Second Life

©2011 by Niela Miller

Photo: Niela’s Avatar, Marly Milena

Source: Niela Miller. (2010, November). Second Life: A virtual playground for therapists, creativists, healers, educators, and everyone else. TILT Magazine: Therapeutic Innovations in Light of Technology (Online Therapy Institute), 1(2), pp. 31-33. Reprinted in Chrysalis Quarterly (3)1, November, 2011.


Second Life

A Virtual Playground for Therapists, Creativists, Healers, Educators, and Everyone Else

By Niela Miller, M.S. (aka Marly Milena in Second Life)

In the fall of October 2007 I was in Provincetown Massachusetts, sitting in a café with a friend and her partner at an annual event for transgendered people called Fantasia Fair. At the time, I had been doing group and individual work at the Fair for more than twenty years. My friend and her partner were telling me about Second Life, a virtual three-dimensional location on the web. How ironic, since many would view this transgender world as also being outside reality as they know it! In fact, these two had met in SL and have been partners there and in their regular lives for four years! (Guess who one of those people was?– Ed.)

As soon as I heard about Second Life I was excited and curious, since I saw its potential for creative projects of all kinds, for doing teaching and therapy in new ways, for meeting people from all over the world, for finding just about any interest group I could think of, and for just having fun. However, I was a serious technophobe, afraid of things going wrong on my computer, troubled with remembering how to use electronic devices like recorders, and, in general intimidated by anything structural or mechanical with moving parts. If this sounds like you, don’t despair. A miracle occurred for me; my creative side trumped my technophobia! I was so excited about the creative potential of Second Life that I was willing to learn what was necessary to function in this brave new world.

My friend offered to be my guide and mentor, and I was off and running– well, not quite! It was actually funny learning how to walk all over again, how to fly (thrilling!), how to manipulate objects, how to dress my avatar (the character one adopts along with a new name), and dozens of other pieces of technical know-how I needed to be a successful denizen of Second Life.

I still feel like I’m learning each time I enter Second Life. It has also changed my level of fear back home. I now no longer panic when some piece of equipment isn’t working correctly and can often find a solution– a new experience for me!

Jump to the present. I am in my third location in Second life, a sim (or simulator, a piece of virtual real estate) called Prism Lila, an island inhabited by a dozen residents, each of whom rents a parcel of land and can build on it. There are thousands of such islands in Second Life, and also a mainland.

Some of us are artists, some are teachers or therapists, some are builders, and some are facilitators of programs. My group is called Octagon: Creative Exploration. I offer all sorts of programs, using arts processes for personal growth and educational ventures, employing my skills in Gestalt and Jungian modalities.

Here’s how a session might appear to you: A group gathers– maybe five avatars, maybe twenty. I ask for a volunteer to do a demo of a coaching process. (I collaborate with a virtual coach trainer from Denmark who periodically asks focusing questions). When the volunteer comes forward, I set up guidelines such as confidentiality, willingness to share with group, and basic building skills. I instruct attendees to share questions and comments in chat after the demo and to restrict any analysis of the volunteer but rather to focus on what the experience brought up for them. I’m on a headset so my voice can be heard.

I ask the volunteer to focus on a current challenge, feel what it evokes in the body sitting at home at the computer, and then to build something which symbolizes that feeling state. It’s not difficult to pull a basic geometric shape out of a Create window, put it on the ground, stretch it, give it a color or texture….

Then I usually do Gestalt work: they become the object, speaking to the creator part of themselves, and a dialogue ensues. As this happens I ask them to pay attention to what is happening in their body at the computer. They usually feel a sense of control from being able to manipulate the objects in real time and change them as their perception shifts.

Some remarkable insights and changes occur on the spot, such as the woman who was in the middle of a panic attack when she volunteered and who reported that the anxiety dissolved after about ten minutes of work. She said this had never happened to her before with her other panic attacks, even when she was with a helper. I think the ability to create and change the object as one goes along, to be inside or on top of it, make it smaller, larger, translucent, etc. produces a set of conditions that helps the person become aware and feel in charge of their process by shifting perception and perspective.

I foresee a great use of Second Life, the most developed of these virtual worlds to date, for healing, therapy, and teaching.

My particular interest is in developing and using creative processes available in this technology combined with various models from humanistic existential psychology. I use photographs, paintings, music, theatrical improvisation, and body awareness as tools for problem solving, community building, spiritual development and building cultural bridges. I am eager to collaborate with other people and institutions that want to do this type of exploring.

If you want to have more of an introduction to Second Life than I can give here, please go YouTube and search for the many introductory Second Life videos If you know you want to experience this world first-hand and see what might be possible for you to do there as a therapist, educator or group leader, go to the Second Life website and join. It takes five minutes and is free.

Once you have an avatar name, please email me and I’ll do my best to help you acclimate.

Join Second Life E-Mail Niela/Marly


Niela Miller, M.S. operates PeopleSystems Potential in Acton, MA. She makes use of an extensive background, Gestalt and Jungian therapies, organizational development, and education training. Her group in Second Life is Octagon: Creative Explorations. There she designs and implements many programs, sometimes with collaborators. Her current main interest in both worlds is to train professionals in the use of creative tools to enhance their practices.