“I looked up ADD online,” “I think I have OCD because my friend and I took this test that we saw on the Internet, “ “I have diagnosed myself and I’m definitely depressed,” “ Am I a sex addict? I seem to have half of those symptoms,” “I think I need Zanax because of what I read…” and the list goes on. These are the clients (and people) that I will refer to as the inexpert diagnosticians of our generation aka the gullible Internet trawlers.
It is very rare that a client is well informed after reading whatever information they have scroungered up via “medical websites.” It is also very rare that they understand and correctly interpret what they are reading; there is a reason the DSM was made specifically for clinicians. Yet, clients still remain avid investigators of the medical mystery they refer to as themselves. As mental health professionals, should we encourage this and provide our clients with the appropriate online information or should we remain the primary and sole educational resource for their mental health questions?
I stand with the belief that we should always do our job and strive to educate, awaken, and inform. Clients look to us with paranoia and often anxiety-ridden faces in order to seek the truth as if to be saying, “psychoeducate me!” Above all, they are reaching for real understanding and a tangible grasp on their emotions. Once we provide them with this, their endless search will cease; they will listen, and they will be consoled. In addition, they will be heard, encouraged to voice their fears and able to subdue their root anxieties.
Of course many times this isn’t the case. I am sure many clients have been blessed to find answers on the Internet and consequently sought out therapy or treatment of some kind; I will not argue with that. The Internet serves as a valuable resource for education, literature, support groups, awareness and even introspection. Yet I will also express that it is not to be mistaken for the encyclopedia of empathy, understanding, emotional validation or relief. Instead, it can cause panic, paranoia, self-diagnosis and stigma amongst those who aren’t equipped to decipher its language. It can prevent a client from learning the real answers he/she is so desperately looking to find.
We are trained in soothing the mind, thinking positively, and providing relevant psychoeducation to our clients and society at large. As much as we have become technologically dependent beings, we must remember the field at its essence: you and me and a human conversation. Once upon a Freudian time, this was all that existed.
WE are the real live answers.
Stephanie Dargoltz is a bilingual counselor who works at a private practice in South Florida with children, adolescents, and adults. Her interests include Sport Psychology/Counseling and plans to pursue these careers in the near future.