The Instant Noodle Version Of Therapy

"Social media content is offering 'solutions' where complex mental conditions are oversimplified to fit in our 2.5-minute attention span"

The Instant Noodle Version Of Therapy

Welcome to the era of reels! They are short, crispy and to the point. They are ripe with strong content packed in one bite-sized video punch. From medical, professional, parenting advice to cooking, memetic and mindless content, Instagram is a one-stop shop for everyone. No credit to its creator but Instagram proved to be a real agent of social awareness in reporting facts about Gaza. This is the power of free flow of information. For all its merits, the free flow also comes with unsolicited, unverified information which can be pretty jarring to impressionable young minds online. Especially, if the advice is about the mind itself.

There is an influx of content regarding mental health navigation imparted by the apparent professionals. Complex mental conditions are oversimplified to fit in our 2.5-minute attention span. Quick fixes and abrupt solutions, divorced from each person’s lived reality, are up for grabs should anyone seek it. It is like the instant noodle version of therapy. It is delicious for entertainment but has no helpful nutritional value. 

According to the ocean of preachy content available online, the magical solution to all of life’s difficulties is a plucky good attitude and a can-do spirit. It’s not only delusional but also misleading

Each person has their own unique layers and edges. There is no one miraculous solution that’s going to work for everyone. Hence the short and evasive Instagram reels can rarely alter the course of anyone’s life. If one sifts through this motivating content carefully, it is nothing but candy floss: it appears fluffy, heavy, cloudy but has no substance in reality. A brain cell or two is tickled but nothing consequential is ever achieved unless you do the slow and hard work of bringing about a change in your daily lives. It appears as if a goldmine of insecurities and personal failures has been tapped in to, and now all these self-diagnosis and quick fixes are available for everyone’s instant gratification. 

We have sought the guidance of mental health experts to gauge the efficacy of these reels in our culture. Tanya Adam Khan, a certified psychotherapist says: 

“I’m distressed by it as a mental health professional. We belong to a profession that takes its own time and is not lazy in its approach. Unlearning unhealthy behaviours and learning healthy ones is a time-taking process, it’s called neurology. There is a thing known as muscle memory, a thing known as habit and psychology. It takes a long time to fixate or solidify your personality. Nice catchy words or a short reel that sounds good can only give you an instant dopamine rush, but it cannot in any way, shape or form help you in the long run.” 

Ms Khan disapproves of the summarised, quick fix solutions offered to cater to vulnerable people online. “Literally incrementally you start to understand yourself. It’s a complex process. Your personality and psychology are very unique to you. There is no generic across-the-board solution for everyone. Our environments, individual histories, generational traumas parents, upbringing, temperaments, and biology are all unique to us. There is literally no one like us, not even our siblings.”

According to the ocean of preachy content available online, the magical solution to all of life’s difficulties is a plucky good attitude and a can-do spirit. It’s not only delusional but also misleading. The bite-sized videos explaining complex psychological cause-and-effect scenarios to gain clout on social media has put people in self-diagnosis modes. Erum Nabeel, a trainee psychotherapist says, “Terms like traumas and narcissism are thrown around way too casually. Not every difficulty is a trauma and not every trauma is negative. The challenging experiences add to one’s character and personality.” 

Delving further into the phenomenon of motivational speaking and life transformation programs, Ms Nabeel explains the significance of “untying the knots in one’s childhood for any constructive change to come about. This motivational content can only give one a temporary boost. It takes about 5-6 weeks for a new habit to be formed, how can life transformation happen in a merely 2 weeks?”

Despite the disapproval from experts, what drives the social economy of zappy mental health reels is the universality of human emotions. The palate of emotions has an element of commonality in it but our individual experiences and how we deal with it is purely personal. 

Ms Khan elaborates further on this: “There is an element of resonance in human emotions, like a beautiful piece of music or a book, we can all relate to it, but everybody has their own interpretation of it. It hits in a very personal way. But does it help? No, it doesn’t help in the long-run. Does it help to better your relationships or trigger your ambition? No, because both of these processes are a very long and require work.”

On one hand, the popularity of these reels indicates a commitment to personal development and self-growth, but on the flip side, it reflects the failure of educational institutions and family structures in equipping individuals with basic life survival skills. The concept of emotional intelligence is rarely ever touched upon in schools or intimate family conversations. Despite no orientation to emotional navigation by the two most formative institutions in a person’s life, it is expected without fail for one to be able to balance their emotions rationally. The loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, financial failures, childhood traumas, self-esteem issues are some generic examples of emotional upheavals that people encounter on an everyday basis. The lack of healthy conversations in our daily discourse to get through these difficult times leaves a vast vacuum to be filled by amateur wisdom.

In a culture that is driven by instant gratification, Ms Khan provides an alternative approach: 

“What needs to be introduced is a very holistic way of existing. In my line of work when I assess people, I understand them and I get them in touch with four different parts of them: There is a sensation part, which is the physical body, to understand how their bodies are feeling things. Then there is the thinking part, which is the brain. You want them to be aware of what their thought process is like and help them fine-tune it by giving them general knowledge on how thoughts work. Thoughts are like breathing, whether you know it or not, your mind is thinking. Then there is the feeling bit, the emotional side to help them get in touch with what exactly is it that they are feeling. Are they sad/happy/angry/joyful? The ability to identify what is going on at the emotional front? Then there is the most important bit that no one talks about, the intuition/instinct bit, which has helped our species to survive thousands of years. Unfortunately, we are getting further and further away from our intuition when we have always been masters of it. We are relying too much on our minds and not using these other things that we have such as sensation, feeling and intuition.”