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INSTAGRAM THERAPY



Date Started: 28th January 2022

Date Ended: 29th January 2022

Author Name: Sanghamitra Dixit

Qualifications: BA (Hons) Applied Psychology, M.A. Applied Psychology (Specialisation. in Counselling)

Designation: Consultant Psychologist, ACRO Mental Health & Wellness.

Word Count: 1,490 words

Reading Time: 13 mins

Reviewed and edited by: Sareem Athar, Mariyam Mohd & Ayesha Begum.


Instagram Therapy— A Blessing or the New Danger?

On the rise of mental health advice on Instagram (1).




Instagram— One-stop destination for what we like


Picture this scene: the end of a workday or a quick break between daily tasks(2). Your phone lies within reach, and it’s easy to tap the familiar pink, yellow and white logo(3).Once it loads, it’s a matter of seeing a number of posts from all the accounts you follow— amongst them being curated therapy advice displayed artfully (4).


As the access to the Internet and the opportunities it provides grows, a new phenomenon is on the rise in recent years— Instagram mental health communities (5). With its penchant for easy-to-access information in a few words, many businesses and systems have begun using this social media app for reaching diverse audiences... (6). Whether it’s creating awareness or exposing myths and realities of the world we live in, Instagram seems to be where the action is happening (7).


Instagram Therapy on the Rise





Instagram has grown to be a social media giant

Mental health communities have been on the rise on Instagram in the past couple of years (8). Particularly, therapy content has been swarming the social media giant as more and more mental health professionals have been using it to spread awareness, network and provide resources to those who may otherwise struggle to afford therapy (9).


A typical therapy post may look like this: “Boundaries with friends include: I am not okay with you making jokes about my insecurities” (10). This is just one of many. From posts on “how to forgive yourself” to “maintaining boundaries amongst friends”, and even how trauma shows up in our everyday lives— Instagram therapy is a world of its own (11).


In a number of short posts and colourful slides, therapists attempt to help individuals navigate their relationships with themselves and other people, as well as unpleasant situations in their lives (12). Access to such information can be relatively helpful for people who don’t have access to affordable, actual therapy (13). However, just because posts on social media provide therapeutic education, it doesn’t mean that Instagram is therapy— and this is an important distinction to maintain (14).


Instagram as a Force for Positive Mental Health




Therapists are now mental health influencers

Instagram therapy posts are popular because— simply put— they’re appealing to look at (15). In a palette of pastels with imprints of leaves or paint strokes and easily readable quotes written in shareable fonts— these posts appeal to the human appreciation for aesthetics(16). This aesthetic is so familiar that it’s instantly comforting (17).

As the pandemic gripped the world around, many traditional services shut down (18). For weeks, individuals were locked inside their homes without access to their usual pursuits or haunts (19). Of course, it meant that a lot of people were forced to reflect upon themselves— but it mostly led to a rise in mental health distress (20). It begs the question— is the pandemic one of the causes behind the rise of Instagram therapy? (21).


It’s not a wholly unfound line of thinking (22). With time to kill and the usual coping mechanisms out of access, it makes sense to run to some source of comfort or information(23). According to The Guardian, there has been a rise in the use of antidepressants in the United Kingdom as access to NHS and other counselling services has been impacted by the pandemic (24). Below are some of the perceived benefits Instagram therapy seems to provide: (25)

  1. Easily Accessible

So is Instagram therapy a good thing? It would seem so— from the perspective of access to information free of cost(26). With regards to Indian culture, Instagram therapy could also be a way to bypass the mental health stigma which persists in our society(27). It has less of a barrier to entry than traditional therapy models(28,29). From the safety of their phones, individuals can access some information about mental health and cope by themselves(30). Traditional therapy models are also heavy on the pockets— so is social media filling the gaps? (31)

  1. Providing a Feeling of Community

The other advantage could be the feeling of community that Instagram therapy provides(32). People across borders and cultures can unite, relate and communicate in the comments section under posts, and the posts themselves can provide a “pick me up” sort of comfort in the moment of distress (33,34). Traditional therapy models focus on a professional relationship where therapists meet clients once a week for one hour, whereas Instagram is always present (35).

