How podcasts provide therapy for listening audiences
Articles / Blog

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06-04-15 Category: Mental Health, Therapy


As the Internet became increasingly integrated into the modern world during the transition into the new millennium, many innovative forms of media took advantage of what the new technology could offer to its users. One of these innovations was coined as podcasting, which includes audio, video and occasionally other forms of media that are downloaded or streamed online. The exact term is an informal blend of two words first used in a 2004 article published in The Guardian. The first is “pod,” which is derived from the most popular media device at the time, the iPod. The second half of the word is from “broadcast,” which refers to the traditional form of delivering information through television and radio.

Podcasting is digital rather than analog in nature. Digital is synonymous with the Internet, meaning users could listen in by simply searching, clicking and downloading the media. Podcasts are typically serial and their show formats are similar to that of talk radio. A large amount of creative variation exists within the growing industry of over one billion subscribers on iTunes alone. In fact, a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 27 percent of Internet users aged 18 or older download or listen to podcasts.

While podcasts continue to grow in their popularity, the most remarkable fact is the effect they have on listeners and the people who host them. A lot of programs are targeted towards impacting their subscribers therapeutically. One of the most prominent collections of podcasts is found on iTunes, which has a category dedicated to self-help. From education about mental illness to the management of unhealthy behaviors, an ever-increasing library of shows can range from comprehensive, virtual therapy to holistic lifestyle advice.

Help for mental health through podcasts

An expanding pool of support is building stating that podcasts are comparable to in-person therapy. While most programs of this variety do not market themselves as official therapy, most formats mimic the atmosphere of a one-on-one or group support session. One of the most in-depth endeavors of this style is “The Mental Illness Happy Hour” created by Paul Gilmartin, who invites his subscribers suffering from mental disorders to talk on the show.

As the host, Gilmartin guides his guests and listeners through meaningful conversations that are free from judgment and full of compassion. While focused treatment is an imperative part of recovery, another helpful practice is open and experiential expression. Like many other podcasters, Gilmartin is not a licensed clinician, but has experienced illness and addiction before, allowing him to guide others through their own journeys. By voicing their thoughts and emotions as a type of catharsis, the healing process can be ironed out from any perceived limitations.

Furthermore, there are some elements of therapeutic podcasting that exceed its traditional counterpart. Therapy sessions are contractually private and limited to the space within a therapist’s office, but due to the typical informality of the Internet, podcasts are open for others to listen to and learn from. Through this combination of real, personal stories and open communication to the public, an audience transforms into a supportive community. Listeners who share a podcast learn they are not alone in their seemingly isolated issues, which is a vital boost of morale within recovering demographics.

Podcasts have also shown to benefit their creators’ minds. Similar to audiences becoming connected through their shared problems and values, the people who speak to the listeners gain a sense of solidarity as well. One of the most successful cases of this phenomenon and of podcasts in general is the “WTF with Marc Maron Podcast”. Now 15 years sober from a long history of alcohol and narcotics, Maron started recording himself from inside his garage in 2009. Through a continuing series of revisiting his past and expressing his current obstacles, the comedian has noticed a productive change to his previously destructive habits. Overall, the restorative impacts that his show provides can be characterized as a two-way street.

In an interview with The Fix, Maron stated, “Whether addiction comes up or not, it defines a big part of my disposition, both sides of it: both acknowledging that I’m an addict—knowing what that looks like—and also using the tools of recovery by making the principles that got me sober mesh with my own philosophies. That’s defined a lot of my evolution as a person. I don’t need to talk about it, I’m not doing a recovery oriented show, but I think people in recovery can certainly relate to my disposition and outlook and they can read between the lines and hear some of the principles of recovery.”

Expressing one’s inner conflicts in a safe and free environment is a powerful tool. However, some mental dysfunctions and addictions extend beyond the reach of simply tuning in to podcasts. If a disorder evolves into a serious condition, getting professional help is the next logical step. Sovereign Health Group is a treatment provider that utilizes evidence-based treatment modalities in addition to incorporating other holistic alternatives to assist clients with addiction, mental illness and co-occurring conditions. If you or someone close to you is in need of treatment, please contact a member of our team online or call (866) 819-0427.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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