Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/Wikitherapy: Bringing the Wikimedia projects into therapy settings

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Title ideas[edit]

  • Wikitherapy: Patients adding value to the Wikimedia projects


  • Most everyone has heard of art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy etc.; Wikipedia defines drama therapy as "the use of theatre techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote mental health". What Wikitherapy aims to do is to help channel the creativity of individuals to the Wikimedia projects, to the same ends as therapy with the fine arts. Halfway through its duration, the IEG program pilot at a mental health daycare center for adults in Kefalonia, Greece is making strides.

Background info[edit]

The Wikitherapy heart logo

The Wikitherapy concept was born in the IdeaLab workshop of Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City; the idea had been churning in my mind after years of dealing with chronic ailments in my immediate circle of friends and family. Having been active in the Wikimedia movement in a second-chance learners setting, transferring the experience gained from years of working with students of the Argostoli Evening School to the world of healthcare seemed like a challenge worth exploring. The idea was developed into an Individual Engagement Grant and approved for funding in round 2 of 2015. Sessions commenced at the Argostoli Mental Health Daycare Center for Adults on December 23 2015, catering to a group of roughly ten participants and backed by the ongoing support and guidance of a devoted team of healthcare professionals. Two participants are now regular editors on Wiktionary and Wikiquote respectively, whereas the remaining members contribute primarily in one-off efforts of group therapy at the center due to their lack of personal equipment to continue work at home.

From hobby to added value on Wiktionary and Wikiquote[edit]

Dimitris (User:Jim Vallianos on the Wikimedia projects) displays a list of Greek words and their translations in six languages. He regularly contributes his work to Greek Wiktionary.

Dimitris is a 28-year-old high school graduate who has been receiving care from the Day Center since it opened its doors in 2008. With an innate curiosity and passion for words, Dimitris practiced an unusual habit when reading books: he would stop randomly at a word in the text he was reading and look up the word in six different languages in his collection of dictionaries. The word would be entered in the first column of a hand-written list and its translations in the next columns. Each book was counted as a new "cycle of work" and could output up to 300 words. The Center's psychiatrist was perplexed as to how this bizarre hobby could have any productive meaning.

Evaggelia (User:Ekosmatou) displaying one of the books she uses to look up quotes, which she then contributes to Greek Wikiquote.

The answer was Wiktionary: all words have a built-in translation template that offers the fields for entering translations into the project's 40 language versions merely by removing markup and adding text. Dimitris was thrilled to learn that his favorite pastime was perfect for making valuable contributions to the free and open online dictionary of the Internet; moreover, Greek Wiktionary is one of the minor Wikimedia projects in the country and new contributors are warmly welcomed and encouraged. To date he has added over 300 translations in English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and Hungarian, while his new Greek-Polish dictionary will be the seventh column in his lists, with more to come as he expands his collection. He also makes minor contributions on Greek Wikipedia by checking articles of his interest for typos and spelling/grammar mistakes. Dimitris has already spoken in public about his new role as a Wikimedian and is eager to recruit and train new editors at an upcoming Wikimedia workshop for the local community.

Evaggelia on the other hand was particularly fond of uploading images with famous quotes on her Facebook page. It didn't take long for us to find her natural fit: none other than Wikiquote. Soon enough Evaggelia was looking up categories to find the right "home" for the latest quote she had singled out from her books, while also correcting mistakes and improving on contributions made by other users. What makes her contributions even more special is that Greek Wikiquote is rather idle and often she is the sole contributor for an entire day!

Group project with social impact[edit]

Dimitris, Aglaia and Evaggelia visit Korgialeneios Municipal Library to gather information on "Kambana Square".

Our sessions are held twice weekly for two hours at a time in the Center's lounge; our equipment is two laptops (brought in by participants), a mini projector (bought using grant funds) and a wifi connection (offered by the Center). The casual setting allows for plenty of discussion that often reaches farther than the Wikimedia projects: the team has a developed sense of awareness when it comes to social issues. After acknowledging that the existence of the Day Center has helped them enormously in acquiring skills and developing interpersonal relations to deal with varying degrees of social exclusion, they turned their attention to a less fortunate group of people: the former employees of the Bell Tower Cafe. The cafe was situated on a square in the center of town and was shut down abruptly in June 2013 by the municipal authority, leaving roughly a dozen employees with sociomental disorders jobless and socially marginalized; three Wikitherapy participants had worked at the cafe for a long or short time and knew first-hand how important a role it played in their well-being.

Wikitherapy participants (left to right: Evaggelia, Andreas, Dionysis, Elias, Maria, Mina, Dimitris and Aglaia) visit the General State Archives branch of Kefalonia.

We decided "on the spot" to improve the existing article on "Kambana" (which means "Bell") Square on Greek Wikipedia and expand it by adding a paragraph on the cafe and the story behind it; the story was widely discussed in the local press three years ago and getting it on Wikipedia may help kindle the authorities' interest and finally lead to a solution. After drafting an action plan and designating a role to each of the participants, we visited Korgialeneios municipal library and the local State Archives branch to collect material and sources for our work. From these visits emerged a "fringe benefit" for the Wikimedia projects: the officers at these two local agencies were so enthusiastic with our project that they were eager to hear more about how they can get involved in the Wikimedia movement, and we have now embarked on investigating the possibility of a GLAM partnership.

Future plans[edit]

All these accomplishments are "too good to keep to ourselves": our next step is outreach. Once we have finished our Bell Tower project we intend to invite all our new friends and supporters for a presentation and mini editathon at the Municipal Library. The public event will be held in late April or early May; apart from presenting our work and the Wikimedia projects, the editathon will feature Dimitris and Evaggelia as trainers in Wiktionary and Wikiquote editing respectively. If the local community responds with the same enthusiasm and as the weather gets warmer we may even plan a string of outdoor events: why not a happening on Bell Tower Square? Or a booth in the local festivals held every summer at different locations on the island? The possibilities are endless... and that is the essence of Wikitherapy: adding value to the Wikimedia projects, while adding value to society and our lives within it.

Mina Theofilatou, Wikitherapy IEG grantee


What next?[edit]

The IEG grant ends on June 23, 2016; the Wikitherapy project lives on. One of our plans is to devise a Wikitherapy toolkit and introduce the concept to other healthcare settings (i.e. general hospitals, clinics etc.). We are already in contact with interested healthcare professionals in Greece.

Getting involved[edit]

If you're interested in watching our progress or reaching out to us for more info, don't hesitate... we'd love to hear from you!


In explanation of the fiery passion driving me to make this idea work, Wikitherapy is a homage to... my late mother, who was always an enthusiastic supporter of working for the common good; my late brother, who suffered a largely misunderstood mental disorder for the greater part of his life; my brain-damaged sister, who sustained anoxic brain injury at the birth of her second child and sadly lives a socially-excluded life.

Social exclusion is very real for people with health disorders; The Wikimedia projects foster personal development via knowledge produced by anyone, in a community that applauds diversity and inclusion for everyone. The way I see it, Wikitherapy is a natural fit. Feedback is welcome:)