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Finding an Extremely Online Therapist

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How can they begin to understand my mental anguish if they have no idea who Shrimp Guy is?

It became clear after my third therapy appointment that I was talking a lot — maybe too much — about Twitter. So much of my anxieties seemed to stem from the weird social awkwardness of digital life. In particular, I couldn’t overcome the haunting feeling that everyone I watched through the screen harbored an undetectable resentment for my entire being, evoking the same kind of existential unease you might feel after munching on too many edible products before going to a company party.

I’ve been online since I was 10, and in that time I’ve accumulated every possible strain of pernicious neural connected disorder – the simultaneous craving and fear of a bigger platform; the intractable public sayings of like/retweet/reply verbiage; the ever-present worry that you could destroy your life with just one bad message.

My therapist is a lovely man who listened with patience and curiosity long after it became clear that he could barely process what I was saying. Who could blame him? How do you describe to someone what it’s like to freak out over a tweet? It was the struggle in every session, as I tried to sum up the psychedelic quagmire of the internet for someone trained to address concerns in the physical realm – breakups, deaths, and family trauma.

It pains me to admit that I desired a very online therapist – or at least someone who could speak the same language as me while recounting the latest grievances on the timeline. This is one of the saddest truths one can identify about oneself; one that honestly should make anyone jump on Telehealth to book a double date. The only consolation I take is that I’m not the only one. Yes, in 2022, a generation of angsty Reddit locals seek to consult an expert who can remember the Shrimp Guy debacle.

“I just don’t have 35 minutes to lay out my basic understanding of how online speech works before I can talk about what’s bothering me,” says David M. Perry, an academic and journalist who echoed my very online therapist fantasies. “I need them to understand how it works before going into details. I don’t know if my therapist is online. She nods sympathetically when I talk about the Internet. Sometimes I feel like I should stop and say, “Can I stop and recount the last 22 years of discourse on male feminism online?” »

Perry, like me, is a little sheepish about this revelation. None of us are able to articulate the precise mechanics of what we want. After all, the thought of a therapist actually hunt down our social platforms is truly mortifying, because the relationship between a patient and a practitioner must be confined to the crucible of the practice to protect itself from a Tony Soprano/Dr. Location of Melfi. And yet, in this age of chronic oversharing – where we constantly bombard our followers with countless nervous thoughts that are best not shared – it is perhaps necessary, perhaps even healthy, that our medical professionals mental retain some digital fluidity. It’s good to know that my therapist is a human being who has gone through spiraling grief, loss, and regret. It would also be nice to know that he too bombarded a few messages.

“It would be great if I could find someone who knew everything about Twitter and promised never to read anything I say,” Perry laughs. “It could be like an entry-level question. I think it would be important for therapists to learn that online interactions are real and meaningful, and that they are as real and meaningful as the things that happen in our professional or romantic lives.

Fortunately, Matt Lundquist, founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, put me at ease. For years he has been dealing with potential clients who want an introduction to the Internet in their treatment. Ten years ago, a patient sought his help after facing some kind of civil fracas on an old political forum, and specifically asked for a professional who would need no translation to describe the contours of the display alcove. (Can you imagine what would it be like to break down the imperceptible semantic differences between all the options in an emoticon menu?) Lundquist found these concerns eminently reasonable and thinks they should be taken seriously by anyone in the industry.

“These spaces have norms and values ​​that can be broken, where you can fail, where the offense can be significant but difficult to understand,” he tells me. “As a therapist, understanding this is like understanding any culture – an ethnic group, a college, even the culture of a given family system or offline community, like skateboarding. Well Sure, race and ethnicity are sort of social places where there’s a lot of nuance to understand.

At the same time, Lundquist cautions against anyone being too selective with their mental health services. There’s nothing wrong with splitting the same contextual faculty, but therapists are professionals, and the good ones should have the ability to bridge the gap between the roaring boiling of the internet and the kind of turmoil, prejudice and earthly inclinations which are common to all mortal inhabitants. of the universe. After all, there’s nothing like realizing that a sensitive area of ​​your brain that you once thought was hopelessly esoteric is actually easily diagnosable.

“You tend to get distracted by things that matter less, especially the idea of ​​specialty,” says Lundquist. “Difficulty is really much more about fit – a sense of trust that this person is committed to helping you, that they have a plan, even if that plan changes over time, that they’re someone who you can talk to about things that are hard to talk with.

Yet I wonder if digital volubility will become more relevant as generational change continues and millennials inherit the overriding concerns of society abandoned by baby boomers and Gen Xers. Before long, America will be populated almost exclusively by people who grew up on the internet, which means very online therapists are going to be everywhere, simply because more people are going to be extremely online. It’s a terrifying thought for a ton of reasons, but at the very least we won’t need to define the uplifting nature of a shitpost to the good men and women behind the desk anymore. A bit of utopia, in the middle of dystopia.

“It sounds silly, but when you consider that therapy is really about articulating your experience as yourself in the world, it makes sense for your therapist to understand the world you inhabit and the pressures you face in it,” says Hillary Brown, another patient looking for a very online therapist. “Everything we’re going through makes you feel like everything matters, while making no sense at all.”