Is My Instagram Feed Exploiting Me?

I’ve recently been posting on Instagram. I think I’m what many call an, “Instagram Therapist”. But it got me thinking… how can I post things in an ethical way? In a way that won’t create more problems and conflict in the couples I aim to reach?

I started to ask myself, “If I post on Instagram am I exploiting people?”

Let’s look at what the definition of exploit is… “Hey Siri, what does exploit mean”?

It is possible that some influencers and professionals who use social media to market themselves, and their product, engage in exploitative behavior. It can however be more mutual… it seems that the user and the poster are engaged in a relationship… the user wants content and the poster provides it. The poster wants views/engagement and the user will like, follow, share, and in best cases buy the poster’s product.

So, how could this be exploitative???

The moment I began to show concern about this issue was when I was reading a post about narcissistic partners. It was a mental health professional (seemingly, I did not check that they are actually licensed). They posted a list of narcissistic behavior and told their viewers that, “if your spouse/parter is showing this behavior you should leave them now”. HOLY SHIT! That is the text book example of exploiting the viewer (or your client if you’re in a therapy session). I could not believe what I was reading, and I could not believe the comments! Comments were filled with a lot of red flag emojis and people saying, “get out now”. Then it really started to impact me when my own clients began talking about, “something they saw on TikTok”… or saying “I think my wife has borderline personality disorder based off this instagram reel I saw”.

WOAH! Stop right there! If you’re reading something in a book, online, or on social media that is encouraging you to diagnose your partner – walk away, close the book/tab/app… run! I went to school for a long time, studied, tested in a national exam, and continue to receive supervision weekly to make sure I’m assessing clients and diagnosing their symptoms correctly. I think diagnosing and pathologizing people’s behavior is needed in a small amount of cases… most of the time people just need to be understood, nurtured, and taught better ways to cope with their emotions. Serious mental health disorders are to be assessed by professional in a professional setting. What someone on instagram described as a red flag and narcissistic behavior is much more likely to be a person with trauma and unmet attachment needs.

The exploitation happens when therapists, who are obligated by a code of ethics to know this, ignore that their audience is emotionally vulnerable. This power differential is something talked about in every practice I’ve worked in, at every continuing education conference I’ve been to, and with every supervisor I’ve worked with.

To recommend anyone take action, such as leave a partner, the content creator takes advantage of the viewer, exploits the viewer’s need to be understood, heard, and validated, and is likely recommending a course of action that could have HUGE consequences.

We are held to a higher standard as therapists and professionals… Could we save a life by helping someone see they are in an abusive relationship, hell yes! But, we could also put a person in danger by encouraging them to leave their abuser without a plan, without support, and without protection. There should always be a belief that the viewer (client) has the capacity to make the decision for themselves, and we cannot knowingly push our own agenda onto our viewers or put them at risk to get views/likes/follows.

I have my own instagram feed. I follow a lot of mental health professionals. I find their information exciting, relevant, and inviting. I am always seeking to understand and identify the deeper meaning on the things in my life. Instagram can help in that. In the same way podcasts, books, and blogs do too! They guide me to looking at my own life and reflecting on my own journey… to get curious about myself!

I also post a lot of my content… it’s such a hard balance. Some information is just a fact, based in evidence and research. For example, the definition of Trauma (that’s pretty straight forward). But how someone experiences and responds to trauma… that is solely based on the individual and I could never ethically or accurately tell a person how they should or did experience trauma. I can only invite them to reflect on their own experience and encourage them to get support. I believe the viewer knows what level of support they need. I can provide information on how to find a therapist, what a good therapist might sound or feel like. I share videos on common experiences, and invite viewers to notice if anything stands out to them.

It all comes down to some questions I encourage you to ask yourself… Is your instagram feed inviting you into a deeper reflection on yourself and your experiences. Is your feed encouraging you to engage with other professionals, seek support, communicate with others, and share your story. Or is your instagram feed benefiting from you remaining attached the narrative they feed you, the narrative that you’re unwell and unequipped, and only they have the answers?

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