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Instagram Is Not Therapy and I'm Not an Instagram Therapist

If 1 billion people show up on this platform, shouldn’t we be there, too?

Instagram is not therapy. There is no such thing as an "Instagram Therapist."

There are brave, generous, trailblazing therapists using social media as a platform to advocate for mental health reform, make information more accessible, and market their services.

Instagram, used by 1 billion people worldwide, was deemed the worst social media for your mental health in 2017. It reportedly leads to negative body image, increased depression and anxiety, and an increase in bullying. Therapists are acutely aware that the information we consume on this platform directly impacts our mental functioning and overall health. Social media’s psychological impact is something that clinicians around the globe contend with in their offices every day. So, it might seem odd that therapists around the world are embracing this controversial medium with open arms.

Whitney Goodman
Source: Whitney Goodman

Is Instagram a viable platform for therapists?

Most mental health professionals are trained to think small and look out for risk everywhere. We are trained to look for symptoms, risk factors, and signs that things aren’t OK. Social media can be a very stressful place for an alert clinician. So, rather than creating more education and opportunities for growth in these realms, we are told to just avoid them all together. We are told it’s just not worth the risk. Many therapists, especially in the most recent cohort of graduates, are rejecting this notion and taking a different approach.

Instagram is being used to take mental health information off the couch and into the mainstream. Therapists with years of training are willingly sharing their knowledge and expertise for free with people who may not be able to access this information otherwise.

The best part? Most of the people sharing information are well informed and have great information. We need these people to keep sharing.

There are risks and benefits.

There have been several articles published about the rise of therapists on Instagram. Most have incorrectly labeled this new phenomenon as “Instagram Therapy,” falsely identifying what therapists are doing on this platform and misleading consumers.

Critiques of therapists using Instagram are also prevalent. Some are based in reality, others in fear. As we move into a new frontier of clinical practice that integrates the use of technology and other media, it’s important that we approach this with curiosity, compassion, and ethical standards.

We must weigh the recent critiques and old standards against the possible benefits, while considering potential pitfalls, solutions, and new ethical guidelines.

Instagram will not replace therapy, but it will help people.

Information presented on Instagram is often generalized and cannot be tailored to the individual. There is no way of knowing exactly how the other person is going to interpret our message. The same risk can be found for blog posts, self-help books, and other forms of media. It is crucial that we inform consumers that what they are reading is generalized advice and often cannot be applied to specific situations.

Research and mental health information are already being shared online, often by those with no credentials, experience, or license to practice. Therapists are a reliable, trained demographic who can provide quality information to the general public. Instagram allows us to share this information in a way that is easy to understand and digestible for the general public. We have to recognize that this is how media is being consumed in 2019, and mental health information needs to follow suit.

Many therapists, journalists, and laypeople have expressed concerns about emergency situations being handled via Instagram. They fear that a therapist will be contacted by someone in crisis. But if you have email, a website, or a phone line, this can also happen. Most therapists have those forms of contact, and clear policies around them. Instagram is not therapy and cannot be used as a substitute for crisis care. Steps have to be taken to ensure that this message is clear to followers. It is also important to have a policy in place about how you will handle potentially dangerous situations. Discouraging therapists from using social media does not solve this concern. It will only lead to people being unaware of their options in a crisis and likely contacting unreliable sources on the internet.

Social media isn’t inherently bad. But the type of information we consume via social media can lead to bad results.

It’s difficult to say that a social media platform is inherently “bad.” It’s often the type of content being consumed that leads to the ill effects described by many young adults who regularly use the app. Most reported that excessive use led to sleep disturbances, poor body image, bullying, and feelings of depression or anxiety.

As therapists, we have the ability to introduce important topics into the mainstream. We have the power to make mental health information more accessible. More information leads to increased awareness; awareness leads to change.

It’s important that we show up in the spaces where our clients live and inform them of their options for healing or treatment. We can do this ethically and with respect for our profession and the people we interact with.

Some guidelines for consuming information therapists share on Instagram or social media:

  • Always filter information through your own worldview. It is OK to question or investigate content. Not every post will be applicable to your life or current situation. It is OK to take what you need and leave the rest.
  • Follow credible accounts. Look for clinicians who are licensed and have a clear title.
  • Remember that this is not a substitute for therapy. Reading information online can help you further understand your situation or learn something new intellectually, but it is not a replacement for formal therapy.
  • Instagram is not a reliable platform to use in a crisis. Please contact the National Suicide Hotline or your local emergency room if you need immediate attention.
  • Therapists on Instagram are not there to provide therapy. Contact a clinician to schedule an appointment if you would like individualized feedback.
  • Remember that confidentiality is not ensured on Instagram. If you choose to leave a comment or share personal information, everything is public on the platform.

Some guidelines for therapists sharing information on Instagram or social media:

  • Develop clear policies for how you will handle comments and direct messages.
  • Create a social media policy for current and future clients that outlines your use of social media and guidelines if they choose to follow you.
  • Create a completely separate professional Instagram page and decide the level of information you will to share on it. Ask yourself every time you share something, “Am I OK with a client or stranger knowing this? Is there therapeutic value to this share?”
  • Clearly label your profession or license in your profile.
  • Tell potential clients how to contact you for appointments.
  • Create a disclaimer that informs clients that your posts are neither therapy nor a substitute for therapy.
  • Create a disclaimer that informs clients of their resources in an emergency.
  • Refrain from using this platform to provide personalized advice or therapy via comments or direct messages.
Whitney Goodman
Source: Whitney Goodman

If 1 billion people are showing up on this platform, shouldn’t we be there, too?

For now, you can find me screaming from the rooftops on Instagram about all things mental health @sitwithwhit.

LinkedIn Image Credit: ShutterOK/Shutterstock

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