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When Your Client is a Super Fan: Exploring parasocial relationships and their effects on mental health

Curt and Katie chat about parasocial relationships. We talk about what parasocial relationships (and break ups) are, who is most likely to engage in these relationships, and the positive and negative impacts of these one-sided relationships. We also look at how to use these relationships within therapy. This is a continuing education podcourse.


Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

In this podcast episode we talk about parasocial relationships

People develop relationships with celebrities, TV personalities, and others in the public eye. But do therapists assess the impact these relationships have on their clients and their mental health? This episode explores the ways that clients interact in one-sided relationships, the mental health benefits and drawbacks to engaging in these relationships, and ways for therapists to assess the potential impacts on client mental health and behavior.

What is a parasocial relationship?

  • One-sided relationships individuals have with celebrities and people who are well-known
  • These relationships are sometimes pursued by influencers that seem more two-sided than they actually are
  • There are multiple dimensions of parasociability
  • There are a number of different ways that you can have parasocial interactions (especially now within social media)

Are parasocial relationships normal and/or healthy?

“Whether it’s AI or automation or those stuff where you feel interacted with by the person because they put your name into the email, and they have stuff that’s potentially curated a little bit to your interest, and so it feels more and more like the interaction is with you.”  – Katie Vernoy, LMFT

  • These relationships are very normal
  • There are concerns related when these influencers use these relationships to get followers to purchase services or products
  • Slippage within boundaries for these relationships where the interactions feel more and more mutual, even if they are not

What are the positive effects of parasocial relationships?

  • When parasocial objects have a positive influence (like Popeye eating spinach)
  • Improving self-efficacy and empowerment
  • Representation and building confidence for the ability to create happy lives or have impact on the world
  • Mental health awareness
  • Building community, identifying with fandom, which improves relationship outcomes

What are the harmful effects of parasocial relationships?

  • Eating disorders and negative body image and unrealistic expectations
  • Using parasocial relationships as a brand of escapism
  • Parasocial objects seeking financial gain without considering the impacts on their fans, with fans purchasing products and services that are not good for them

Who is most likely to engage in parasocial relationships or interactions?

  • People with anxious ambivalent attachment styles and those who have slightly less secure than the most secure attachment styles
  • All ages and generations engage in these types of relationships
  • Folks with social anxiety are also more likely to have these parasocial relationships
  • Co-mediation with social media addiction

What impacts do parasocial breakups have on individuals?

  • Parasocial breakups can be bands breaking up, a celebrity reputation being negatively impacted, or a celebrity retiring or dying
  • When a celebrity dies, fans can have impacts on self-identity and can even bring forward thoughts around suicide (whether or not the celebrity died by suicide)
  • The negative impact of celebrities doing harmful or unacceptable things or taking advantage of their fans, who then have to deal with their absence because you don’t want to have the parasocial relationship with them anymore

How can parasocial relationships show up (and be utilized) in therapy?

“Part of the advice to therapists is asking about the kinds of content and influencers that people follow, so that way, you have an idea around the kinds of messages that people get… Who do you follow online? And how does that end up impacting you? And what is your engagement with that content really look like?” – Curt Widhalm, LMFT

  • How to help clients identify appropriate role models
  • Using parasocial relationships as practice for social relationships
  • Ask what content clients are consuming to identify what messages they are receiving
  • Get very direct: ask about all of the content they regularly consume
  • Look especially at the content or influencers talking about things relevant to their presenting problems
  • Explore how clients with social anxiety are interacting with potential parasocial relationships
  • Staying abreast of news stories related to parasocial objects
  • Listening for certain types of unhealthy messages (like toxic masculinity)
  • Helping to expand your clients’ critical thinking and influences in their lives
  • Understanding why they are choosing these relationships and the meaning they are making from them
  • Using these relationships as practice or places to seek self-awareness and insight, especially related to identity and values
  • Grief work when there are parasocial breakups

Receive Continuing Education for this Episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide

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Continuing Education Approvals:

When we are airing this podcast episode, we have the following CE approval. Please check back as we add other approval bodies: Continuing Education Information including grievance and refund policies.

CAMFT CEPA: Therapy Reimagined is approved by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to sponsor continuing education for LMFTs, LPCCs, LCSWs, and LEPs (CAMFT CEPA provider #132270). Therapy Reimagined maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Courses meet the qualifications for the listed hours of continuing education credit for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. We are working on additional provider approvals, but solely are able to provide CAMFT CEs at this time. Please check with your licensing body to ensure that they will accept this as an equivalent learning credit.

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

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References mentioned in this continuing education podcast:

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Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

The Brand Called You

What Can Therapists Say About Celebrities? The ethics of public statements

Conspiracy Theories in Your Office

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

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Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Transcripts do not include advertisements just a reference to the advertising break (as such timing does not account for advertisements).

… 0:00
(Opening Advertisement)

Announcer 0:00
You’re listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhallm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 0:15
Hey, modern therapists, we’re so excited to offer the opportunity for one unit of continuing education for this podcast episode. Once you’ve listened to this episode, to get CE credit, you just need to go to, register for your free profile, purchase this course, pass the post test and complete the evaluation. Once that’s all completed, you’ll get a CE certificate in your profile, where you can download it for your records. For a current list of our CE approvals, check out

Katie Vernoy 0:47
Once again, hop over to for one CE once you’ve listened well.

Curt Widhalm 0:55
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm, with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists about the things that we do in our practices, the things that show up with our clients. This is another one of our continuing education eligible episodes. And we are diving into the world of parasocial relationships. And admittedly, the idea for this topic came up when I had feelings about one of my favorite bands, recently, within the last few months, announced that they were splitting up and I, amongst many other fans, turned to the internet to deal with feelings. Be like, is this actually real? Is this something that this is just some sort of weird joke that’s played, and it wasn’t, and there was a lot of grief feelings being expressed and just kind of shock. And I was like, I can’t be the only one who is like, this has got to be showing up in therapy at some point. And as we prepared for this episode, I thought that maybe some of the feelings that I was initially having were of kind of a negative sort of thing, like people shouldn’t be having these kinds of things. And as I was doing a lot of the research towards what parasocial relationships kinds of things show up in therapy. I was actually surprised that there wasn’t a ton of information out there in general as far as how it shows up in therapy. But I was even more surprised at how little negative stuff about how this is a bad thing that should be avoided. And that kind of stuff. So some positive some negatives coming out of this episode today. But as I kind of am gonna put you on the spot here, Katie, a little bit to start with. When I first proposed this episode. What was your thoughts about parasocial relationships and showing up in therapy?

