Why every psychotherapist and counsellor will encounter cybertrauma soon enough.

The irony to this article is you will be reading it on an electronic device connected to the internet in some way which means, you, like your clients are the product of an application (app) and therefore you are also at risk of cybertrauma. Cybertrauma is a theoretical framework that covers bio/psycho/social models and synthesises these with the digital issues that have, can and will arise. In terms of why you need to know this as a therapist, read on.

What exactly is cybertrauma and why do you need to know about it? What should you care? This is often a question I am asked by professionals and parents. So, I’m here to answer that for you and to describe my research in this topic area.

I am both blessed and lucky that I am what is commonly referred to as a Geek or Nerd from the 80’s. The one that wasn’t so popular as it is now and there were certainly no tees for me to buy to show off my ‘coolness’ as it now seemingly is. In short; my background is in engineering, computers and gaming and psychology/psychotherapy. I am both passionate and an old hat in terms of cyber related issues.

This is where for example the originators of the psychotherapy related theories; Such as the acclaimed Father figures e.g. Freud, Bowlby and Rogers run into difficulties and cybertrauma comes in. How you may ask? Okay, just for a moment imagine you are working with a client who is presenting with the death of a loved one. You can work with them on grief, permanence and the existential angst they may now be feeling and you can pull from your bookshelf any number of books, articles and papers that Psychology/Psychotherapy theorists have written. You can integrate, synthesise or selectively choose which theory and intervention technique you like from this literature and know that it has stood the test of time and is reliable. You can relate to literature that discusses attachment and loss, trauma and according to your model work with the grief process with your client.

But, what literature or experience do you draw on when the client presents with the death of a loved one and they are confused by the everlasting Facebook presence of a memorialised page? Perhaps they own the new hologram/avatar or consciousness of that loved one that they now carry with them. By this I mean actually carry with them in the form of a digital consciousness on a fob like a set of keys. Maybe they have their own internal/external experience of that person where the consciousness has been uploaded in some way to their mind, the cloud or into a new body? And, No I’m not joking here, although these are propositions from a TV show there is currently a company looking to upload memories and advances in medical interventions, assessments and strategies.

How will you address clients who have purchased part of a human genome to advance their IQ, gain a new skill or to adapt their personality? Again, no I’m not joking. This is where we are heading in terms of some technological advances and I’ve only just begun to write here about the potentials of this topic. What about a client who gives their DNA to a company and then is arrested because part of their genomic sequence was hacked by another person?

What about a face recognition software that won’t allow a person to board a plane, incorrectly identifies a client as a sexual predator or results in a death by for example shooting a person who was incorrectly identified? Furthermore, I haven’t mentioned AI or Super AI, or Virtual reality and Augmented reality and the possibilities of assault/abuse in a virtual environment (mainly because that’s in my other article).

Returning to today (2018) and the likelihood of a client entering your room and discussing cyberbullying or stalking or trolling. Do you know the difference? Perhaps your client has been accused of being addicted to their electronic device or “Runescape”, “Twitch”, or “Steam”?

Do you understand theories behind why we are so attracted to using our devices and, on this occasion, I don’t actually mean the dopamine hits that are so often in the media? I’m referring to attachment and the polyvagal theory and how this applies to device usage?

And lastly, are you aware of the implications of your own device use, including social media (whether you use it or not) and how the new GDPR law will actually influence your future as a counsellor and/or psychotherapist? Do you apply the same settings to your social media usage as your daily life? Do you know what is on your client’s smartphone and how this can be used in therapy?

I understand there may be a large amount of new information here and some of it may be intriguing and other parts quite scary. Therefore, I am writing this introductory carrot and stick piece, so you can begin to contemplate your new evolving practice and to highlight my concerns for you. You know how to find me.

Catherine Knibbs- Clinical Researcher

Written by

I help people understand human behaviour around/with technology. A Cybertrauma Theorist/Author, PhD Clinical Researcher and Functional Coach