A few months ago, Shaifila Ladhani, a Delhi-based psychotherapist, was questioned by her client, who told her that her suggestion of creating grounding strategies (techniques to manage traumatic, distressing emotions) together was the "worst possible solution".When she asked the client why she thought so, she realised that a therapist on Instagram had dissed these techniques on the social networking service, something her client had noticed. "And this is precisely why I hate Instagram therapy. It's reductive, unnecessarily generalised and just..wrong sometimes", posted Ladhani on a social media platform.
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In the last year, there has been a profusion of content on mental health on social media, especially Instagram. Besides qualified mental health practitioners, many self-claimed mindfulness experts, uncertified psychologists, motivational speakers, and mental health influencers have emerged, doling out solutions or "quick fixes" to deal with various emotional strains people have been facing since the pandemic. This has resulted in peer pressure in feeling better, impatience with the therapy process, self-diagnosis based on identifying with some of the symptoms of mental health disorders, and so on, among young adults, psychotherapists believe.
While Instagram is a great platform to create awareness, Ladhani says it's also becoming a place for marketing and advertising mental health services and solutions. For example, she recalls a client mentioning how they saw a friend posting on Instagram that they felt their emotional issues were sorted after two months of therapy by going to a certain person. "They asked me when they would have that kind of breakthrough. But therapy is a journey, a process. It's different for different people," Ladhani says.
Many mental health influencers share their personal experiences, which validate emotions and provide instant gratification and comfort to people who follow them. However, these don't provide sustainable, long term actions, believes Dr Roma Kumar, co-founder, Emotionally.in. Like Ladhani, some of Kumar's younger clients often read up on something a person they follow up on social media puts out. They then ask her why she doesn't suggest the same approach. "There is space of dissent, and we discuss it in terms of what it means for them, why they feel it's the better solution, etc. But I feel there is an overdose of trivialising therapy through this content," she says.
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Besides checking the credentials of the content creators, psychotherapists suggest that influencers need to put out adequate disclaimers to contextualise the experiences they share. Take, for instance, the psychological memes, productivity, and other life hacks that influencers put out based on their experience. "Such content is very irresponsible. First of all, you are creating thought patterns that can create self-doubt who is already dealing with self-esteem issues. Secondly, these hacks may have worked for the person, but it may not work for everyone," says Priyanka Varma, psychotherapist and founder of The Thought Co, who finds them particularly bothersome.
Despite the pitfalls, some psychotherapists feel that the openness to talk about mental health is definitely a better situation. "Instant therapy doesn't work with deep problems. It may work in different levels for different people in terms of validation, access to help, creating support groups, etc. I am glad more awareness is getting created about seeking therapy, but it's a serious business, not one-off sessions. You need to give yourself time and take time for it," says Dr Arvinder Singh, psychotherapist and founder of Ashoka Centre for Wellbeing.