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Therapy takes time and consistent hard work

Social media offers a community but bite-sized posts on instant cures can be dangerous

Today, Indians across gender and age groups are seeking therapy and the stigma attached to it seems to have lessened. Photo:iSTOCKPHOTO
Today, Indians across gender and age groups are seeking therapy and the stigma attached to it seems to have lessened. Photo:iSTOCKPHOTO

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I began my work as a psychotherapist in 2004. At the time, the number of people reaching out for therapy was quite small. They were scheduling consultations when there was significant distress, particularly related to parents or their partner. The second reason was when they found themselves struggling with a mental health condition such as clinical depression, debilitating anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, tendency to self-harm, addiction and concerns which were interfering in their professional and personal functioning. The culture of seeking help was very different and most referrals came from psychiatrists and fellow psychologists. This was also the time when the number of female clients reaching out for therapy was much higher than male clients.

The 2008 economic downturn led to an increase in the number of people seeking consultation—particularly families, students who had just completed their studies, and men—as financial instability and unemployment began to impact marriages, self-esteem and dreams for the future. This was also a reminder that global events could impact people’s well-being at various levels.

From 2012-18, the public discourse on mental health gained momentum in India as celebrities began talking openly about their struggles, publications started focusing more on mental health, and, thanks to social media, there were lots of conversations on vulnerability and how seeking help is a sign of strength.

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Today, Indians across gender and age groups are seeking therapy and the stigma attached to it seems to have lessened. This increase in demand is not just because of greater awareness but due to higher distress, anxiety, the unpredictability prompted by global events, and more. With our dependence on technology and social media increasing, there has also been a rise in loneliness. With the hybrid model at work, the sense of belonging, friendships and camaraderie people associated with the workplace is undergoing a change. Add to this signs of global recession and subsequent layoffs, which are leading to hypervigilance and a consistent worry about jobs and long-term futures.

At a time like this, social media has provided a community, an opportunity for people to find mental health professionals, helpline numbers and resources to deal with panic attacks, identifying the signs and symptoms that demand reaching out for therapy. At the same time, there seems to be an increase in posts that offer tools, techniques and ways to deal with challenging mental health concerns. My worry is that this approach is taking us away from the nuances, subtleties of context, the actual processing of emotions that needs to be done for long-term healing to take place.

When we move quickly to solutions, there is a tendency to put a band-aid and not do the deep work that is key to therapy. As a result, posts that often reduce complex issues to three-five solutions miss out the individual and their personal story. Confusing therapy as a space where people can find instant cures and solutions is problematic.

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At the core of psychotherapy lies the belief that as clients do the inner work, they will find their own answers—and that the reality is that clients know what’s best for them given their unique situation. Keeping this in mind, we need to remind ourselves that different people impacted by the same stressors will react differently and that their processing of trauma, pace in healing will be subjective. Trying to generalise it into bite-sized posts is dangerous. As a client once told me, using the metaphor of tea: “The process requires a certain pause, patience and letting it brew for a while before one feels the impact and even finds it soothing.”

Therapy takes time and requires consistent hard work; the process of staying with the emotion and unpacking it slowly is the real work. The techniques can help in moments when it’s overwhelming but we need to do the deeper work that contributes to our long-term well-being.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health With Sonali.

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