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Health & Sex

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Public Confessions of Private Affairs

Tune in to the trend of Internet- and TV-based confessions to find out why it’s happening and whether it’s helpful.

A Closer Look at the Confessors

So who is airing their dirty laundry on public TV, or typing startling confessions on their personal computers?

Anyone with access to a computer and a guilty conscience, it seems. Greg Fox, creator and webmaster of, says his web site gets between 250 and 300 new confessions daily. Revelations run the gamut, from confessions of petty shoplifting to obsessive thoughts of murder.

"People still want to be socially accepted, even with their warts, so they're willing to spill their personal beans," says psychotherapist Gilda Carle, PhD, an educator and relationship expert whose advice has penetrated TV and print media in recent years.

Some say the Internet confessor may be looking for an easy way out. "It's easier to do it [confess] in an anonymous world: you don't have to confront someone directly," Farley says.

Others, it seems, are just looking for some extra cash, potentially at a great cost. The Moment of Truth, a new reality TV show on Fox, offers up to $500,000 to contestants willing to bare their most private truths, typically in front of their closest friends or family members. The program proves that some people are willing to risk damage or complete ruin of friendships, and even marriage, for money. What's more, the success of the show tells us there are plenty of viewers eager to watch strangers' sad sagas unfold.

Confessions = Catharsis?

Do public confessions equal catharsis? That depends on whom you ask.

Though he can't speak for all confessors, Fox notes that he's gotten more than a handful of emails from people who have confessed to suicidal feelings on his web site and, afterward, report a new interest in living.

Others remain unconvinced of the benefits of public or anonymous confessions. "I would say it's a weak substitute, and it may delay the real issue at hand," Farley tells WebMD.

Still others are less skeptical. "We know that confession in and of itself can have beneficial effects," says Jeffrey Janata, PhD, a physician at University Hospitals and associate professor of psychiatry and director of the behavioral medicine program at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "The actual degree of heartfelt expression is key."

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