Katie Vernoy 3:00
Well, the first thing was I was like: what is the parasocial relationship?

Curt Widhalm 3:05
So, that’s probably going to be a really, really good place to start. And in 1956, Horton and Wohl were the first ones to define a parasocial relationship. And this largely boils down to these are non-reciprocal social emotional connections with media figures, such as celebrities or influencers. And that relationship was largely first looked at as far as how people felt about celebrities like newscasters. The ones that you would go home with each night, you would see people on TV, they would be the trusted news source, because they were there. They were consistent. And I mean, I even remember kind of some of the newscasters that I remember my parents having on TV. You know, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw and that kind of stuff back when I was growing up, that it was just kind of like, oh, this is comfortable. This is somebody in the background that I know and trust them because of their consistency. News media being what it has changed over the last 30 plus years.

Katie Vernoy 4:17
That not so much anymore.

Curt Widhalm 4:20
I don’t know that it’s boiled down to the three or four channels that came over the air antennas back in those days. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily changed that parasocial relationships continue to happen. But really, the emphasis on this is kind of these one sided, emotional relationships that people get into, particularly with celebrities and influencers and YouTubers and award winning podcast hosts.

Katie Vernoy 4:50
So, you’re gonna call out our fans saying that they are having parasocial relationships with us?

Curt Widhalm 4:55
Absolutely. And I think that this also kind of, it goes back to one of the topics that we had originally talked about in some of our first episodes just as far as you know, Brand Called You kinds of things, be able to have the confidence to put yourself out there. Understanding that sometimes in content creation, people are going to create ideas about you, about what it’s like to be in a relationship with you. And that’s what we were speaking about back then. We just weren’t calling it parasocial relationships.

Katie Vernoy 5:28
Well, I think I mean, this is off base. So, I’m gonna say this, and then we can move on. But in Brand Called You, we were talking about purposely having a brand, a curated therapist brand, so clients would have that relationship ahead of time and get started in therapy. I mean, it just I my mind is starting to kind of spin out on you know, at the time, were we saying, purposely create parasocial relationships, so clients would buy from you?

Curt Widhalm 5:54
Well, we’ll get into kind of that buying influencing thing a little bit later in this discussion here. But what we were also talking about is, even as we were talking about things like, all right, whether you want it or not, there’s going to be content out there on the internet about you. And we were speaking that, that is something where people are potentially going to develop relationships with you. And so if that’s something that we have to accept that that is information that is out there, people are going to develop a relationship with that, then why not guide what that relationship looks like. And that’s kind of the same way that we would have real relationships. We want to put a certain idea about ourselves out there. And that’s not really the topic of this episode here. And we’ll probably go back and revisit that topic in a future episode. But what is happening is people are developing the relationship with that, and I want to focus more on them and their feelings, rather than what it is to craft that from kind of the influencer side or the business owner side.

Katie Vernoy 7:09
Of course, and I think, you know, kind of going back to your question of what was my initial thought about this? To me, the there’s a normative experience here. You know, I think about the types of parasocial relationships we have. And from my experience of it, I look at the small parasocial relationships, we have; people that we barely know that are Facebook friends, right? Like…

Curt Widhalm 7:34

Katie Vernoy 7:34
You know, there’s, there’s there’s the kind of general level. There’s the, you know, award winning podcast, you know, and other kind of, quote, unquote, thought leaders in, you know, the professional space. Yhere’s, you know, actual celebrities with probably your, if you’re even interacting with them on social media, it’s probably a member of their huge social media team. And then there’s, you know, political leaders and people with actual power in the world that you may have, you know, parasocial relationships. I have to say, I probably had a parasocial relationship with Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand during the pandemic, because it was like, she’s so cool, you know. And so I think there’s that element of this feels very normative. And I think there’s the point where it goes to the place of obsession or delusion. I mean, I don’t know if that’s within our conversation today, we’ll see how we how far we get. But to me, it seems like having leaders or people who stand out, who you know about, who you don’t know, we’re going to have relationships with these people. So, I understand you were having grief feelings about your band. But assuming that meant that it was unhealthy, I think, was a leap. To me, it seems like we all have these relationships. You know, I was in the era of teenage girls that had all of these, you know, magazine cutouts on my wall of all the stars of the day. I mean, it just seems normal to me. And so to me, I’m looking forward to having the conversation around, you know, how you deal with the normative stuff, and when that comes into the room, and then also the stuff that goes beyond that becomes potentially harmful?

Curt Widhalm 9:17
Sure. So, in Linh Nguyen’s TED talk, she states that parasocial relationships are psychological bonds where a viewer develops a relationship with a media personality, where they feel like they’re friends or closer despite having limited real world interactions. These relationships tend to invoke numerous positive and negative effects. Parasocial relationships have been found to impact influencers credibility, by mimicking two way familial, platonic and sometimes even romantic relationships to build trust between them and their audience, thus gauging how marketable they are while fulfilling the audience’s belongingness needs. These meetings heated relationships provide a safe space where audience members can be creative and more confident in themselves, but can swing the pendulum too far, and the mediated figure becomes a source of escapism rather than enjoyment. Now, I take out of this that one of the ways that this has largely been done here, especially since the advent of social media and YouTube and this kind of stuff is that understanding that 50 years at this point, I think YouTube was invented around 2006. But from that original 1956 kind of definition that, hey, we have relationships with newscasters and they’re very one sided. That corporate just kind of ability to market through influencers is now done in a way that is to sell you stuff. And it is done in a way that is very intentional and crafted sometimes that can swing some of these healthy relationships into very negative spaces. I know that for many people, it’s okay, this celebrity that I follow makes this recommendation. This, you know, is something that we don’t know how many contracts are signed behind the scenes for them to naturally just be like, Oh, I found seedless, grape brand by this. And it’s so delicious. And it just makes people more likely to buy into the seedless grapes.

Katie Vernoy 11:28
Yes. And for folks who have no idea why you went to seedless grapes, we do have a whole episode where we use seedless and seeded grapes in conspiracy theory. So, I’ll add that to the show notes to for your your listening pleasure. But um, to me, when you’re talking about it, I think about you know, the newscasters of old that was extremely curated, extremely neutral, I was watching a series like a teaching series from somebody that was in one of those positions and, and he was like, I don’t, I never voted an election. So, I could truly report in a very neutral way, like very different from the the quote unquote, news folks or influencers of today, but still very, very curated. Right? And, and I think about today, the way that it’s designed and maybe this is what you’re saying is that this element of creating the relationship on purpose, that authenticity or that I’m gonna put in air quotes “authenticity.” We kind of talked about this in an in an episode that’s going to come out in a couple of weeks, with Kasey Compton about creating this persona that is authentic and connecting, but may not have much to do with the person behind the scenes, right. And so with how much social media has become part of our lives, I feel like the the there’s more of a likelihood that someone’s going to feel like they’re in a true relationship with someone they just follow on social media. Versus this you know, Dan Rather, that is, you know, somebody that you watch for like an hour a day with this very crafted persona that’s that you see for very little time.

