In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Dr Ben Michaelis on Online Reputation and Bullying

Dr. Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City, a regular blogger on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. A graduate of Columbia College and NYU, Dr. Michaelis brings his passion for creativity to his treatment approach, following three essential elements for helping patients get unstuck and moving forward: play, purpose, and work. He Talks in this Video Interview to Ciaran Connolly, Co-Founder of about Online Reputation from a Psychologist’s Point of View.

Below is a transcript of the interview on Online Reputation also found here and here

Ben Michaelis: I am Dr. Ben Michaelis. I am a clinical psychologist in a full time private practice in Manhattan, New York city. I am a visiting scholar at Colombia University Teachers College and I write for the Huffington Post, Psychology Today and I have written a book as well but most of my time is spent in full time private practice. A lot of the folks that I work with tend to be people of more sort of traditionally a creative background. There are a lot of artists here in the city; writers, actors, musicians, performers and all sorts of different ways and that’s really my background in Clinical Psychology.

Bullying and Online Reputation Today

Ciaran Connolly: Do you think bullying today is as big an issue as it was maybe ten or twenty years ago?

BM: Well, ‘as big an issue’ is sort of a bit of a broad question but I think that it certainly has a lot more attention on it as the face and the shape and the types of bullying that are being done have changed and as a result of it the consequences of bullying have increased as well, so it has become a much more salient issue in the national and international spotlight because of a lot of these high profile cyber bullying cases

CC: Of course and do you see a difference in how bullying is happening today? For example, as we mentioned, we have got technology to helping us but sometimes it doesn’t always help us.

BM:  Absolutely, the type of bullying that is getting a lot of attention because it is so nefarious. It’s again the sort of cyber bullying or “reputational” bullying where there is an assault on someone’s reputation and our reputations in many ways are the most important thing that any of us have and especially as we are learning about our reputation and that sort of things and sort of things like social currency during adolescences. When people’s reputations are under attack, it can feel almost in some ways for some people worse than death and unfortunately it has often, many times, led to people’s death as a result of it.

Technology and Popularity related to Online Reputation

CC: Now that you mentioned reputation and young people, it feels there is a tremendous amount of pressure on young people to seem popular, which has always been the case, but now on the social media and on the internet they need to have high follower numbers. They need to have a post that people engage with and like and share. So, it is very visible actually someone’s popularity today compared to how it was many years ago.

BM: Absolutely. Everything has sort of increased in terms of what’s put out there in the world. You know, as I mentioned to you earlier when I take a holiday, I give myself a break from technology. It really does because it is overwhelming. It could have the power for taking over our lives and so the line between what is public and what is private are at this point still extremely blurry and grey.

Online Reputation, Bullying and Media

CC:Do you think the current media coverage on bullying and cyber bullying is improving things or may be not so?

BM: I do, I really do. Again, one of the reasons why I wanted to speak with you is because I think what you are doing is critical. That there needs to be voices like yours and like what you are doing on your site because I do think it’s having an impact. When I have visited schools, including the school that my own children go to, I now see a lot of awareness; a lot of discussion about bullying. So, I absolutely think that it is having a positive impact. I mean I’m sure you know about the case here in The States of Matthew Bent who put out a Facebook message in April to support his son Shiloh who was being bullied and his anti-bullying plea reached a billion people and so people are really behind it. So, I think that this is one of the great things about using technology to combat this problem.

CC: Excellent and have you knowledge of any severe cases or consequences of bullying? Have you seen these yourself?

BM: I have seen some of these things in my own practice where people’s reputations are assaulted online and things were getting out of hand and schools and communities are just trying sort of catch up and figure out how to protect individuals and allow for some flow of information while keeping out the information that is really harmful to people.

Online Reputation and Advice

CC:What would be the best advice to give to someone who is being assaulted online or even face-to-face, traditional bullying, when their reputation has been damaged?

