Online therapy has been around since some time now. And while the divided groups of psychologists and psychiatrists are yet to arrive on a unanimous opinion about online therapy, they are presented with a new topic for debate – Instagram therapy.
As defined in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “Online therapy is any type of professional therapeutic interaction that makes use of the Internet to connect qualified mental health professionals and their clients.”
Instagram therapy, however, cannot be defined in such a clear-cut manner. Some certified mental health professionals use Instagram to reach out to people who cannot afford therapy while others give generic advice about life and wellness.
Instagram therapy can be as futile or as useful as reading self-help books. But just like everything new on the internet, Instagram therapy has a good and a bad side.
On the good side, Instagram is free and accessible round the clock. A 2017 report by The National Institute of Mental Health showed that only 42 percent of the 46.6 million adults with some kind of mental illness in the US received mental health services. Expense, lack of proper health insurance, and a shortfall of certified experts remain the prime causes for this discrepancy.
For the people who don’t have access to professional therapy, Instagram therapy, if not the next best alternative, is surely an avenue to seek support.
The negative side is, however, more laden. Social media has been extensively linked to increased cases of depression, social isolation, anxiety, and poor self-image among millennials and Gen-Zers. Seeking treatment from a source that has a role in causing the disorder, is absurd on many levels.
The truth about Instagram therapy
The success of therapy is profoundly dependent on the patient-therapist relationship. The warmth, empathy, and non-judgment of a skilled therapist; the non-verbal cues which are equally therapeutic as verbal cues, and the expeditious flow of conversation – are all missing from Instagram therapy. Moreover, the passive scrolling through inspirational quotes or life advice may render useful in lifting a person’s mood on a bad day. But that’s the extent of it. Such passive guidance is far from being therapeutic and may lead to mismanagement of serious issues. Catharsis – an important event in the therapy process, can never be achieved through Instagram therapy.
A glaring disparity between Instagram therapy and real therapy is the involvement of a certified therapist. A certified therapist is the one who is trained and certified to conduct therapy whereas Instagram therapists is a cohort of people giving life advice. Some are certified therapists while most are not and the quality of guidance emanating from these two sections of therapists is patently disparate.
If you scroll through Dr. Nicole LePera’s Instagram feed, you will find information worthy of being called therapeutic. Her posts walk us through different nuances of anxiety, codependence, and trauma. It’s refreshing to see that her posts on emotional strength and self-growth are sincere and don’t lean on sanctimonious expectations.
Superficiality and sanctimonious expectations, a result of the wellness bubble that the so-called ‘Instagram influencers’ have created, are further undermining whatever good work Instagram therapy is doing.
The wellness bubble that connotes running five miles every day and retail therapy as wellness, does nothing but create more self-loathing individuals.
The problem, perhaps, is that of imitation. On Instagram, there are many who give knowledge that is not an outcome of their own exploration or training but is simply a pastiche of credible mental health experts. For the laymen looking for solace online, there is no way of differentiating the expert from the non-expert. The end result of such misguidance is the number of mental illness cases with social media being the culprit. As an article on Instagram Therapy on Psychology Today points out, “Instagram therapy posts might lead to complications and mismanagement of serious issues.”
But let’s not repudiate Instagram therapy yet.
Does Instagram therapy work?
When Alyssa Colin, 24, of New Jersey went through depression, an Instagram post by an Instagram therapist came to her rescue. “That Instagram handle was the first thing in a very long time that made me motivated. Even though that motivation was to accept that I had a problem and do something about it, it felt good to feel something. It took me some more time to make an appointment with a doctor and some more time to return back to my jolly, motivated self but I eventually recovered,” she said.
Alyssa’s experience points out that Instagram can be helpful in removing the stigma around mental disorders and treatment. It can be helpful in making therapy seem less formidable. For those going through temporary pangs of emotional stress or depressive moods that are not serious enough to seek medical treatment, Instagram therapy is the best alternative. In a way, Instagram therapy makes therapy non-propriety of the select few who can afford professional therapy.
Research published in Science Direct showed that TCBT – Therapist-guided, internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly useful in a stepped-care approach for adolescents with moderately severe OCD. For adolescents who don’t have access to clinical CBT, TCBT proved to be the next best alternative. Psychology Today points out that writing your woes can be contemplating and therapeutic and hence, can be a reasonable adjunct to cognitive behavior therapy.
If the same qualities of online therapy – expert guidance, transparency, and fast-faced counseling can be effectuated in Instagram therapy, then it can be said that Instagram therapy does more good than harm.
The talking points on both sides of the debate boils down to one important proposition – be mindful of who you follow, both on Instagram and in life.