Instagram live therapy sessions can be devastating. Occasionally there is an iPhone ping, the therapist forgets to switch off the press conference she has just seen before going live, or the sound is short. Even beyond the technical difficulties, watching an influencer chat with his therapist feels intrusive and wrong, but after all, when the live flattens out and everything works as it should, the therapist can get to the point. The conversation flows and viewers benefit from expressing someone else's fears aloud.
Influencer Katie Sands and her therapist Stephanie Lesk started weekly live chats last week for Sands's more than 200,000 followers. They discuss COVID-19 and the realities of working and experiencing a pandemic. They talk about financial stress and how strange everything is – probably also about feelings that other people are working with.
Other therapists started putting COVID-19 content on Instagram a few weeks ago, and as more and more countries around the world told residents to stay at home, the volume of accounts that published outbreak-oriented advice grew . Therapists in the United States are now offering virtual sessions, opening workshops, opening their DMs for questions, and working with influencers to spread their messages. They are trying to find a way to calm a very stressful and anxiety-causing pandemic, especially for people who cannot afford their own therapists.
Katie Sands and her therapist Stephanie Lesk.
"Why not have a conversation about it and allow people in the room to say," Look, we have to decide how we want to get through this, "said Lesk." You have to find a way to to take control of this thing. "
Direct contact with a therapist is an option, and Instagram offers therapists and clients the opportunity to connect. Jamie Castillo, who runs the Arizona-based therapy group Find Your Shine, piloted a virtual support group for Arizona residents this week and promoted it on her popular Instagram account. The group gives people a place where they can "focus on self-calming strategies and empowerment instead of talking about the pandemic and ongoing fear." It costs $ 20 per person.
"During this time, we will also try to speak carefully about the silver lining that we can take for ourselves in terms of increasing empathy for those around us and focusing on the collective good for every man," she says .
Castillo's Instagram account also offers support articles and advice on topics such as infertility, relationship conflict and trauma. But lately, their posts have a different, more specific purpose: to help people through quarantine. She only speaks to COVID-19 by name, while the rest of her posts focus on the idea of cancellations, social distancing, and media overexposure.
"What is cool on Instagram is obviously not to act as a replacement for therapy, but rather to fill those gaps and break down the barriers that people around the world face when it comes to psychiatric care," says Castillo. Their contributions may not apply to everyone at the same time, "but people have said that the contributions make them think about things differently or encourage them to give themselves grace."
Therapists can also share on Instagram how they can help, says Alyssa Lia Mancao, a Los Angeles therapist. "Usually people see therapists as things that happen behind closed doors," she says. "You don't really know what's going on. You don't really know what it's like. We don't talk about it as much as we should."
Mancao turned her content around topics that point more directly to the crisis. The pandemic has made her go live on her own page answering questions from viewers, and she plans to take over the stories of a separate, finance-led account, The Financial Diet, to reach her followers and tips to give to mental health.
"Most (therapists) are currently not accepting new clients and do not want to start a relationship through a video," said Mancao. "Being able to provide at least this information through Instagram is really helpful for people who haven't had the luxury of being in therapy and coming to therapy now."
Governments and organizations have recognized the importance of mental health in this crisis as well. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that more than 6,000 psychiatric professionals have signed up to assist people through a public hotline. He encouraged people to call to talk about their feelings. UNICEF published an article highlighting how young people can take care of their mental health.
However, other therapists are using the pandemic as an opportunity to advertise their services, knowing that there is a need. Instagram offers therapists the opportunity to market themselves and their messages comprehensively. This makes it an important platform for independent therapists who are trying to find new clients.
Hilary Weinstein, a therapist in New York City, has already advertised on the influencers' side, but says she recently returned to her practice after a break. In the past, she approached meme accounts like @sobasicicanteven and offered to pay to share posts promoting her services. This time she does the same. We Met At Acme, a popular Instagram account and podcast, has re-released it due to a partnership. She says these posts have resulted in many people turning to them, though that number can go down if they're insured and find out if they go well together.
Online therapy has already increased, Weinstein says, and the unknown length of the pandemic will help it grow. "This kind of raised a lot of fear in and of itself, how long do I have to be alone and alone with my thoughts?" Weinstein says. "It is never healthy, especially not for a long time. I think it is really suitable for the entire teletherapy trend that was on the rise anyway."
Instagram therapy is not a substitute for an actual person taking care of them, these therapists say, but it is a step towards destigmatizing mental health and giving people a clearer idea of how to take care of themselves in this challenging time can.
"Many people feel ready to go to therapy, but not many people have the privilege of being financially unable to go to therapy," says Mancao. "There is so much stigma about therapy in different cultures and families, but I think that being able to follow a therapist on Instagram bridges that barrier and really helps people connect with information that they probably wouldn't otherwise would have. "