  1. Breaking Down Barriers(36)

In line with the point on accessibility, Instagram therapy makes space for information that should be common knowledge— but isn’t (37). Says Andrea Glik, LMSW: “You shouldn’t have to go to social work school to know what an abusive relationship is; you shouldn’t have to go to somatic training to learn what the nervous system is. This is very important information for all humans to have access to.” (38,39)

  1. Therapy Doesn’t Have to be Serious

Generations changing means the way therapy is practised and perceived is also changing— and for good reasons(40). The idea of a serious, usually poker-faced white man sitting in a chair is breaking down— therapists now engage in the use of memes, humour and jokes to connect with clients and show that therapy can also be a space to relax (41). With therapists themselves engaging in creating posts, they understand their clients better (42,43).


What If It’s a Bane? — the Dangers of Instagram Therapy

It’s important to appraise this development from a critical lens (44). Like many things, Instagram therapy sounds and looks good— but has hidden consequences one may not be aware of until it’s too late (45). Anything consumed from social media should carry a disclaimer— it is generalised information that may or may not cater to most people and will leave out aspects that might be important (46).





Downside— Therapists can get concerned with reaching for help

This prerogative lies in both the creator— but also the individual. Some of the dangers of Instagram therapy include (47):

  1. Unsupervised Information from Non-Qualified Persons(48)

This is a no-brainer; due to the wide reach and accessibility of social media, there isn’t a system of checks and balances(49,50). Are the people providing mental health education qualified to do so? One can’t check whether such creators have the credentials to talk or spread awareness about potentially sensitive information (51).

  1. Instagram Therapists Are Not Your Therapists (52)

Therapy is a professional relationship contracted between a therapist/mental health professional and an individual/group of individuals (53). Even if the therapists creating mental health content are qualified to do so, they are still not the social media users’ therapists(54). Hence, they are not responsible for any emotional trigger or response to their content, something individuals may forget (55).

  1. Mental Health Content Online Is Not Always Relevant

Out of the professional relationship, especially when a therapist has a large following, it is easy for people to put them on a pedestal and feel like the account owes them something (56). While Instagram therapy can shrink the knowledge gap, it should be taken with a grain of salt (57). Individuals should consider the information from their frame of reference and know they’re ultimately responsible for their mental health online (58).

  1. Spending More Time on Instagram

Amidst concerns over Internet and technology addiction, it seems nearly oxymoronic to get therapy content online (59). Instagram therapy means one spends more time on an app that is already taxing and is known to create a sense of social media addiction and dissatisfaction(60). Even if beneficial therapy accounts were followed, it’s still time spent online, which could have adverse impacts on mental health (60).


Should It be Called ‘Instagram Therapy’? (61)

The stigma around mental health has always existed throughout history, no matter how developed a nation is (62). In India, seeking mental health help is still a matter of shame and guilt(63). Instagram therapy certainly helps reduce this shame with easy-to-follow tips— but can it be called therapy? (64).





Interacting with individuals online can be a grey area to navigate

Therapy refers to a form of ‘healing’ (65,66). Psychotherapy means ‘healing of the mind’, but one cannot expect to be healed from a few hundred social media posts (67). Therapy is ultimately a professional, ethical relationship that has been agreed upon by both parties, with a commitment by the therapist to help guide the client towards healing and by the client to commit to their growth (68). While Instagram breaks down barriers to knowledge— it is certainly not a legal commitment (69,70).


Conclusion

It is ultimately up to the individual using social media to know that there is a difference between real-life therapy and therapeutic content online and draw the line (71,72). While it seems like an obvious distinction, social media can often complicate it and influence decision-making without a person knowing (73). It is still recommended that individuals check the credentials of content creators and reach out to qualified mental health professionals in their locality or online for distress management (74).


Audio-Visual Credits

  1. A Pink Instagram Like Button against a White Wall. Image by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

  2. Pink, Yellow and Purple Instagram Logo, Pink Background. Image by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

  3. A Row of Blocks Spelling ‘Influencer’. Image by Diggity Marketing on Unsplash

  4. A Phone Screen Showing Statistics. Image by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

  5. Person Presenting on a Laptop. Image by Headway on Unsplash



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