Instagram Isn’t Therapy: A Reminder of What Therapists are Actually Doing on Instagram

Lisa Olivera
Jul 5 · 7 min read

A few weeks ago, I was graciously contacted by a reporter from the New York Times regarding a story she was writing about therapists who have brought their work to Instagram, and the people who are finding value and healing from these accounts. I was so grateful to share and become part of a larger conversation about the work therapists are doing to provide community, insight, tools, support, and resources for those who may be seeking it. Last week, the New York Times published the article.

Since the article came out, there have been several articles remarking about therapists on Instagram, as well as a Good Morning America segment questioning the ethics and appropriateness of therapists on Instagram. Amidst overwhelming support, I’ve also received dozens of emails and messages questioning and criticizing my choice to share my work on a wider scale. While I respect and understand everyone’s right to their personal views and opinions, I am writing this essay to make clear a few things that have been misrepresented regarding therapists on Instagram and the important work we are doing.

*Note: While I cannot speak for all therapists on Instagram and while I cannot guarantee all therapists on Instagram are working within this framework, I can attest to the work I witness from many of my colleagues and believe the following is representative of a majority of those who are sharing in the public realm.

  1. Therapists on Instagram are not providing therapy on Instagram. We are not providing personalized care, individualized advice, or specific support. Most of us make this very clear through consistent reminders, DM policies, public disclaimers about the limits of utilizing Instagram as a means for individual support, and ongoing resources for finding a therapist, accessing crisis services, and seeking out personal guidance. Therapists on Instagram do not claim to be providing therapy services for anyone. People choose to follow or not follow at their own discretion.

2. Prior to the Good Morning America segment, I had never heard the term “Insta-therapy.” Therapists do not claim to be providing “Insta-therapy”, nor is it a term myself or others (that I’ve seen) have ever used or identified with. “Insta-therapy” is, quite frankly, not a thing.

3. Therapists on Instagram do not encourage people to use Instagram as a replacement for therapy. Instead, we provide resources, tools, insights, reminders, community, and support for people who are not in therapy, for people figuring out how to access therapy, and for people in therapy. I frequently hear about how helpful it is for folks to have reminders between sessions, have tangible tools to talk about in sessions, and even folks whose therapists suggest they follow therapists on Instagram for further support, education, and resources between sessions. We regularly talk about how amazing therapy is, how to access therapy, and how to normalize seeking individualized support.

4. Therapists on Instagram often hear that we are the reason people have felt more comfortable seeking out individualized support. I have personally received hundreds of messages from people sharing how important my work has been in supporting them to feel more ready to start therapy. I have received messages thanking me for making therapy seem more accessible and relatable, for normalizing and destigmatizing therapy, and for making therapy feel like a valuable and supportive part of people’s lives.

5. Therapists on Instagram are breaking stigma about therapy and sharing truths about supporting our emotional and mental well-being. We are shifting the narrative of what support can look like, what therapy can look like, and how accessible, relatable, and approachable it can be. We are providing an inside look into what people can expect in therapy. We are opening up conversations about therapy and how it is changing. We are also empowering people to access support within themselves outside of therapy, to recognize their own ability to grow, and to realize that they are their own expert and healer, whether or not they have access to therapy.

6. Therapists have been sharing their work publicly for ages. They’ve been writing self-help books, teaching classes, creating seminars, going on podcasts, writing advice columns for newspapers and magazines, publishing tools and widely-available information with the intention of bringing insight and understanding to the public. Therapists are now using Instagram to do the same thing.

The idea that therapy and therapists need to stay behind office walls, remain private, and stay small and quiet is old-fashioned and no longer relevant for everyone in our current climate or population. While it absolutely works for some, others are seeking more modern and relatable approaches. Further, the idea that therapy is only for people who are in deep pain or suffering is also continuing the stigma of therapy and the narrow idea of what and who therapy is for. The truth is that therapy is for everyone.

Therapists on Instagram have recognized the desire and need for making tools, resources, knowledge and insights accessible outside of the therapy office. We have realized the importance of taking the information so many people don’t have access to and making it digestible and actionable. We have understood the responsibility we have to take what we’ve been privileged enough to learn and share it on a wider scale. It would be a disservice to keep this knowledge, tools, and information on a reserve for our clients only, when so many can and do benefit from having access to it on their own time, from wherever they are.

Therapists on Instagram acknowledge the fact that no square, post, or tool can capture the complexity of being human. No single post can capture the essence of every individual’s experience or replace working one on one with someone. We understand and recognize the fact that Instagram is not a substitute for a therapeutic relationship. We understand that posts on Instagram do not take into account the individual, unique, nuanced, and personal experiences of everyone who reads them. We acknowledge that it is impossible to share anything that works for every single person who chooses to read, thus encouraging people to take in what works and leave the rest. I share this often.

And… we understand the deep value people find in having different ways of exploring who they are. We understand the importance of community in healing. We understand the incredible empowerment that comes with choosing to seek out these resources and insights. We understand the impact it has on people’s lives. We hear about it every day. We see it. We witness it.

Therapists on Instagram are doing such important work in changing the paradigm of therapy, offering support to those who might not otherwise have it, sharing supportive resources and tips on accessing therapy, and creating conversations around what it means to be human. The work we are sharing is creating an incredibly inspiring public shift in how we think about seeking support for ourselves and for each other. The parts of ourselves we choose to share are reminding everyone that therapists are indeed human, too, and are disrupting the power differentials that often keep people from seeking therapy in the first place.

Yes, therapists are on Instagram. Yes, we are sharing our experiences and education with more people. Yes, we are reminding people that therapy doesn’t have to be scary, isolating, or secret. As with every realm of work in the public sphere, there will always be those who don’t utilize their best judgment or ethical choice… and, being a therapist on Instagram can coexist with ethics, boundaries, integrity and intention.

I can only truly speak for myself, but I will end by sharing what an absolute honor and gift it has been to connect with so many people through my Instagram account. I have connected with people from all over the world. I am reminded daily of why I do what I do, why I keep showing up in spite of not everyone agreeing or understanding, and why I will continue to share with whoever might want or need it.

I feel so grateful to have found a space to move beyond the walls of a therapy office and bring community, connection, tools, resources, and support to so many. I’m proud of every therapist who is choosing to show up and be seen. My colleagues are intelligent, compassionate, creative, and wildly supportive. What we are collectively doing on Instagram matters and while it is absolutely not therapy, it’s making a difference in a new way and is so inspiring to be a small part of. I hope this can be an ongoing conversation that we can continue exploring in order to keep showing up.

Lisa Olivera

Written by

Writer and Therapist.

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