Psychological Interpretations of Popular Media
Audiences of all ages are often attracted to various cultural artefacts through movies, video games, music, and books, to name a few. One might argue that the emotions ingrained in such mediums are also ingrained in the human psyche: grief, guilt, depression, fear, isolation, but also inspiration, forgiveness, acceptance, and motivation to do what’s right. Through psychological theories, we can develop a better understanding of childhood and adolescent pains, the role of games and fantasy in our psychological wellbeing, and the experience of loss.
Psychoanalytic assessments of popular culture remain salient because the lens offers one way of appreciating how cultural artefacts—especially representations of the fantastic and uncanny—bring us closer to psychic reality. By engaging with and enjoying the products of culture, audiences are not necessarily indulging in escapism but are in fact inching ever closer to the doors behind which our very humanity is often concealed (i.e., the unconscious). There is a momentous opportunity to not only explore the many converging factors that have brought different generations of viewers together and how such shows like Netflix’s sci-fi series Stranger Things have been able to achieve this but also how the show itself might spur greater reflection on psychoanalytic theory and formulations.
The show’s ability to balance that with which we are familiar at a conscious level, and that which we dissociate as completely “Other,” speaks to the very aspects of mental life to which psychoanalysis lays claim. Hearing the music we loved, seeing the toys we once owned, and revisiting the games we once played hook us in, but we stay with the series because a deeper stratum of the human psyche has been touched and activated. We are both fascinated and terrified by what might be lurking around the next corner—what we will find out about our protagonists and what, in the process, we ultimately discover about ourselves.
Prof. Kevin Lu (University of Essex) and Dr. Will Sharp (Northeastern University).
Published research from this project:
Lu, K., Kaluzeviciute, G., Sharp, W. (2022). Things Can Only Get Stranger: Theoretical and Clinical Reflections on Netflix’s Stranger Things. Journal of Popular Culture. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpcu.13143
Representations of Adolescent Social Anxiety Online
Social media platforms are becoming significantly important in understanding adolescent mental health experiences. One of the most visited websites in the world, Reddit, attracts approximately 52 million daily active users and has a significant adolescent user population (users aged 13-19). Reddit is based on individual communities (called ‘subreddits’) focusing on specific topics, such as mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety) and experiences (e.g., phobias). Under the guise of non-identifiable pseudonyms, Reddit users are able to express their views and experiences and interact with other anonymous strangers, with designated community moderator support. This makes Reddit a suitable space to convey sensitive information pertaining to mental health and psychological wellbeing.
Recent research studies investigating mental health representations online show that at times young people are more likely to self-disclose mental health experiences and seek out support in anonymised online spaces rather than disclosing this in formal mental health support settings (e.g., counselling, psychotherapy) or face-to-face interactions with close relatives and friends. It is likely that such online mental health disclosures have increased in frequency during the COVID-19 pandemic, given the self-isolation restrictions and generally lower access to face-to-face therapeutic services.
Given the high prevalence of anxiety disorders, this study will seek to understand how young people convey their experiences of this mental health condition online. By analysing anonymous posts about social anxiety, we anticipate that our study results will shed light on help-seeking behaviours, development of coping strategies, and stigma attitudes (particularly around perceptions of ‘legitimate’ or ‘authentic’ anxiety and ‘inauthentic’ or ‘fraudulent’ mental health experiences). These findings will provide important insight into populations that are experiencing mental health distress but, for various reasons, are not seeking (or are not able to seek) formal mental health interventions and are therefore underrepresented in psychological research.
Jessica Jackson (University of Derby) and Dr Joshua Moreton (Vilnius University).
Published research from this project:
Kaluzeviciute, G., Jackson, J., Moreton, J. (2022). Online representations of anxiety amongst adolescent users on Reddit: a qualitative Internet-mediated study protocol. Journal of Concurrent Disorders. https://doi.org/10.54127/DJMS5818
The impact of digitalization on psychotherapy processes
Online psychotherapy has become incredibly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when clients were unable to see their therapists face-to-face and had to find an alternative arrangement through digital mediums. Even before the pandemic, however, research by Kruger & Johanssen (2016) and earlier, Gabbard (2001), discovered that our ever increasing online presence has begun to impact the practice of psychotherapy, which historically has been thought of as an intensely private endeavor. For example, Freud (1912) often described the necessity of being opaque to patients and showing them nothing but their own thoughts and feelings. His daughter, Anna Freud, explicitly defined the concept of therapeutic neutrality in which the therapist ‘takes his stand at a point equidistant from the id, the ego, and the superego’ (1936, p. 28).
Although the view of a ‘blank screen’ neutral therapist has changed since the emergence of relational and interpersonal psychoanalytic approaches, it is inevitable that the increasing use of online platforms and social media networks will – and already has – changed the landscape of therapeutic relationships. Patients actively seek out information about their therapists that is not necessarily professional in nature (e.g., personal photos, family information) (Kolmes & Taube, 2016). This can lead to significant ethical challenges and stumbling blocks across different therapeutic relationships. Despite this, the pandemic showed that it is important to maintain an open-mind toward digital platforms for psychotherapy: while some patients find it difficult to engage with, others praise online counselling and psychotherapy as a more accessible and flexible alternative. This project therefore seeks to document the challenges as well as the benefits of all forms of online therapeutic mediums and their impact on therapeutic relationships and processes.
Parts of the project have been conducted in collaboration with Dr Yasuhiro Kotera (University of Nottingham) and Dr Christopher Lloyd (University of Derby).
Published research from this project:
Kotera, Y., Kaluzeviciute, G., Lloyd, C. M., Edwards, A., Ozaki, A. (2021). Qualitative Investigation into Therapists’ Experiences of Online Therapy and Implications for Working Clients. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 10295. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph181910295
Kaluzeviciute, G. (2020). Social Media and its Impact on Therapeutic Relationships. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 36(2), 303-320. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjp.12545