Cyberself therapists (also known as cyberself psychologists or cybershrinks) are increasing in number every day, but there is no accepted definition for cyberself psychology. Recently, the American Association of Cyberself Psychologists was organized, and their first conference, to be held in Atlantic City this July, is expected to yield at least a tentative consensus on the nature of this new field. At present cyberself psychology is seen as the study of the phenomenon of the cyberself. Cyberselves refer to the identities that people assume when they project themselves into cyberspace. While people assumed various cyberselves before the advent of self-projection technology, this phenomenon has become much more significant now that people can take definite forms and shapes in cyberspace. The need for cyberself therapists arises because people are getting into various kinds of difficulties with their cyberselves. This article will describe some of those difficulties and it is hoped that this will help the reader to understand the both nature of the work of the cyberself therapist and the potential for the rapid growth and development of this new field. Even in the absence of a standard definition for cyberself psychology, people are getting into trouble, and the demand for cyberself therapy services is expected to increase dramatically. The incomes for cyberself therapists, which now start at a meager $40K, are expected to increase rapidly during the next five to ten years. Even in today's market, where just about anyone can hang up a shingle in cyberspace claiming to be a cyberself therapist, the leading cyberself therapists, especially those with advanced degrees in psychology, can earn well over $100K. There are a lot of charlatans out there. In writing this report, we interviewed several of the cyberself therapists who played a significant role in creating the American Association of Cyberself Psychologists. These individuals, most of whom have advanced degrees in psychology, will probably have a great influence on the evolution of cyberself therapy as a career. In our interviews with several key members of the AACP Conference steering committee, we found a wide diversity of opinions about the nature of cyberself psychology. Dr. Anita Tower, president-elect of the AACP, is a professor of psychology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She characterizes the nature of cyberself psychology as follows: "We now have a situation in which people are losing touch with their authentic selves, projecting one, and usually more, cyberselves, as a form of entertainment and stimulation. In my clinical work, I am seeing many patients who spend almost all of their free time projecting into cyberspace as one cyberself or another. My patients invariably become addicted to these cyberselves and, consequently, they find it more and more difficult to function as real human beings in the real world. So, I would say that cyberself psychology is fundamentally about the relationship between the cyberselves and the real self, and the damage that cyberselves can inflict upon the real self." A completely contrary assessment comes from Dr. Raul Natchez, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Natchez is vice-president-elect for the AACP. He belongs to the school that believes that the development of one or more cyberselves can contribute to one's overall mental health. "I think that we are just beginning to appreciate the liberating and healing properties of the cyberself. My book, Nurturing the Healthy Cyberself, teaches people how to use self-projection technology to explore their shadow, those aspects of themselves that might otherwise remain in the darkness." In many ways the opposing perspectives of Drs. Tower and Natchez summarize the basic schism among cyberself psychologists, between those who believe that self-projection technology is harmful and those who believe that it is potentially liberating and beneficial. Dr. Tower discussed some of her clinical cases with a team of reporters from the Sentinel-Observer. She mentioned several cases in which a process called "transitioning" occurred. In transitioning, an individual assumes the identity of one of his cyberselves, abandoning his usual identity and personality. Transitioning is sudden and involves a complete change in personality. "It is almost like demonic possession," Dr. Tower explained. "The patient spends weeks, probably months, developing a vivid cyberself. Then, suddenly, without warning, that cyberself 'possesses' the real self, taking over that person's identity. The result is always disruptive and sometimes tragic, because the cyberself is often socially unacceptable, even violent. Consequently, many patients who experience transitioning need to be committed to a mental institution." "Transitioning is going to be the most talked about mental health problem in the 2030s," Dr. Tower added. "Transitioning is tragic and potentially epidemic." Dr. Tower mentioned one case in which a staid housewife and mother of three small children, whom she called Mary, developed a cyberself that was into violent virtual sex and various forms of cyber pornography. She developed this
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