Curt Widhalm 13:12
I want to point to a 2003 article by Giles. Giles elaborated that there’s multiple dimensions of parasociability. And this is really starting to take from the parasocial relationships of our parent’s generation, or even our grandparent’s generation if we’re going back to the 50s. And depending on who our listeners are, maybe even your great grandparent’s parasocial relationships. But the multi dimensional aspects have evolved quite a bit. That used to be where you know, you had your antenna, and there would be the two or three news channels that would come over you. Or you’d have the radio program that would be on, you know, for several hours out of the day where you were listening to kind of one voice. Where that has now evolved to where you can have a lot more social interactions or parasocial interactions with people. The number of ways that we can have parasocial interactions, particularly through social media, where it’s not only just kind of the here’s information that is scheduled at a certain time of day, that’s kind of predictable, but where this can now seep into our lives, where we’re waiting for the next Instagram post, or we’re waiting for the next TikTok post, that can drive a lot more heightened feelings of anxiety and feelings to be in the know or turn into kind of the superfans to be the first to know of breaking news from somebody or to be the first one to like or knowing that some of the people that we’re in parasocial relationships with might only respond to the first handful of people who comment when something is posted. And as you mentioned, sometimes it’s not just the person themselves, but an entire team that’s crafted around to be able to respond to that does start to potentially shift, who’s responding, what your idea of who you’re in a relationship with. And kind of starts to be a lot more fodder for kind of projections and projective identity and that kind of stuff. In the same article, Giles talks about that boundaries kind of change when there’s these mediated interpersonal contacts. And Giles talks about slippage around the object of relationship that…

Katie Vernoy 15:30
What do you mean by slippage?

Curt Widhalm 15:32
That parasocial relationships can kind of change when we have more opportunities to interact with people. That again, if we go back to kids put on your imagination history hats here, there used to be things like fan clubs, where you would like send letters into somebody else. And there was this anticipation of like, are they going to open it? Are they going to, you know, smell the perfume that I sprayed on it and, you know, respond back to me? Whereas there’s a lot more of that instant gratification aspect that comes with social media now. And so this slippage is kind of more into kind of the the, the user’s feelings, the way or the the feeling around like the person who’s on the observing end of the relationship, the one who’s engaging in it, as opposed to the celebrity who’s out there.

Katie Vernoy 16:28
That leads me to a question, because I think that and maybe this is off base, but when I think about kind of the celebrity folks that’s pretty far removed, like that someone that maybe I’m sitting at, you know, maybe I’m sitting in the front row, or maybe I’m sending 200 rows back right in a concert, or I’m the first person responding. And maybe somebody from their social media team is responding to me, but I feel like I’m involved with them. And then there’s kind of the parasocial relationships that are a little bit closer. You know, the folks who are thought leaders who, like us, like we have Q and A’s and people can come and talk to us, or, or put on events and you see them and you talk to them for a few minutes, or those types of things where there is some interaction. Like at what point does it become less parasocial and actually social?

Curt Widhalm 17:20
That’s a good question. And I don’t know that there’s a really clear definition. It’s what you’re referring to sounds like it makes it sound. And I think that this is accurate as there’s a continuum there.

Katie Vernoy 17:33

Curt Widhalm 17:34
And I think that a lot of the parasocial definitions really talk about it being a lot more one sided. And so, you know, when we talk about, like, the happy hours or the Q&As that we kind of put out there, there’s definitely the people who show up consistently to those things. And…

Katie Vernoy 17:53
And we have relationships with them.

Curt Widhalm 17:54
And we have actual relationships with them, that I would say, has shifted it from being parasocial relationship into something that is an actual friendship or an actual working relationship. You know, I think about the second Therapy Reimagined conference that we had where, you know, somebody had a bone to pick with you after an episode that you had put before, and is now somebody that we professionally…

Katie Vernoy 18:20
We actually really get along with well.

Curt Widhalm 18:22
We get along with well. I, when I’m in her neck of the woods, I make sure that I reach out to her and be like, Hey, I’m gonna be in town. Do you have time to get together? So, I think that this is something where it’s when it shifts from kind of this one sided relationship to being something that’s a lot more of a two way street that takes it out of this parasocial relationship interaction.

Katie Vernoy 18:46
Well, I think the reason I asked that question is when you’re talking about the different ways that you can interact in with social media, there’s also folks you know, like Tony Robbins, you know, I think about all of the the parasocial things that happen. But people come and probably take selfies with him, and do all this stuff at his gigantic events. I mean, it starts to creep into this, you know, almost a two way street, but a lot of contact in a lot of different ways. And I think about how someone can easily go to a place of feeling like it’s very much a social relationship versus still remaining a parasocial relationship. And so I know we’re going to talk about some of that later. But I think it…we’re going now? Okay.

Curt Widhalm 19:32
We’ll jump in on this now. So what we’re talking about is when there’s parasocial interactions. So, when you’re talking about coming up in doing a selfie with Tony Robbins, or with us when you meet us, or this kind of stuff.

Katie Vernoy 19:44
And, and you don’t know us well, and we don’t know you well, or you know us, we don’t know you.

Curt Widhalm 19:48
That’s still what’s defined in the literature as a parasocial interaction. As just because you’ve met somebody you know, whether it’s at a merch table, whether it’s at a conference or something like that doesn’t turn it into a two way relationship. This is just like it’s an interaction that if the object of the relationship, the celebrity, the podcast host, whoever it is, is still not aware of you and engaging with you regularly afterwards as a two way communicative relationship, that still falls as a parasocial interaction on a parasocial relationship.

Katie Vernoy 20:28
Yeah, I mean, and I think about how intense are, you know, whether it’s AI or automation or those stuff where you feel interacted with by the person because they put your name into the email, and they have stuff that’s potentially curated a little bit to your interest, and so it feels more and more like the interaction is with you. If you’ve signed up for all the things and done all the things for your, your parasocial object.

Curt Widhalm 20:58

… 21:00
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Curt Widhalm 21:01
Now there’s a lot of aspects of positive parasocial relationships. And these things can happen across the lifespan: in childhood, in teenagehood, in adulthood, or even older adulthood, and around a number of different identities. And to be clear that parasocial relationships don’t even have to happen with real people, that these things can happen with things like cartoon characters, they can happen with books. So, you know…

Katie Vernoy 21:31
I was just I was thinking about my husband liking spinach, because of Popeye.

