Pin blue tones and textual treats to encourage self-reflection or discussion: these are the content that therapist Anke Glaßmeyer provides to her Instagram followers. And it reaches more than 10,000 people.
She is not the only therapist to share mental health tips online. Especially in the US, there are several psychotherapists, some even having more than 100,000 subscribers. They post information about mental illness, clarify treatment options, or provide general advice that sometimes sounds like cookie wisdom.
Recently, the New York Times reported on a trend that more and more psychotherapists are taking action on Instagram. And as more media got into the subject, the striking notion of "Insta-therapy" came into circulation.
One of the American therapists who started reporting via her Instagram account is Lisa Oliver. She is dissatisfied with the term Insta-Therapy: "Insta-therapy does not exist quite sincerely," she comments in the essay and agrees with other psychologists who have criticized this word formation.
Because psychotherapy is a sensitive process, based on the close collaboration of therapist and patient – something Instagram does not give. Also, the diagnosis cannot be made through the social network. It is so clear that Instagram cannot be a substitute for psychotherapy.
But then what is it psychotherapists want to do on Instagram?
Lisa Olivera compares her work online to self-help books, but tailored to a younger, Internet target group. "Therapists have been sharing their work with the public for centuries," Oliver explains in his essay. They write books or columns in dailies or give seminars. Instagram is a modern alternative. Here, therapists reach many young people at the same time and everywhere because they usually have a mobile phone with them. They manage to integrate the topic of psychotherapy into their daily lives – and this is extremely important, experts say.
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One of them is psychologist David Ebert. He is a professor of psychology and is the founder of "GET.ON", an institute that offers online health training for mental illness. Ebert told us in a conversation:
Anything that sensitizes people early on to their mental illness and motivates them to seek help makes sense.
For 57 percent of all affected in Germany, the criteria for mental disorder would never come in contact with the health system. And who does, usually goes to his family doctor, but not to a psychotherapist.
So the presence of psychotherapists on Instagram can help people who, because of reservations or feelings of shame, do not seek therapists to gain access to psychotherapy. Enlightenment in posts destabilizes psychotherapy and by sharing in the comments they realize that they are not alone with their problems. The inhibition threshold for actively seeking help is decreasing.
With this motivation, Anke Glaßmeyer also runs her Instagram account: her goal is to destigmatize psychotherapy and mental illness, enlighten and encourage it. She knows therapy from two perspectives – as a patient and a therapist. Glaßmeyer became ill at the age of eleven years of anorexia. Her partly poor experience with therapy was the reason for her decision to do it better. Today, he is a registered psychotherapist and runs his Instagram account as a hobby. In the conversation, she told us:
You learn nothing about mental illness – not even at school.
So she tries to sensitize her subscribers to the topic: she explains what the disorders are and the treatment options. She advises relatives on how to treat patients. It encourages its subscribers to talk about their experiences offline as well as online.
However, not all psychologists have focused on the benefits associated with the presence of psychotherapists on Instagram. You also see the dangers.
This is the case, for example, with psychiatrist Ravi Chandra. Psychology Today writes that such offers would increase the time that stakeholders spend on Instagram – which is not desirable: "According to previous research, the worse we spend, the more time we spend with social networks."
Additionally, it is impossible for psychotherapists to respond to any message they receive on Facebook. And the regulations for how therapists should react when they are aware of the psychological crises of followers do not yet exist.
Anke Glaßmeyer has already found a way to deal with the news of her subscribers: she basically gives no personal advice.
On the one hand Instagram is not a trusted platform, on the other hand I don’t know the people who write to me. As a quick tip, it can have a traumatic effect in the worst case.
In crisis situations, she refers to emergency numbers or her own consulting services outside of Instagram.
But Anke Glaßmeyer sees another danger stemming from Instagram's diverse offering: There is no quality management. On Instagram, every person – even without psychotherapy training – can seek advice from help seekers or even try to profit from the suffering of these people. And that doesn't happen often, says Anke Glaßmeyer.
Unfortunately, it is the responsibility of the users themselves to judge who they believe in and who they are not. This can be an exaggerated demand, especially in crisis situations.
It would be optimal, Glaßmeyer, if the platform itself took more responsibility. But so far this has been the case to a very limited extent.
Psychologist David Ebert is also aware of this problem: "There must be certification programs on the internet that can recognize reliable offers as such. They do not yet exist."
Now you know all the arguments about psychotherapist accounts on Instagram. Now it's your turn! We want to know what you think about it.