“This isn’t #therapy. This is Instagram,” says therapist Dr Jenn Hardy’s Instagram bio. A skim through her page will show us photos of post-it notes with hand-written tips or reminders to look after your mental health, such as “You may be growing in ways you don’t see for a while”, or “Affordable self-care: Have a good cry”. For any of us who spend a significant amount of time on social media, Instagram’s mental health pages would not be a foreign concept. These are pages offering simple and comprehensible advice and tips on mental health, self-acceptance and self-care in the form of aesthetic text posts—a New York Times article in 2019 famously compared them to “Instagram poets”.g period, it could indicate an infection or an allergic reaction. The best decision here is to contact your tattoo artist and a doctor, rather than self-medicating.
Many therapists who run these pages have achieved influencer status themselves, such as the millennial.therapist with almost a million followers, or notesfromyourtherapist with almost 500,000, or closer home, Tanvii Bhandari, who combines art with conversations about mental wellness. Instagram is a handy tool for licensed therapists to reach a wider audience. Almost anyone can benefit from getting therapy, but not everyone has the means or resources to access it, especially in India. These posts, easily reposted on people’s personal accounts or Stories, can be effective in sparking conversations around mental health and can create online communities where people can find solace.
While these pages are not inherently harmful, real therapy is not just written quotes or tips on minimalistic backgrounds. If therapy is compared to comfort food, these posts would be equivalent to junk food. Even if most thoughtful users are aware of the distinction between the two, here are some risks that you should keep in mind while engaging with such content.
- Instagram therapy is one-sided.
Therapy is a dialogue where you can open up to your therapist about your life so that you can work together towards a better understanding of yourself and your unique challenges.
“We go to therapy because we cannot always understand our own emotions,” says Dr Seema Hingorrany, EMDR therapist based in Mumbai. “This might manifest itself in the form of anger, disappointment or frustration, and we cannot regulate them. Talking to a therapist gives you clarity and an outlet to figure out these emotions.”
But the advice offered on Instagram is one-way. There is no element of conversation, which is necessary in therapy. Popular posts receive many comments, and it is impossible for one therapist to respond to them all. Even if talking to others with the same issues can be validating, it is not conducive to actual healing.
- Instagram therapy is superficial.
This is no surprise considering that a lot of these posts are designed to grab attention and give digestible advice. This can make the posts superficial, lacking any nuance. The posts also often choose positivity over being realistic, and this can become a toxic approach. “Psychology, trauma and healing are really complicated,” writes trauma coach Iris McAlpin in a post on her Instagram account. “If you are getting your information on these subjects from social media, just keep in mind that the information you’re getting is likely oversimplified.”
- Instagram pages do not cater to your specific needs.
“Therapy will not tell you what to do,” says Dr Hingorrany. “Therapists will provide you with awareness and different perspectives on your experiences so that you can understand yourself better.” There is no one-size-fits-all with regards to mental health and self-improvement. The posts on Instagram pages can range from “5 Ways to Have a Productive Week” to “How to recognise Gaslighting.” These tips are one-dimensional because not everyone’s lives and experiences are the same. They also preach a quick-fix, whereas mental health treatment is a gradual and non-linear process.
- All owners behind such accounts are not therapists.
Arguably the most problematic on this list is the fact that there is no way for you to check for the credentials of the people running such an account. With the increasing number of such pages coming up, it is obvious some people are jumping on a trendy bandwagon and do not have the expertise to be giving out such advice. A particularly harmful effect of this is the spread of misinformation about pathological terms like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which should only be diagnosed by a licensed practitioner.
- Instagram therapy posts are devoid of the good factors of therapy.
“In therapy, there is huge importance given to the client feeling safe. They should not feel judged,” says Dr Hingorrany. Thus treating mental health requires empathy and understanding, and it is all about creating a personal safe space, which is entirely absent if you depend on Instagram pages to help you improve your mental well-being. While daily affirmations and reminders can be a complement to getting help, they can never be a substitute, and it is important to be cognizant of this fact.