Many of us won’t be surprised to read that social media can have a significant impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing.
What if nobody ‘likes’ the selfies we post? What if we don’t have many followers? And what if we feel our own life compares unfavourably with the airbrushed and carefully curated words and images posted by others on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook?
The Internet and social media increasingly play a role in the counselling room. Young clients, in particular, often report feeling distressed as a result of interactions with others on the Internet. Mean comments about a post can result in low confidence, poor self-image and anxiety. Relationships conducted virtually over social media very often take a different form from those in the ‘real’ face-to-face world. Misunderstandings are perhaps more likely to occur, tensions are heightened and conflict more likely.
Things can take a more sinister turn too. Cyberbullying is an increasingly widespread issue for many young people, leaving schools and parents feeling powerless to know how to support their young people. Internet grooming is another challenge faced by many, with unsolicited messages - sometimes from strangers - asking inappropriate questions and requesting photos, often of an explicit nature. It can be incredibly difficult for the unwilling recipient to know how to address this, let alone discuss it with anyone else.
A quick-fix might go some way to resolving at least some of the issues. Turning off social media notifications might be a step forward; closing Instagram or Facebook accounts, for instance, could be another, however drastic that may initially appear. Switching off our smartphone or laptop can also provide a temporary respite from an onslaught of messages, photos and voicemails, resulting in much needed peace and quiet.
Longer-term, however, professional help might be required. Where virtual - and real-life - relationships may be the source of worry and low mood, the relationship between counsellor and client can provide support and a safe place in which to explore feelings of distress resulting from social media use. Therapy also offers an opportunity for clients to rebuild self-image and restore damaged confidence and self-esteem. A counsellor or psychotherapist will always accept the client exactly as they are, regardless of how many followers they have or the amount of ‘likes’ they receive.