August 10th, 2010: Avalon Birke

I started in Second Life back in 2006, at the urging of my husband. He passed me a Wired Magazine and said “Check this out. It’s like the Sims, but better graphics.” Four years, an island, a business, and countless projects later, turns out it wasn’t like The Sims at all.

I am a psychotherapist in Real Life, and it wasn’t long before I began meeting people in SL who expressed their wish for mental health resources and services in-world. My first response was “That can’t be done. The logistics, the ethical implications. No way. And certainly not me.” The discussions were so compelling and the need so widespread that I put a small test project together to see what could be done to fill what appeared to be a void. It grew to Wellness Island, Wellness Magazine, a large library for residents in need of educational materials, and even a peer counseling training program.

Those three years were enlightening and enjoyable.  In-world services are not for every person or every problem. Much of the time I assisted residents in accessing RL help for serious issues like suicide. Some came just to talk about issues specific to SL – identity, online relationships, betrayal.  My caseload in SL equaled my RL practice, if not more.

I still see SL clients today. Today is a Tuesday, so that is “SL day.” The rest of the week is devoted to working with RL clients. I hope that what I learned from my SL clients and students I can now pass on to RL patients. I am much more aware of issues like internet addiction, and more sensitive to how difficult it can be to take that first step to a face-to-face session with a RL therapist.

One of the things that satisfies me most is the number of RL licensed practitioners now in SL offering help.  Many of these groups first started with a visit to Wellness Island.  Now that Wellness Island is no longer a SL presence, I hope my work still lives on grid-wide, and I hope to continue to offer services in SL… just on a smaller scale while I live and learn off the grid.

____________________

Avalon Birke

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