BM:  Well, the first thing is not to hide it. It’s to actually really let other people know. I believe in the healing power of sunlight and the more people that know what is going on, the less likely it is to happen because people are really fed up with this for anyone that has been bullied and now people are coming to positions of power that have had experience with bullying being bullied when they were younger don’t want it to end. So, making sure you are letting people know what is happening to you and not hiding from the problem because, unfortunately, hiding makes it worse and it doesn’t make it go away.

CC: Do you believe that there is long term effects on people who have been bullied?

BM: Yes, without question. The sense of self-perception that people bring with them throughout the rest of their lives is formed most critically during young adolescence and mid adolescence and so when people are bullied during this critical developmental period, it can have significant psychological scarring throughout the life cycle. It can manifest as depression, anxiety, all sorts of different mental health issues.

Online Reputation: The Next Big Thing

CC: You have written a book called ‘The Next Big Thing’ which helps move forward if they become stuck. If someone is being bullied, how should they move forward?

BM: Sure. The book is actually called ‘Your Next Big Thing’. A lot of what I talk about in my book ‘Your Next Big Thing’ is helping people to value their own experiences and trying to use their own experiences for good and you can take something that has been very painful to you and if you converted into, for example, a work of art or you express it in some way, you do many things through that gesture. You are A: making something valuable out of an experience that was bad and it gives the experience some meaning for you and it also allows other people to connect with your own experiences. So, it has this very positive cycle for people. So, I do talk a lot about this in ‘Your Next Big Thing’ trying to connect with hard difficult experience that you’ve had in the past and make something positive from them.

Creativity and Online Reputation

CC: Excellent. So, you feel that, and I think I may have read this one on your website as well, if people are creative and maybe channel what they have been through into a creative work, then they can express and share and maybe overcome what they have been through?

BM:  Absolutely. I really believe that everyone is fundamentally creative; a creative being. Every single soul is and this has been studied in every known culture that play, the concept of play – imaginative play, is a natural part of our way in dealing with adversity. So, using that and creating something from it, it gives a real tangible product creation which again can be shared with other people and it really does spread a positive energy.

CC: Excellent and again stealing or quoting from your website, you see that illusions hold us back. You believe that the things that make us stuck in our lives, whether be it our job or family life, you believe that we can overcome them? It’s, again, our attitude?

BM:  Absolutely. The things that we often see as obstacles looked at from a different light or through a different lens are just opportunities for us to convert these things and make these challenges into something positive for us. So, when we are feeling like we are stuck in some way not seeing it as the end of the road but just a bend on the road, it makes all the difference in the world and people that are living joyful lives go through tremendous adversity. It is just a matter of how you use this adversity.

CC: Excellent. Again, you have integrated ideas and techniques from various disciplines to improve the well being of your patients and I am quoting again from your site. So, you have studied quite a lot of, I guess, self-help and development and psychologies from around the world and these are all channelled into your concepts in ‘Your Next Big Thing’ to try and educate people to help themselves when they read your book?

BM: That is exactly right. You know, I give a pretty diverse background before going into psychology and I actually used to teach people how to defend themselves if they are ever attacked. I studied martial arts a number of years ago. The things that I learned, while I was being trained, I integrate it in my practice every single day and trying to sort of distil the lessons from many different disciplines I think really makes my work…I feel enriched by my own work and it has enriched my writing as well in my book ‘Your Next Big Thing’.

Society and Bullying

CC: Just to finish off my last question do you think we, as a society, can improve or change or fix the problem of bullying?

BM:  Absolutely. I think you are doing that right now by conducting this interview and trying to find voices again to get the word out and help people that are in these difficult situations. So, A: they know they are not alone and B: that they know that there are resources for them and there are people out there that want to help them. So, just this conversation you’re reaching out to me is evidence of that. Absolutely.

CC: If anyone wanted to read more about your background and what you do and you say the resources that you have are on your web site, where should we send them? Where can they go?

BM: They can go to my website or I post regularly on Twitter which is @drbenmichaelis as well as on Facebook.

CC: Excellent and they can find out about your book in your website as well?

BM:  Yes, there is a whole page for my book ‘Your Next Big Thing’ on my website as well.

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