Curt Widhalm 21:34
Exactly. And this is where some of those really positive influences can end up happening. And some, you know, well meaning parents can use it for benefit as far as things like, you know, eat your spinach, so you can be strong like Popeye. And you know, whether your husband was, you know, imagining him as like a four year old doing this, or even as a 44 year old doing this. I can imagine you’d just go at home and making dinner tonight. But this can lead us to engaging in a lot of positive behaviors and feeling of a sense of belongingness. There’s quite a bit of research, we’ll put our references over in our show notes over at that can help us to be more committed to things like self efficacy. And in particular here I’m referencing a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Parasocial Experiences. This chapter is by Shira Gabrielle, Ariana Young, Esha Naidu and Veronica Schneider called How Parasocial Relationships Affect Our Self-Concepts. And they talk about self efficacy around things like being able to achieve ones goals, that when people who are associated with online people who have high self goals or remained consistent with particular goals. The example that they use here is around weight loss. I’m not a huge fan of using that as the example here. But they also talked about, for example, a particular study that they referenced by Howe and Cheryl found that parasocial relationships with strong female political leader characters on shows like Madam Secretary, The Good Wife and Scandal were associated with higher political self efficacy. So, there is an idea around like these are things that help build self confidence in ourselves. There’s also a fair amount of research around particularly LGBTQ+ youth who are able to have parasocial relationships with people who may be in safer environments, or more openly talking about their experiences coming from the same community as well, that helps to build self confidence in those communities.

Katie Vernoy 23:51
It seems like there’s a lot of positive here I think about, you know, especially lately, a lot of celebrities and other folks are talking about mental health awareness, and normalizing a lot of those things. So I like that a lot. When you were talking about community building, I was thinking about the parasocial relationships with sports teams and, and how that builds whole communities. I mean, talk about fan clubs. It’s hard to think about how this could be negative when you see so many opportunities for positive. It’s, you know, somebody that’s doing well in the world, usually that has something interesting to say, you follow and connect with the people who you admire, potentially you take on some of their things, whether it’s, you know, you dress similarly, or you use the products that they use or those types of things. But I can also see, you know, now that I’m speaking that out loud that like, it can be very impactful and potentially harmful if the person who’s in that role of kind of parasocial object and making that up, but who’s in that role isn’t isn’t conscious or is strategically using that for their own gain without consideration for the people who are having these parasocial relationships with them.

Curt Widhalm 25:14
I’m going to highlight something that you said earlier. And then I’m going to come back to your concern here. But one of the things in this chapter is identifying with fandom as a mechanism and feeling as part of a larger group, because a lot of higher fan identity is associated with higher relationship well being. But to your concern, some of the negatives on this have been, you know, kind of time immemorial, around things like body image issues, and we, I mean, I was aware of this, you know, the magazine covers in the 80s, and the 90s.

Katie Vernoy 25:47

Curt Widhalm 25:48
And they didn’t stop then. But, you know, continues to be now, you know, not only in the supermarket checkout aisles, but also on TikTok and Instagram and all of that kind of stuff that…

Katie Vernoy 26:01
All the filters.

Curt Widhalm 26:02

Katie Vernoy 26:03
You know, there used to be Photoshop. Now. It’s, it’s filters that everybody has.

Curt Widhalm 26:07
And so those do have a really big negative self esteem effect and can lead to things like eating disorders, and really negative body image and all of the those aspects. And because this is stilll from the chapter by Gabrielle, Young, Naidu and Schneider, because of the effects that parasocial relationships can have on the self and people’s ability to assimilate that onto the self. Part of how we turn this into something that can be good in therapy, is helping people to identify positive role models for things that they want towards their therapeutic goals. So if you are working with eating disorder clients, it’s not being like, Hey, get off TikTok. Maybe people probably tried anyway. But…

Katie Vernoy 27:05

Curt Widhalm 27:06
But it’s if you’re going to be on TikTok, help it get to an algorithm around other people who are espousing body positivity, and helping your clients to be able to surround themselves with positive messages around self acceptance. They also go on to talk about the escape from demands on self. And this is about people shifting away thinking about their own individual selves and using parasocial relationships as an aspect of escapism. Kind of that fantasy life around, hey, I want to be like this person, this person is so well put together, this person is who I can imagine myself being or fantasize being because their life is so well put together.

Katie Vernoy 27:50
I think, I mean, I can see escapism is not always bad. So I don’t know if that’s what you’re saying. But I think there’s that element of this person is so well put together, and they have you know, they’re they’re attractive, they’ve got their life together, whatever it is. And that being another reason why I’m not good enough. And so I feel like it can hit both sides where you’re escaping and kind of going into this world and just kind of imagining yourself in it, and not living your life. And then there’s also this other side of it being a constant reminder of what you don’t have.

Curt Widhalm 28:23
And this is part of the advice to therapists is asking about the kinds of content and influencers that people follow. So that way, you have an idea around the kinds of messages that people get. I think that a lot of good intake, background kind of things talk about social relationships, but I think that we might fall a little bit short as far as asking, Where are the other influences in someone’s life really coming from?

Katie Vernoy 28:52

Curt Widhalm 28:53
You know, I can have a, you know, a group of consistent friends. But if the people that I follow online are a bunch of people who espouse garbage and hate speech and that kind of stuff, then it is something that can kind of infiltrate, and is good therapeutic fodder to actually look at like, where else are your influences coming from? This is something that’s across the lifespan. I think for a lot of people who work with teenagers, it’s like, yeah, of course, we know that this is a really big part of life, but like, Who do you follow online? And how does that end up impacting you? And what is your your engagement with that content really look like?

Katie Vernoy 29:35
Yeah, I think about folks who have their chosen, you know, even news source where that becomes they they listen, and that’s very much how they operate with the world. I mean, the person that came to mind was Tucker Carlson and so many folks that were so into what he was saying and talking about it, my assumption is continued to follow him wherever he went after Fox News. But like, to me, it seems like there are, there are huge influences that we don’t hear about if we don’t ask about it. I had a client who was a Swifty, and I had no idea. You know, it was something where all of a sudden, this client was just like, hey, I realized I haven’t told you, I am a total Swifty and I consume all of their content and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was like, oh, and so it was an interesting conversation about why and what that was, and all of those things. But I think it’s that element of, if we don’t ask, we’re making a lot of assumptions based on how we interact with the world. And we don’t necessarily, especially if they’re the clients from a different generation, or those types of things. I think it’s, it’s a good question to ask. I guess: How do you ask it? I mean, you have a lot of teenage clients. But how do you ask that question? Or might you ask that question if you haven’t asked it before?

