists take special interest in any activities that their clients may undertake online," Suler says, "because such activities often reveal a lot about how they express their identity and relate to other people."

Kim did start psychotherapy, but kept blogging. "My therapist will give me little assignments and I'll blog about them," she says. "If I come home (after a session) and write about it, it solidifies it."

One Chicago licensed social worker and therapist in her 50s encourages patients to release bottled emotions through blogging. Leah, who asked that her last name not be used because of the nature of her profession, started EveryoneNeedsTherapy.blogspot.com to share professional insights.

Soon, however, she was talking about her own feelings -- and her husband told her it seemed to lift her mood.

"It's a form of group therapy," says Leah. "Not only can you express your feelings, but you can get comments, and that creates a dialogue."

Blogging about personal matters seems to be more of a feminine pursuit. In the 2004 study "Effects of Age and Gender on Blogging," researchers examined more than 37,000 blogs on blogger.com. Their conclusion: Male bloggers tend to write about politics, technology and money; women are more likely to blog about their private lives and use an intimate style of writing.

This doesn't surprise Patricia Wallace, author of "The Psychology of the Internet."

"Women tend to self-disclose more online in general," says the senior director at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. "Women far outnumber men in certain blogging worlds in which feelings are shared, such as cancer blogs."

Permanent marks

The only problem, some bloggers find, is that many posts become passé -- yet they're on the Web forever.

"The Internet takes momentary thoughts and freezes them in amber as if they're permanent," says Scheherazade Mason, a career counselor and sailing coach at Bowdoin College in Maine. She stopped posting her deepest thoughts, but calls the experience positive.

"Through my first blog, I learned to be braver," Mason says. "I learned that my weakness was also likable. In real life, you try to show only strength and to hide your weaknesses, but I exposed everything."

90DayJane also said she learned important things. After seven days, she announced the blog was an art project and she wasn't planning to kill herself.

"I wanted this blog to be about personal discovery and truth," she wrote in her final post. "But the correspondences I have received have taught me more about those qualities than I could ever express. 90DayJane ... has changed my perspective as a human being."

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Anna Jane Grossman is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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