|The keyboard instead of the couch -|
the new posture of seeking help
"I’m not a doctor or therapist," Runkle's Crappy Childhood Fairy website says. "I’m someone who grew up in a rough family that was deeply affected by addiction and all the problems that tend to go with that – poverty, violence, neglect, and shame."
As a child, she sometimes had to shop for food and cook, as the household's adults were not around. And Runkle has said she experienced sexual molestation in the home.
Today, with a persona that blends likability and real world wisdom, Runkle brings insights to hundreds of thousands seeking healing, connection or just some online diversion while perusing YouTube channels.
Her credentials are varied -- she earned a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, and has been a professional comedian, a customer experience consultant and a video director -- but when it comes to psychotherapy, the Fairy's qualifications are school of hard knocks.
From her recent past in those jobs, Runkle freely shares with her viewers recollections of her occasional failures to be focused and reliable to colleagues, something to which many of us in the creative fields can give a reluctant nod of recognition.
And with gentle straightforwardness, her message is that facing how your symptoms are hurting others is an important part of healing from past abuse or neglect.
The Fairy, or CCF has become a big enterprise with paid levels of use and free services, all of which are energized with user posts, which of course make for algorithm assets.
I applaud Anna Runkle's emphasis on healing and accepting responsibility, rather than being mired in past pain. I also like her focus on some simple hands-on healing methods, like the benefits of de-cluttering.
There are downsides to her channel, however.
In her criticisms of therapy per se, she is sometimes preachy and sweeping, treating her own bad experiences as universal.
Runkle once characterized those who criticize her over her negative view of therapy as personally hateful.
Though many of them undoubtedly have been, there is a lack of nuance in this. Conflating all criticisms of her with vitriolic personal attacks can be a tactic to play on sentimentality over reason, and it seemed to have that effect.
Legions who posted in the comments rallied around her as a friend under siege, never asking: were there also criticisms that were not mean or personal?
In the wider YouTube world, there is a problem of impetuous self-diagnosing by viewers. It's bad enough when the online work of a genuine therapist or psychiatrist sparks an "I suddenly realize I've got that" bandwagon. But when a non-professional prompts those inevitable comment thread reactions, it's a worse problem.
Though a YouTuber such as Anna Runkle shouldn't be held responsible for every viewer's statements, she should set aside her disdain for the therapy profession long enough to tell those who self-diagnose they certainly should consider seeing a qualified healer first.
A particularly bad example came on a thread about the dangers of the toxic trait called people pleasing.
A viewer posted: "Thanks. I realized that my niceness is a mental illness, what a revelation...." And this comment wasn't the satire those words may sound like; it continued in a serious vein.
Whoa! To start with, niceness is not people pleasing. People pleasing is not a mental illness, but a habit. And this viewer was thanking someone not qualified to define a toxic habit in them, much less a mental illness.
As of this writing, eight months after that comment was posted, there has been no cautionary response posted by the Crappy Childhood Fairy or her staff. The "niceness as mental illness" equation is allowed a free pass.
It's no secret that big YouTube operations generally do resort to click bait from time to time to keep the views coming during the ebb periods. But a tactic the media-savvy Runkle used in 2021 was click bait in overdrive, and I saw it as blatant manipulation.
In a YouTube video headlined "Is This A Healing Miracle? You Decide," she spends several minutes discussing in detail the fate of a loved one who was said by a doctor who examined him in an emergency situation to be weeks away from certain death.
That patient was her ex-husband but still good friend, who was afflicted with cancer. Well, days later he was declared out of immediate danger, and was improving so robustly he was back at his office. The cancer was now called treatable.
It sounded for all the world that this CCF YouTube was plainly making the case that a miracle gave the man his life back.
Well, twelve minutes and some seconds into the video, Runkle says, "That's not actually what happened. What happened was, we had a wrong diagnosis.... There wasn't really a miracle."
But the m-word isn't done on this YouTube. The fact that she and her ex-husband's other loved ones were so relieved that he was not dying after all makes his cancer seem less brutal than if the false diagnosis had never come down.
That has given the group a new appreciation of life. That's the miracle. The new outlook is reason to be pleased, and happy for them. But the sequence of this story played with viewers' emotions by suggesting for more than a dozen minutes something divine or metaphysical, then letting us know it's a far more relatable use of "miracle."
I don't know that Anna Runkle intended to deceive, but the video's timeline conformed to a standard method of extending YouTube watch times; getting viewers to stay through a certain length of a YouTube is generally needed to receive a desired amount of ad revenue.
And seeing the comment thread fire up with religious fervor from commenters -- including lots of mid-sentence capital H for "his" and "him" -- was all I could take. It was another grim reminder of how many people don't notice bait and switch, or don't care that they are being manipulated by it as long as they feel uplifted by a good story.
Did this video manipulate Anna Runkle's viewers. You Decide:
The video me demoralized after months of using the Crappy Childhood Fairy channel to some real personal avail.
I posted my problems with her tossing the word "miracle" around so loosely, and unsubscribed -- wiser about the cut throat economics that rule YouTube.
Brian Arbenz lives in Louisville, Ky. USA