“I felt like I was steamrolled by an ocean liner.”
That was Marjorie Waxman’s emotional state after she was informed her young son was suffering from leukemia.
Unable to cope alone with the trauma, and unable to find a support group in her hometown, Marjorie went online to look for comfort. She found a group called Momcology and joined some of their members on a weekend retreat for mothers in similar situations.
The communal getaway left her feeling replenished and connected, the only drawback being it was a one-off event. “The only sad part is I live far away from all the people I met. They are my sisters forever, I hope we stay in touch.”
With video conferencing they can.
In fact, Marjorie and her new found “army of sisters” can use the technology to build their own virtual retreats online, and stay within caring distance 24-hours a day.
Support Is Only a Click Away
In her own words, Marjorie was drawn to her online support experience by the twin promises of privacy and the ability to connect with people who shared her circumstances.
What she found on the real-world retreat was an emotional bond. For an online support group powered by video conferencing to work it needs to meet those three goals.
Of course, video conferencing is currently being used by a number of established support groups to bring people together across unwieldy distances, and let them reach out without the confrontation of having to meet a bunch of strangers in a strange place.
There’s support for new mothers, support for those fighting cancer, support against addiction, and support to aid mental health. Those established sites, largely connected to real world organizations, are great at acting as beacons that bring together people with common backgrounds.
What they most often lack is any real immersive or dynamic environment within which to foster genuine emotional connection. Only video calling can bring people together face-to-face over any distance, but it can be a lot more than a series of chat windows.
A Singing, Shopping, Meditating Support Group
The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has made a series of guided meditation sessions available for free online. You could add such a session to a video calling support group simply by streaming it through one member’s microphone.
It’s an alternative way to approach dealing with grief within a group context, and you could build the visual elements of the call around it. There are depth-of-field cameras currently available that can be coupled with augmented and virtual reality tech to create any kind of visual landscape that’s required. It could be used to generate serene locations for meditation.
Or, if there’s already a personal connection within the group, such immersive tech could be used to create audio and visual collages, perhaps made up of home movies, photos, and favorite songs, which people in mourning could use to enhance their personal stories.
If that’s too deep, VC can be used to create a lounge room hangout feeling of informal intimacy. We’ve written before about using video calling to host a virtual dinner party, share a group sing-along, and enhance the online shopping experience.
Such events can make the shared weekend retreat an ongoing connection by letting the support group members accompany each other through the more everyday moments of their lives. And it can be made available 24/7 by using the next big thing in internet communications, WebRTC.
Create Your Own Social Online Support Group
WebRTC technology has removed the barriers between electronic devices, and made possible free, DIY website-based video connections. While it takes a bit of IT knowledge to actually build your own site, there are plenty of start-ups willing to make one for you.
A DIY site would function like existing WebRTC platforms, such as Appear.In, which let people join instant, disposable chat rooms without giving out any personal information.
What’s more, because WebRTC video doesn’t discriminate between smartphone, PC, laptop, or tablet, and it lets users connect when they’re available, not just when they’re near an appropriate device.
So, Marjorie and her army of sisters could have created their own online support group, tethered to a WebRTC-empowered base, and made each other available whenever someone need to talk, cry, or just hang out.
It’s a totally private, invitation-only site, operated and organized by friends, and shared with friends-of-friends should anyone encounter a soul in need. And it brings together people experiencing similar traumas, which should help lower the emotional barriers raised by people in times of great vulnerability.
To bring these people together it might help to begin with established online support groups and hubs to start gathering people with the same circumstances. But with the connections made, these personal support groups can begin relieving some of that steamrolled feeling.