Curt Widhalm 30:55
I mean, I’m pretty open about it. As far as like, you know, hey, we talked about your friends, like, what do you do online? Like, who do you hang out with? Who do you follow? Who? What content do you listen to? Who’s your YouTubers? Who’s this kind of stuff? So that way? It’s, I mean, it’s pretty straightforward to be able to be like, Hey, where are you getting your information that and, you know, some of this is, as educated adults, and assuming that it’s most of our listeners to this episode are other professionals, I think that we can kind of hold that space around, okay, some celebrities are going to have these teams, you’re not interacting with celebrities, they’re piecing together this very, you know, perfect life kind of thing. They’re not being, you know, really authentic and vulnerable at every particular moment. And even those moments might be very well crafted. Where, especially for some of the digital natives that kind of are like, okay, I can maybe kind of hold that that’s an idea. But it doesn’t seem real, because the engagement with content is just kind of ever present. So, I’m pretty straightforward in how I asked about this. But this is really something where I think that we might not as a field end up really looking at just how strongly this stuff is influencing our clients, until it has already, maybe potentially over influenced clients. And so whether this is around things like eating disorders, whether this is around things, body positivity sort of stuff that it’s looking at, where else are you getting these messages? Because even if you have a solid group of friends, those friends are still on social media. And they’re still going to be talking about that kind of stuff. And there’s almost kind of this normalization that ends up happening out of other people’s parasocial relationships as well.

Katie Vernoy 32:50
Yeah, it’s I mean, it can be all consuming. And so if we don’t explore it, I think it becomes very, we only have a very small view into their life and not the full one.

Curt Widhalm 33:02
So, some of the research on parasocial relationships also looks at there are certain kinds of people who might be more prone to engaging in parasocial relationships than others. Now, I’ve seen a couple of different angles around this, some of which points to that this might be tied to people’s attachment styles. And some of the early research on this was done by Tim Cole and Laura Leets. And they did some surveys around people’s attachment styles and who was more likely to engage in parasocial behaviors. And they ended up coming to the conclusion that anxious ambivalence were the most likely to form para social bonds.

Katie Vernoy 33:48
Anxious ambivalence. Is there, is there more information about why they think that?

Curt Widhalm 33:53
There is, and I’m glad that you asked this. This comes from the Journal of Social and Parasocial Relationships. And this is from 1999 so this is a little bit dated. But yeah, and I’m pointing to some of these older studies a little bit, because this seems to be something that there’s a lot of calls for current research around. There’s some stuff that’s being put out there as far as like YouTuber’s influence in parasocial relationships. But because of how long this terminology has been around, it has kind of ebbed and flowed a little bit as far as its clinical applications for psychotherapists. So, some of the stuff I can see where alright, it was studied for a while, but it kind of fell into the background. But a lot of this seemed to happen before the really strong presence of influencers and those kinds of things.

Katie Vernoy 34:51
Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Curt Widhalm 34:53
So, their conclusion was that it’s possible that parasocial bonds with individuals with anxious ambivalence formed simply because it’s reflecting another manifestation of their desire for intimacy. Even if the intimacy is with a TV character or somebody who is unattainable. It’s also possible they say that turning to relatively stable TV characters is a means of satisfying unrealistic and often unmet relational needs. And this is backed up by a number of studies that even looked at kind of people’s feelings around television shows that come to an end. There was a bunch of research in the 90s of people who were kind of super fans of the TV show Friends, and how people’s moods ended up changing after that show came to an end. There’s also some research and we can post some links to the stuff around when TV shows get cancelled prematurely. And there’s kind of the fan petitions to bring the shows back. The study that I came across, looked at people from the TV show of My So Called Life…

Katie Vernoy 36:03
Oh, interesting.

Curt Widhalm 36:04
So, and I’m sure that this has become even more prevalent. I don’t know if there’s any studies, but where online access to these kinds of petitions allows for people to engage in this a lot more. But being able to kind of look for either steady characters as an unmet relational need. Before we were recording, Katie and I were talking about the number of people during the COVID 19 pandemic, who just kind of always had The Office on in the background, that it was just kind of like, here’s this nice, stable, predictable show that is going on in the background. These are people who are having relationships. And now that I’m saying all of this out loud, how weird is it that we were all at home and then watching a show that was set in an office?

Katie Vernoy 36:53
Well, I want to go back to the point around the anxious ambivalent attachment style. I mean, my my thought process around it, and my understanding of anxious ambivalent, is anxious and also not seeking relationships as strongly because of the anxiety is that what anxious ambivalence is? The ambivalence is like, maybe I’ll have relationships, but it’s too scary, so I don’t want to think about it.

Curt Widhalm 37:16
Yeah, that’s a pretty fair way of boiling that down. They also came to a conclusion that some of the less secure, secure attachment to people so secure attachments, but not super strong secure, would also be more likely to engage in this but they showed a little bit more cynicism and reluctance to engage in it then the people in the anxious ambivalent category.

Katie Vernoy 37:39
And so, so I just want to nutshell it for you for what I think you just said. Is this kind of these folks who are maybe a little less secure or actively engaged, anxious but ambivalent about these things, they’re, they’re finding comfort in these parasocial relationships, a little bit of escapism, a little bit of relationship needs met, but kind of being able to sit back and not do the work of real life.

Curt Widhalm 38:06

Katie Vernoy 38:06

Curt Widhalm 38:08
So, there’s another couple of studies on this, but what they ended up kind of coming to some more conclusions is that a 1997 study by Cohen found that anxious men and non avoidant women engaged in paired social interactions. And the authors of this study believed that the Cohen study had some initial insights into how attachment styles influenced alternate strategies that people employ when attempting to satisfy their relational needs. Almost these interactions almost as a way of starting to test out being able to have different kinds of social relationships, not just parasocial relationships. So, it’s a way of kind of trying this on. This study also said that people with avoidant attachment types tend not to avoid in or tend not to engage in parasocial relationships. And I think that that’s fairly obvious at face value there.

Katie Vernoy 39:03
You say that it’s obvious, but I think there are folks who will claim an avoidant attachment style that may have these parasocial relationships. So is that saying that they’re not actually avoidant?

Curt Widhalm 39:18
It’s, I mean, it’s quite possible. I mean, maybe I’m, I’ll admit, I’m over simplifying this just a little bit and kind of looking at kind of some of the points that we want to hit here. But some of the attachment style conclusions around this is that engaging in any kind of consistent relationship from that very avoidant attachment ends up being something that is still seen as unrealistic or still seen as being unworthy of engaging in a relationship that even if it’s a parasocial relationship, that the difficulties of maintaining something consistently just don’t fit within that attachment style.

