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Jeff Ayers didn’t like his therapist. His sessions seemed stuck and his mind seemed to be elsewhere. Ayers, a New York news producer, wondered whether it was his fault—after all, he had found good reviews online and found them through his work’s insurance. Then he found her Tiktok account.
It wasn’t just his follower count—50,000 people—that caught his eye. It was the videos themselves. His therapist, it turned out, was also an influential figure. Her bite-sized videos helped people “make quick decisions” or explain that people “don’t need to apologize” for their feelings. “Was she just thinking about her next post while we were in session together?” Iyer says. “What is his real goal?” Was she trying to help him, he thought, or was she chasing social media clout?
During the pandemic, when the world’s mental health declined, the amount of mental health content on TikTok increased; Today, the #mentalhealth tag has been viewed 70.5 billion times. Add to this the explosion of the app’s popularity, with users more than doubling since the Covid outbreak, and you get TikTok therapists broadcasting advice to their followers.
As more and more therapists start posting advice online, especially on TikTok, professional bodies are struggling to keep up. In the United States, the American Psychological Association (APA) published its first set of social media guidelines for psychologists in October 2021. In the United Kingdom, the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy (BACP) updated its guidelines in March 2021.
These guidelines call for keeping the online and physical worlds separate as much as possible. With their IRL clients, psychologists should “consider the need to avoid contact with their current or past clients on social media, recognizing that this may blur the boundaries of the professional relationship,” suggests the APA. Yet, as was the case with Ayer’s, an algorithm can quickly take it out of a therapist’s hands. If your therapist has thousands of followers on TikTok, chances are they’ll pop up in your For You page. Does stumbling upon your therapist dancing to Hannah Montana while you’re scrolling on your lunch break cross a line? Ayer felt uncomfortable that her therapist wasn’t even transparent about maintaining an online presence: “I think it’s weird that you’re dealing with someone who’s stalking—and it’s counterproductive.” No,” he says.
A major problem is that when a therapist is posting online, there is a temptation to use subject matter from sessions as inspiration for content—an absolute no-no. This happened to Michael, who lives in the US and asked WIRED not to use his real name for privacy reasons. he actually found his doctor By Social media – He had a specific emotional issue he wanted help with, and he came across a therapist who created YouTube videos for nearly 12,000 clients whose content specialized in psycho-education about this more niche issue. Michael realized that this therapist was a practicing psychologist in the same position, so he reached out and began a session with her.