April 24, 2023

By Nashira Kayode

Illustration of woman with megaphone
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there has been a 25% increase in the number of people who experience symptoms of anxiety and depression since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simultaneously, there has been an influx of mental health-related information presented via social media. The information ranges from encouraging self-care to discussing more complex conditions and symptoms to promoting therapists’ businesses online. However, viral content about mental health is not guaranteed to be accurate information. And, of course, there are not substantial credibility checks for social media influencers and users. Therefore, it’s up to us to determine credibility. 

Sharing lived experience on social media is valuable for many reasons. Social media platforms can be a healthy outlet to share one’s story and create an accessible space of community. But as the mental health conversation grows, it’s important to distinguish between peer support and information from the care of licensed practitioners.

An Abundance of Mental Health Content

One study conducted in 2022 reviewed TikTok and Instagram accounts with over 100,000 followers owned by my mental health professionals. The study found that these accounts had the potential to make mental health information more accessible — but they were not subjected to any credibility checks. Ultimately, researchers concluded that those seeking help should browse mental health content critically, with the study’s findings in mind.

While the accounts owned by mental health professionals were the only ones considered in this study, people with a variety of titles claiming to be experts on the subject own accounts sharing mental health information — although they may not actually be licensed mental health professionals. This confusion about credibility could result in people not actually getting the treatment they need, ultimately leading to a worsening mental health condition.

Furthermore, clients working with unlicensed or unqualified people found through social media may become frustrated with the unsuccessful therapeutic process — because they are not seeing an actual professional. This may prevent them from reaching out for services in the future and not receiving needed treatment.

How Can We Check Credibility?

There are professional titles that indicate a person is a qualified mental health professional. This means the person has met both specific education and state license requirements. Here are a few examples:

  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
  • Psychologists (PsyD and PhD)

However, there are other titles that do not require education or licensure, such as:

  • Mindset Coach
  • Life Coach
  • Trauma-Informed Coaching Pioneer  
  • Psychology Expert
  • Mental Health Advocate 

There are regulations against using the professional titles when you do not have one, but there are no regulations regarding using other titles that imply similar knowledge and expertise. As you can see, some of the unregulated titles sound credible and imply they provide the same services as the licensed professionals, although they legally cannot.

This confusion can be easily compounded by some social media influencers’ high-quality video and visual content, which performs well in algorithms and suggests more professional experience.

How Do I Know If Someone Is a Licensed Therapist?

1. ) Identify credentials: most therapists will list their credentials after their names. For example, Dr. Smith, LCSW or LMFT or PsyD. This gives you an indication of both their education and licensure.

If need be, here are some questions you can ask a potential therapist you found through social media:

  • What degree do you hold that allows you to practice clinical therapy?
  • What is your license and license number that allows you to practice clinical therapy?

2. ) Verify credentials: all mental health professionals have regulatory boards that track licensure and allow the public to easily verify a person’s licensure status online. They vary depending on the state and type of license but are very easy to find using their first and last name. If you have the license type and number, the search will be even easier.

Here are three of the most common boards for the United States and Canada:

  • Association of Social Work Board (ASWB): for unlicensed ACSW and licensed LCSW
  • Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB): Licensed Psychologist PsyD or PhD
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT): AMFT or LMFT

3. ) Verify the credibility of the social media account: It is possible to buy likes and followers on social media accounts such as Instagram. If you found someone on social media that you are interested in working with who seems to be engaging in this — it may be a red flag that they are not honest and not transparent about their qualifications as a mental health professional.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. It is also important to keep in mind that life coaches and other non-mental health professionals can be helpful to one’s well-being. However, they are not substitutes for evidence-based therapy with qualified therapists. Additionally, professional titles vary slightly in some states and the requirements to become licensed vary in some states.

Social media has been an excellent tool to destigmatize mental health and spread mental health awareness. However, we must consume mental health content critically—as we would with any other information found online. This includes being discerning about the messenger and source of the information. clinical professional.
 

Dr. Nashira Kayode is a therapist, consultant and author in Southern California. She has practiced mental health for over 17 years and is an expert with the State of California Board of Behavioral Sciences. She has several publications on mental health. To learn more about Dr. Kayode, visit her website.

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices. Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.

LEARN MORE

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).