Katie Vernoy 39:59
Yeah. I can take it or leave it, right? Like, yeah, you did you said something I don’t quite like so much. I’m not gonna give you any benefit of the doubt. I’m out.

Curt Widhalm 40:07

Katie Vernoy 40:07
All right. All right.

… 40:10
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Curt Widhalm 40:10
Well, I want to talk about the other group that has been identified in the literature on this. And that is people with social anxiety.

Katie Vernoy 40:17
Oh, for sure, I can see that 100%.

Curt Widhalm 40:21
Okay, so tell me more about kind of your initial reaction on this?

Katie Vernoy 40:26
Well, I just think about the clients who I have, in my practice, that are very socially anxious, and many of them have these parasocial relationships, whether it’s with real people, or fictional characters, or shows or that kind of stuff. And it’s very soothing. It’s, hey, here’s something very safe, that I can watch that get that takes care of some of my social needs. But I don’t need to actually engage with the real world to be able to, to kind of go here. It makes a lot of sense to me because there’s, I mean, I don’t want to keep saying the word escapism. So, that’s not exactly what I’m trying to say. It’s, it’s this fantasy life. I think, for me, I’ll go back to the pandemic when I wasn’t socially anxious, but I couldn’t go out. And, and I think about the books that I read, you know, books I’d read so many, so many times that I read again, so I could go and live in that world and feel comforted. I think about the people who I watched and what they were doing, and all of that stuff. And there was a certain amount of it where like, if it was too many people, or whatever, I was like, Oh, my gosh, why aren’t they not, why are they not social distancing? But to me, it’s just this, this gentle move into this place that feels social-ish, that doesn’t require me to actually, you know, quote, unquote, people.

Curt Widhalm 41:56
Yeah, I think that that’s what a lot of the literature ends up backing up as well. And this is where, while there can be a lot of positives towards getting into alright, we can prep and we can learn things about confidence and being in a relationship. We can even learn particular skills around to being in relationships with people. For people with social anxiety in general, this is also where there can end up being a true double edged sword in this. In that social anxiety and some of the parasocial relationships with some of the online influencers can end up being something that both of those co-mediate internet addiction, and it’s kind of used as I’m engaging with people, therefore I’m social. I mean, how many teenagers have we heard talking about, you know, I do have friends, they’re online. This is…

Katie Vernoy 42:56
You have to check if they’re actually social relationships or parasocial relationships online.

Curt Widhalm 42:59
Yes, but it almost becomes kind of this three sided problem where some of the benefits tend to overshadow some of the negative aspects of it. Because if what that relationship means is that I need to ignore the things in my regular life. So that way, I can immediately go online to be available or to engage, you know, live streaming, as opposed to the recorded streaming later on, that can foster internet addiction.

Katie Vernoy 43:29
So, you said that the benefits outweigh the negatives, I think you meant the opposite, right? The negatives…

Curt Widhalm 43:35
No,what I’m saying is that we at first glance, we can say, Oh, well, at least he’s engaging with somebody, or at least their engaging with somebody. That that can overshadowed that we also have to be cautious about this kind of stuff. This is from a 2019 article in Computers in Human Behavior called The relations between YouTube addiction, social anxiety and parasocial relationships with YouTubers: A moderated-mediation model based on a cognitive-behavioral framework by Bérail. But really being able to have to talk about that YouTube addiction can be a part of almost kind of a self medicating way for people with social anxiety that I’m, I’m engaging with people, just because they’re not in real life doesn’t mean that I’m not happy with the way that my relationships are developing. And that needs to be an area of clinical concern that we look at, particularly for those who identify as socially anxious or those that we see as having socially anxious behaviors.

Katie Vernoy 44:39
I think this can go beyond social anxiety, too. I just think about how many folks with trauma or grief or different things will just go down the rabbit hole with these things because it truly is dissociative. I mean, it’s it’s a way to pass time without thinking.

Curt Widhalm 44:57
Yeah, and this can then lead into some of the negative aspects of things. And I’m drawing some larger conclusions or piecing together some older information on this is that we have not yet gotten to kind of parasocial breakups, which is either when the people that we’re in relationships with disband like my band, whether it’s people that the social relationships or the parasocial relationships end up doing something incredibly negative. So, people like Kevin Spacey, people like Chris Brown, JK Rowling, where there can create a lot of cognitive dissonance around, how do we engage in continuing to have a relationship with them. And that’s something that needs to be processed through kind of the origins around is this starting from a socially anxious place? I have created such a strong parasocial relationship with someone that this is my only friend or one of my only friends. And therefore I need to continue to follow them even within the negative aspects out of what they’re doing. Or some of the other ways that parasocial breakups end up happening is when people retire or the celebrities end up dying. And there there can be problems related around that. For example, after Princess Diana died in the late 90s, there was a a lot more suicides among particularly women between the ages of 30 and 50 that was outside of the normal trends around suicide for people at that age bracket. And so some of the theories around this kind of develop that sometimes these parasocial relationships can be so strong, that the death of somebody in and of itself ends up being something that really harms somebody’s own self identity, just because they’re engaged in a parasocial relationship with them.

Katie Vernoy 47:04
I think about the the celebrities who die by suicide, and that’s a different thing than what you’re talking about here.

Curt Widhalm 47:12
Yeah. Just for comparison, in the aftermath of like Robin Williams, suicide; suicide across all age groups tended to go up as suicide was being talked about in the news. And kind of the same with Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade. This was a very particular demographic around Princess Diana that ended up being something that was really just kind of looked at as being mediated by parasocial relationships.

Katie Vernoy 47:44
Like, I’ve lost my sense of self, because the person who I have created who has defined me is now gone, this vacuum means that I can’t be alive anymore. Is that kind of what you’re talking about?

Curt Widhalm 47:56
Yes, it is.

Katie Vernoy 47:58
It’s so interesting, because I think there’s, there’s these things that happen, where we get to know somebody better, and they’ve got nasty things like JK Rowling being a TERF. Obviously, I still have feelings about that. Or a band breaks up or someone dies or dies by suicide. I think about though the parasocial relationships where they are actually used to sell you stuff.

Curt Widhalm 48:24

Katie Vernoy 48:25
And, and those types of things. And go down these rabbit holes of, you know, you know, I think about like, jade eggs and weird crazy crap that that someone that will not be named has sold. So, I think there’s that element of when our clients are going down this rabbit hole and and taking the advice or buying the products or buy it, or merch or whatever it is. At what point do we intervene with that?

