Self-diagnosing Through Social Media — 3 Zencare Therapists Discuss

With the rise of social media, information on mental health is now more available than ever. This has opened the door for clients to educate themselves online, and in some cases, to identify with a specific diagnosis before seeking care. For therapists, this poses the question: What do you do when a client comes to your office with a diagnosis in mind? We asked three Zencare therapists to describe their approach.

Two light skinned people sitting down talking.

Jessica Garet, LCSW

Jessica Garet is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Astoria, New York.

How do you handle it when clients are self-diagnosing from social media?

I love this question, in part because it presents one of the places we now find ourselves. We are by design always searching for meaning, to find ourselves in the images or stories of others, and to seek belonging through understanding. To find categories that capture a felt experience and allow us to feel seen and heard. It makes sense that social media has become one of the places we turn to, to source information.

Light skinned woman sitting in an office chair smiling.

“Social media” redefined is a form of relational mass communication. If I was working with someone who found themselves represented within a diagnostic category, I would celebrate exploring the words that they read that led them to feel understood. What was it they saw, heard, and/or read that resonated, that vibrated within them and had them claim it as their truth?  How can this become a place for further exploration? How does this category reflect a lived experience? How did the body respond when they found that cluster of symptoms that composes a diagnosis? How can we use this container to cultivate curiosity? All information is useful information, all parts of us are welcomed when we begin the process of healing.

Self-diagnosis speaks to me of an autonomous being ready to take the lead in their healing. A person deep in the search for meaning, a person seeking to find themselves and free themselves. Healing is only possible when the Self is actively engaged in the process.


Melissa True is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Fort Worth, TX.

How do you handle it when clients are self-diagnosing from social media?

When clients that I work with come to sessions stating things like, "I saw this on Tiktok," or "I researched online," or "I saw a post about," I often first acknowledge that they are concerned about their symptoms, and validate that those feelings of finding something that feels like an answer to how they feel or act can feel like relief. But then I challenge them to say, even if it is true, that if what they have found is accurate, we still need to treat the symptoms. So let's focus on the symptoms, and the diagnosis is just one aspect of getting better and feeling in control.

Light skinned woman wearing a pink shirt smiling.

As a clinician, I like to work through why they are seeking those answers and ask the question, "Is going down this path of reading and research helpful or hurtful? Does it provide solutions and direction?" This often helps get back on track and focus on treatment without discounting their concerns from what they were exposed to. And the reality is, social media is so prevalent in our lives today, that there is no way to completely remove it from one’s life, so we need to work with clients knowing there will be exposure – positively or negatively.

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Jose Pinal, LMFT

Jose Pinal is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Tracy, California.

How do you handle it when clients are self-diagnosing from social media?

Initially, I would affirm the patient’s belief that they struggle with a particular issue, especially if it aligns with certain behaviors mentioned in session. Following that, I would proceed to let them know that it’s often best to take information from social media with a grain of salt. For any diagnosis, most social media posts do not list criteria for a diagnosis correctly, and are probably not posted by someone who is a mental health professional.

Finally, I would make sure to ask, “What concerns in all aspects of your life has this created?” It’s an imperative question for me to ask to gauge whether someone is struggling to the point that they miss out on social relationships, sleep, or even work.

I think it’s important to share that mental health is stigmatized even among mental health and medical professionals. People get treated differently based on their mental health diagnosis, and  that is charted on their medical record forever. Because of this, it makes sense why one would defer to social media and online peer support groups to gather information.

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