The notoriously jaded members of the mainstream media would surely be skeptical of anyone who earned a living by offering alcoholism counseling in a bar. How, then, can you explain the glowing coverage given "cyberpsychologist" Kimberly Young, who offers to treat the affliction of "online addiction" by charging a buck a minute for sessions over the Internet?
Young, who also moonlights as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, has created a cottage industry. Identifying "various types of Internet addiction such as cybersex,…cyberporn, on-line relationships, and information overload," she founded the Center for On-Line Addiction (www. netaddiction.com) in 1996.
Neither Young nor her Web site offers a definition of online addiction, except to say that work-related Internet use isn't covered. But she does say those afflicted with the disorder appear to suffer from the same problems that haunt compulsive gamblers, alcoholics, drug abusers, and persons with eating disorders. And while not suggesting how widespread this disorder may be, she cites the explosion of Internet use and sees "a potential epidemic."
Young offers two counseling options--one-on-one by e-mail or group counseling through online chat groups. She also conducts seminars and gives expert testimony and forensic evaluations in both civil and criminal court cases. She bills her book Caught in the Net as the "first and only available recovery book on Internet addiction."
Not everyone is a believer. Malcolm Parks, a communications professor at the University of Washington who researches the social implications of the Internet, accuses Young of making "breathless statements" based on skewed surveys.
"I'd argue that this is as much about marketing and business as it is about a social problem," Parks told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Nonetheless, Young's breathless statements make for good copy and sound bites. More than 360 news outlets have covered her crusade. She might want to look into a recovery program for academics addicted to media coverage and the money that flows from it.