Curt Widhalm 48:53
Well, I think part of this is, and this is maybe spending the last part of this episode here kind of tying everything together because we in all content creation kinds of things like this is something where we have sponsors on this podcast, and it’s being able to look at kind of even what the content creators themselves and what their MO is. I hope that our audience finds that we’re pretty, genuine, authentic, we’re pretty open. That the sponsors of our shows are people whose products we’ve vetted. We feel confident in being able to do this. We’ve turned down people that we don’t feel fit with the ideals. We’ve been pretty clear about what our ideals are. But in the larger zeitgeist of content creators, not everybody is that way. And I think that that’s a really big difference in you know, the few pennies that we get at the end of the day when it comes after paying our expenses to run a podcast versus people like Jake and Logan Paul who are millions and millions of dollars that end up coming in, but so much of their stuff is geared around by this stuff. It’s cool because we have a bunch of 10 to 15 year olds who are buying into everything that we’re doing. And therefore, we can just make an overly sweet, you know, energy drink and get that out into the grocery stores. And it becomes, you know, the zeitgeist of what all of the middle schoolers want. My point here is that being able to be clear about, okay, who appreciates the clarity around people like us, compared to people like the Paul brothers ends up being: what are the motivations behind things? At least speaking for myself, and I think for you, we enjoy sharing the information we have. I enjoy being challenged to come up with new ideas to talk about after, you know, several years of presenting on stuff. And every time that we’re like, Hey, have we actually talked about all of the different aspects of being a therapist, and we keep coming back with like, No, we have new ideas on things. I enjoy those challenges personally for myself, and I enjoy the people who come along for the ride with us. Whereas I don’t tend to see our audience members as Oh, those are walking cash registers that we need to be able to empty out and get your money to us. So, but I think that, you know, kind of getting back to your question here is, I don’t think we’re the same as most of the really popular content that’s out there. And some people are better at disguising, kind of that trying to make as much money through their influence as possible, and seem kind of very genuine in what they’re doing. But their intention is still to make as much money as possible. I think if we prioritized making money, our show would be entirely different, our relationship with our audience would be entirely different. But in helping our clients be able to figure out this kind of stuff is what is helping them to be able to talk about, like, what are the intentions of the people that you’re engaging in these parasocial relationships? I know for many of the non-therapeutic people that I tend to follow on social media, a lot of them are either artists, musicians, actors, that kind of stuff that I enjoy their work. And in following them, I find that many of their values tend to be more or less align with mine. I’ve found that I have followed people in the past and when those values don’t align that I tend to have a changing parasocial relationship with them. Because it’s not something that I either want to support, or I recognize, even in my own identity is something that I want to have that influence or to be able to spend my emotional energy in kind of holding like, I really, like, you know, this one thing that you do, but I really don’t like the way that you’re approaching these other things.

Katie Vernoy 53:10
I think when you’re talking about it, I kept thinking like, well, we’re therapists, you know, we’re quote, unquote, and this I hate this, this phrase at this point, because it’s been way overused, but like heart centered entrepreneurs, or whatever, or altruistic or whatever. I mean, some people will follow somebody just because they find them entertaining. And I think, to me, the thing that I think about, and maybe this is, you know, we’re getting close to time, but what I think about the folks who are following these big personas, potentially highly curated, all of that stuff, buying things from them, going to all the concerts, you know, dropping everything to watch a live stream, or whatever it is; the decision about when to step in and kind of question that behavior, I think feels very delicate. And, and it’s almost like, I think when you have someone, a client who’s in a, like a toxic relationship, or, or a relationship that’s clearly unhealthy for them in some way. You don’t want to be like, Hey, get out of that relationship, unless it’s, it’s truly dangerous to them. And yet, you also don’t want to ignore it. And so I feel like to me, and I don’t know if there’s research that backs this up, but I think there’s that element as a therapist of trying to really understand their perspective, and how they’re engaging in that relationship. And what this person out there, if they’re altruistic or are very, very greedy, if we want to use that word, if what they’re engaging in is helpful to them. I feel like it goes back to, you know, critical thinking and decision making and those types of things. And I think so often, when we’re talking about parasocial relationships, it feels like this fantasy that we’re swept away with, and we can be completely consumed by it without really recognising: is this good for me or not? And so I think being able to talk to our clients in a way that helps them make that decision and understand it feels good. But I feel like it can be very delicate, especially for folks who are very, very committed to their parasocial relationships.

Curt Widhalm 55:19
Well, I think, you know, maybe the example that I’ll use on this is people, you know, going back to your idea around, like people who are fans of sports teams. Where either a player on the team is in the news for the wrong reasons or player ends up publicly, you know, bad mouthing the team or it gets traded unexpectedly or switches teams, that having an idea of some of the parasocial relationships as those things come up in the news allows for us to more readily jump in and talk about things. I think that we’ve talked about in this episode before, we’ve seen it in Facebook groups before of like, when big things are happening in the news, we need to be prepared to talk about that with clients, if not even kind of bringing that up. I think sometimes it’s being able to talk more specifically with clients and kind of the unfolding identities out of things. If you have somebody who does talk about like, you know, I make sure that I get on every single one of this person’s streams and it’s just, you know, such a lovely sort of, you know, a message that’s being sent and, I’m, you know, spending money beyond my means to be a Patreon supporter, or buy all their stuff, or be at the highest level, or that kind of stuff and so that way, I get even more interactions with them. And then they talk about those interactions. And it’s, you know, that was that didn’t sit right with me. Those are, those are the times that you’re preparing for. Or the times that it becomes really apparent that the messages that your client’s start talking about, do seem to be tied to something that comes from a place that may end up being very dangerous. You know, I look at some of the clients that I work with that, you know, start really, all of a sudden, I tend to work with a lot of teenage guys. So, if all of a sudden, you know, a lot more of the content that ends up getting talked about is really toxic men’s rights sort of stuff. I’ll get a lot more curious about like, you know, hey, what are you looking into to, you know, where are you, where are you getting your research from on this? That ends up helping to be like, Okay, this is coming from this particular influencer, this is coming from this particular corner of the internet that does allow for more open discussions. And resoundingly what I’ve found is that challenging these ideas isn’t necessarily something where it’s like, no, no, don’t listen to those people. A lot more of it i: have you considered some of these other things in addition to that? And that’s really a lot where a lot more of where the growth that I see in these particular issues come up. But a lot of it starts with being curious and getting your clients to be able to share all of the influences that they’re having in their lives. So that way, they’re able to more accurately communicate with you where this stuff is coming from.

