Tell Me What That Means to You

Navigating Insta-Therapy and Its Critique

Christina Tesoro, LMSW

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Photo by Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

A recurring theme in the therapy influencer corner of social media is the tension between New Age, trauma obsessed “therapy influencers” and their critics. It’s an important conversation to be had, though a confusing one for me as a therapist — and therefore, I imagine, probably confusing for clients, as well.

The camps are as follows: New Age therapy influencers, big name accounts sometimes with hundreds of thousands of followers, seemingly obsessed with trauma as a wide net rather than a specific experience or diagnosis, as well as interventions that are not quite evidence based. They peddle — according to their naysayers — in scientifically unproven concepts such as the inner child, shadow work, self-healing, manifestation and the power of positive thinking, and secret, potentially repressed traumas hiding in our unconscious and causing our current discomfort, dismay, and dysregulation.

Their critics are often more science-minded and social constructionist in character. They emphasize the diagnostic criteria for trauma, noting that trauma (and more specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder) and distress are distinct psychological and emotional experiences. They cite specific evidence based interventions exist to treat a diagnosis of PTSD. They expound on longstanding, widely accepted relational theories, such as attachment theory, to explain the complex experiences of misattunement, rupture, and repair that we all experience in early childhood and over the course of our lives in relationship with others. Frequently, they are more intersectional in their approach, calling out spiritual bypassing, toxic positivity, as well as the lack of accountability of some therapy influencer accounts, and underscoring the importance that mental health practitioners be able to hold an dynamic understanding of their clients various intersections of identity and lived experience.

If it’s not already obvious, there’s a lot that I admire about accounts that are critical of more simplistic — or outright misleading — representations of trauma and healing on social media. Many of these critics are also quick to point out the inherent marketing aspect of social media, and the dubious ways this function of being online interacts with the ethics…

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Christina Tesoro, LMSW

Christina Tesoro is a New York City-based writer, sex educator, and therapist.