Unmasking Misleading Mental-Health Advice on Social Media

In this era of digital connection, the portrayal of therapy has evolved from the traditional image of an individual reclining on a couch, delving into their innermost hopes and anxieties, to a modern rendition: someone comfortably situated at home, swiping through a perpetually refreshing stream of mental-health content on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

While this surge of psychological insight might seem comforting, professionals urge vigilance. As an increasing number of psychologists take on the role of mental-health influencers, lured by the prospects of fame and financial gains, their content—covering topics like attachment styles, unresolved trauma, and the trending disorders of the moment—reaches millions.

Certainly, there are merits: “We’re emerging from a time when mental health carried significant stigma, deterring people from seeking help,” remarks Evelyn Hunter, a counseling psychologist based in Auburn, Ala. “Social media has dismantled some of that, normalizing the reality that we all face struggles.”

Yet, discerning which purported experts are credible and whether their insights are dependable can be challenging. This can result in misinformation and detrimental misconceptions. “The rapid dissemination of information on social media complicates the task of differentiating between accuracy, professionalism, and expertise-driven content,” notes Hunter. She emphasizes that mental-health professionals active on social platforms should embody three key attributes: competence, a sincere interpretation of evidence, and integrity.

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Armed with this knowledge, as your algorithm funnels mental-health content to your screen, be attuned to the following indicators:

1. The Lack of Credential Transparency

Reputable mental-health influencers often openly share their credentials, training, and specialized domains. The American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines for Optimal Use of Social Media in Professional Psychological Practice stress the importance of psychologists routinely updating their personal and professional web presence, as well as verifying and correcting information about themselves online.

For those evaluating professionals, Victoria Riordan, a licensed professional clinical counselor from Ohio’s Thriveworks counseling practice, suggests initiating the vetting process by examining the account’s biography. This is where many practitioners specify their role—whether psychiatrist, social worker, or another capacity that might not necessitate specialized training or regulation, such as a life coach. Moreover, they typically list their areas of expertise and provide links for more in-depth information.

If this information is sparse, delve into online searches using the individual’s name. Legitimate professionals should appear on platforms like Psychology Today, LinkedIn, or their private practice websites, according to Riordan. They should be discoverable through various sources, not exclusively social media. Additionally, checking their current licensing status is a vote of confidence in their education, experience, and ethical principles. Begin with state licensing board websites or refer to resources like the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

2. Marketing Agendas

While it’s natural for psychologists to employ their social media outlets for promoting endeavors like online courses and authored works, Genesis Games, a Miami-based psychotherapist, underscores the distinction between this and prioritizing quality education over consumer conversion. She stresses that content routing back solely to a sales platform raises concerns about the expert’s priorities.

The APA Ethics Code mandates that psychologists evade conflicts of interest. However, these can surface online when individuals endorse products—such as supplements allegedly addressing anxiety—without disclosing a commercial relationship. If something feels amiss, conduct additional research by searching the individual’s name and the product, advises Games. A company frequently tagging the expert in their social media posts also indicates a business relationship.

In these instances, consumers should act based on their judgment, Games asserts. As a preliminary step, she recommends seeking clarification about the practitioner’s association with a product, or alternatively, unfollowing them. For more significant concerns, such as dubious claims or potentially harmful content, reporting the professional to the relevant licensing board or their state’s regulating body could be warranted.

3. Overuse of Technical Jargon

Therapeutic language is permeating everyday discourse, with terms like boundaries, repression, inner-child work, attachment styles, trauma, and triggers becoming commonplace. This rampant usage raises concerns for several reasons, experts explain. Unfamiliar individuals seeing these terms on their social feeds might wield them in relationships, inadvertently creating a power imbalance. Moreover, excessive and incorrect usage of these terms “diminishes their significance,” says Mollie Spiesman, a licensed clinical social worker based in New York.

Spiesman advises social media users to be cautious of accounts that convert therapeutic concepts into buzzwords. Reliable practitioners generally avoid jargon, striving to make mental health and therapy accessible. Spiesman warns, “If someone is attempting to appear more knowledgeable than they are, or they inundate their content with unintelligible terms, that’s a red flag.”

4. Encouraging Self-Diagnosis or Labels

Self-diagnosis and labels find fertile ground on social media, where messages often link specific behaviors to conditions like depression, narcissism, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorders. This contradicts APA’s social media guidelines, which recommend psychologists abstain from offering diagnoses, advice, or treatment-like behavior.

Spiesman’s rule of thumb is to avoid self-diagnoses. She observes that individuals internalize these messages deeply, leading to unfounded self-identifications. She encourages clients to reflect on posts resonating with them, fostering critical evaluation.

5. Interacting with Clients Online

Jeff Guenther, a licensed professional counselor in Oregon, ventured into social media during the pandemic, creating a TikTok account. His online persona, “Therapy Jeff,” gained millions of followers across platforms. Guenther handles social media cautiously, refraining from engaging with current clients in comments. The APA highlights this as important, preserving confidentiality and professional boundaries.

Guenther stresses that such online interactions with active clients should be avoided. Should you spot a practitioner interacting with someone they’ve treated, unfollow—the boundary has been breached.

6. Championing One Modality Above All

While therapists receive training in diverse modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, gestalt therapy, somatic therapy, and art therapy, promoting one as universally superior is misleading. Genesis Games underscores the multifaceted nature of therapy and cautions against professionals elevating a single approach.

Trustworthy experts acknowledge the individuality of treatment. Mental-health content on social media might not be universally applicable; it’s advice from therapists, not personal therapy.

In a world inundated with mental-health content, wisdom lies in deciphering credible guidance from the rest. Social media can amplify insights, but as the saying goes, “Take it with a grain of salt.” Therapists on social platforms are guides, not replacements for personalized care.

News Source:  Time News