It’s been a big year for influencers. Between the so-called Caroline Calloway “scam” debacle and the explosive, James Charles and Tati Westbrook feud, no one is sure what to think of the influencer community as a whole. But one thing is certain: Those with a platform wield power and, in an all-encompassing digital era, a social media following is a sort of currency that counts.
Amid these scandal-prone influencers are another set who are using their craft to sell something else altogether: a message that therapy should be normalized.
They call themselves therapy influencers, but they’re also licensed mental health professionals. Their posts are an accumulation of information that one might find in a self-help book or in a doctor’s pamphlet with headlines like “How to Recover after Ending a Toxic Relationship” and “Positive Self-Thoughts that Invite Change.” The accessible and easy-to-digest nature of these posts are exactly what these influencers are going for: They want to make therapy approachable and inviting, debunking the myth that therapy is shameful.
With more than 500 million users active daily, Instagram is the ultimate hotspot to share information, and these influencers know it. “In counseling, we have a saying that says, ‘You have to meet the client where they are.’ I believe that in this new age, that also extends to meeting them in the social media space to help them with the normalization process,” Mariel Buquè, Ph.D., a trauma therapist and therapy influencer, told Teen Vogue.
Myths about therapy include the harmful — but nevertheless present — belief that mental health is a character flaw. The truth of the matter is more than 47.6 million Americans have struggled with mental health to some degree. Suicide frequencies across the nation are spiking, and that’s not even including the stats about depression and anxiety rates in sexual assault survivors, transgender youth, and other marginalized communities who, historically and systematically, have been shut out of the conversation. Even in 2019, racism continues to play a role in the gatekeeping of mental health, as black people are less likely to have access to insured health care, despite having a 20% higher chance of a mental illness.
Therapy influencers are among the many tech savvy to bridge said divide.
“I wanted to engage a wider community of people of color, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access information related to mental wellness, and provide them with educational tools about therapy. I wanted to demystify the process, destigmatize it, and make it a part of everyday conversation on my page.” said Buquè.
Between poor portrayals of the practice in pop culture and the cultural stigmas against seeking help (perpetuated by mind-sets like toxic masculinity), it’s been decades in the making to shift the perception of therapy in the public’s mind. But thanks to the number of young people and celebrities speaking up about their own mental health struggles, we’re closer than ever to retiring those concepts. It may well even be thanks to these people speaking up about their mental health and the social media communities formed to help people be more open that therapy influencers have entered the scene. “Instagram makes the idea of therapy more appealing. It creates a space where you can test out a therapist before committing to working with them directly. You can gain an understanding of your unique issue and find a therapist who is clear about your needs,” Nedra Tawwab, LCSW, owner of Kaleidoscope Counseling and therapy influencer, told Teen Vogue.