Katie Vernoy 58:32
I mean, it’s even and I am going to show my age here, it’s even recognizing where content is, is able to be consumed. You know, like, I think I stay pretty up to date on things but like, somebody will start talking about stuff and I’m like, Okay, I don’t really go into Reddit, I don’t go into TikTok, I don’t do a lot of things that I think younger, or more engaged, social media engaged clients might go to get content. And so I think for me, it’s it’s about understanding, the question can be broad enough that I might be able to get the information, even if I can’t say, oh, yeah, I’m on that Reddit string, you know, thread or whatever it is. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s being able to seek the influences, whatever they are, wherever they’re coming from, and trying to do maybe even a little bit of research. You know, like understanding, you know, before we started recording, you were like, yeah, if somebody’s a Swifty, I want to make sure I’m paying attention to what’s going on with Taylor Swift. Right. And so I think it’s, it can be a little bit more work because there’s so many of our clients who are impacted by some of these things. I think there’s probably a decision to make at some point, if somebody’s a Swifty versus somebody who is a casual fan of the Lakers. I like I think there’s, there’s, you know, different levels of influence on the clients and we don’t have to be aware of every single thing and on social media every single minute. I think that that leads to our own…

Curt Widhalm 1:00:06

Katie Vernoy 1:00:07 media addiction. But, but I think it is a good point because it’s it’s there is a an old, you know, kind of idea that we only are aware of what the clients bring to us. But if we don’t know what’s happening in the world, and we’re a true blank slate, among all things, I think that becomes harmful to our clients. Because if we don’t understand how someone’s interacting in the world, we may not identify the benefits or more nefariously we don’t identify the dangers of them interacting with that type of content.

Curt Widhalm 1:00:47
So, some of the benefits that I want to make sure that we also hit before we wrap up is leaning into the positive aspects of these things, too. Being able to, you know, see kind of what it is that people emulate people what they want, like, you know, if using Swiftys as an example, like, what is it about Taylor Swift, that people really want to either be like, or to have engaged? Like, what are what are some of the psychodynamic almost, you know, imaginary relationship kinds of things, and what it would be like to interact with them and where that drive ends up being represented in people’s lives, and how they can model what they see from people. You know, if I’m not a Swifty, I, sorry, everyone, like, but it’s something where it’s like, okay, what is it? I don’t know, are you is Swifty? Like, what is it about…

Katie Vernoy 1:01:44
I’m not.

Curt Widhalm 1:01:44
…Taylor Swift? Okay, maybe we have to, but even being able to use kind of a pseudo blank slate on this to help be able to get some of that projective identification as far as, okay, tell me what it is about being a Swifty that you really are wanting, what do you get out of this? What do you what do you see in her that you start to get people’s hopes and dreams and ideas that you can then help to build into kind of more concrete plans as far as what about trying this out in real life? If you like the, put together aspect of things, if you like the, you know, being able to be strong and have an identity around being able to voice your opinion and stand up and be shaken by it that, what would that be like to try that out in real life? Or here’s this opportunity where, you know, all right, let’s put your inner Taylor Swift in so that way you can speak up to your sister to your mom about…

Katie Vernoy 1:02:47
Whatever it is, right? Yeah, I think I think for me, what I’m hearing and this is the work that I’ve done with my clients that have some of these more, you know, kind of intense parasocial relationships is potentially how do you emulate the character or the person or whatever, I had a client that would kind of emulate a character to to display confidence because the fake it till you make it let me act like this character. But I think there’s also this other element of identity work and values. And you know, some of it can be about relationships and how they interact with the world are the messages they have. But I think a lot of it actually comes to the values that are presented. And, and I think that’s the hard part about parasocial breakups. When you find out somebody is like been saying this stuff, and then they’re exactly the opposite. That’s my my issue around JK Rowling. But I think there’s that element of being able to understand themselves. I mean, like, all the things that we consume are potentially a window into our soul, so to speak. And so I think that there is identity work. I think there’s attachment work. How do they interact with the world? How to how do the clients interact with her parasocial relationship? I mean, I feel like there’s so much clinical fodder here.

Curt Widhalm 1:03:59
And grief work. You know, this is where a lot of people you know, myself included, we go through a grief process when celebrities die, when bands break up, that it is dealing with grief as far as: all right, what, what did this mean at this time for us? And there’s plenty of stories and research out there that says that the breakups and those parasocial breakups end up being processed by a lot of people in the same way as real relationships that they have with people.

Katie Vernoy 1:04:30
Yeah. Well, I think that there’s the times when it’s about the parasocial relationship, or the band or whatever it is, but then it can also be about, you know, when it came into their lives, and how it what it meant to them at the time and what it’s what what it served for them. You know, like, if, if this is an escapism, you know, if it’s gone, now I’m facing reality. So it, like it, like it’s so layered on on what we can look at here. I think it’s if we don’t do this, we’re missing a lot.

Curt Widhalm 1:05:01
Exactly. And I think that’s really the takeaway on this: is making sure that this is a part of the conversation. That we treat it as something that’s very real, because for a lot of clients, it is. And there’s a lot of research that backs this up. And, you know, we pointed to a couple of populations during this episode. But these relationships exist in pretty much all aspects of people at all ages in life. And, you know, there’s the people, you know, we pointed to the ways that like Popeye can be used for kids and this kind of stuff. We have those relationships as adults, we’ll continue to have them into our elder years. There’s going to be the opinions that we have about people good, bad and otherwise. And all of that is clinical fodder for being able to ask, you know, what’s underneath that? What’s underneath those feelings that you have developed? Why do you like this person? Why do you hate this person?

Katie Vernoy 1:06:03

Curt Widhalm 1:06:03
There’s a lot of research that we came across that didn’t really fit into this episode around how people in political circles use kind of parasocial relationships to predict who’s likely to vote for things. So, there’s a lot of space around how people’s feelings develop around people, ideas, inanimate objects, cartoons, any of that kind of stuff that we can ask about, and that helps us to get a deeper insight into clients and hopefully, clients having a deeper insight into themselves. You can find our show notes over at If you want to get continuing education credits, follow the instructions in the show notes or at the beginning and end of the episode. If you want to support us, and you know, we’re gonna give you that option in your parasocial relationship with us. Please consider supporting our sponsors, and they’re the ones that helped make us to be able to continue to put this content out. Join our Facebook group, follow us on our social media. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm, with Katie Vernoy.

… 1:07:14
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Katie Vernoy 1:07:17
Just a quick reminder, if you’d like one unit of continuing education for listening to this episode, go to, purchases course and pass the post test. A CE certificate will appear in your profile once you’ve successfully completed the steps.

Curt Widhalm 1:07:31
Once again, that’s

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