Culty culture

I usually talk with my clients about other services that can be helpful to our work, often deemed as alternatives to traditional psychotherapy and psychiatric care. It’s an important conversation that requires strong caution toward the fact that right now, it’s like the wild west out here.

We’ve got a surge of opportunities that are changing the game for holistic care, but without the guidelines necessary to ensure offerings are accessible, inclusive, safe, sustainable, and culturally responsible. I’m talking about functional medicine, herbalism, acupuncture, pelvic floor therapy, somatic psychotherapy, coaching, Ketamine infusion clinics, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, and meditation or general wellness retreats. I hold the opinion that these services should not be touted as alternatives to therapy, but rather assists to professional treatment, intervention, and support.

I think there is an interesting backdrop to this massive unfolding. One, the need for mental health and spiritual guidance is at an all-time high. In many ways, I see this as an important byproduct of healthcare and educational systems failing to meet the heightened demand. Emerging research has unlocked the importance of caring for ourselves in different ways. We are changing the narrative about how we talk about physical, emotional, and spiritual health in this country. Second, the emerging focus upon self-promotion might be inviting entrepreneurs to step into these spaces. I do believe that many people, specifically younger adults, are finding themselves here with the intention to create positive impact. However, the strong desire to influence (take a look at “influencer” culture) can be self-indulgent and misguided. It can be especially irresponsible within a field that requires such great care. Research confirms that young adults are becoming more narcissistic. Narcissism is often defined as a fixation with oneself. Many young adults could be described as narcissistic because they’re at a stage of life when the focus is on the development of identity. Because social media’s focus is on sharing, and often oversharing one’s own image and opinions, research points to a strong correlation between social media and higher levels of grandiosity and narcissism. 

What we see are a growing number of entrepreneurs creating businesses to meet the moment. Even if there is an undercurrent of self-promotion and narcissism, I am in awe of the positive effects, most pointedly being the normalization of mental illness, including addiction, and de-stigmatization of therapy. There are so many Instagram accounts and podcasts that I talk through with my clients! Unfortunately, there is also a huge financial opportunity for these folks. If we’re being honest, mental health care has truly been monetized. I have concerns about the precedent being set by those leading the charge. Though I balk at being required to pay a lot of money to the State of Colorado’s regulating board to maintain my three licenses, I understand that when there’s lack of oversight, there’s more room for unethical behavior. While I also believe there should not be gatekeeping of knowledge by professional institutions, I am protective of people that have found themselves seeking guidance from unlicensed sources and as a result, experiencing disillusionment, financial manipulation, toxic positivity, and spiritual bypassing. In some cases, there has been even more explicit harm to include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within coaching and spiritual groups as well as organizational and ritual abuse occurring within private treatment centers. There are young 20-something individuals on Instagram assuming the role as “expert” on issues related to female embodiment, trauma and spiritual healing. These said individuals are creating and hosting enormously expensive retreats without the proper training or guidance. New grads are entering the private practice psychotherapy sector without appropriate supervision and marketing expertise in complex diagnoses with incredibly high costs. It’s not easy to identify who is a licensed professional or the depth of experience of said professional. Within marketing materials, there is a trend to avoid listing one’s graduation date and years of experience in the field if it’s less than five. Another trend is to list all possible specialties regardless of whether one has received formal training. Regarding mental health and wellness accounts on social media, the general public cannot discern whether the person on their feed belongs to a professional discipline or could be defined as a peer.

In an increasingly apparent, “do it yourself” culture, people are given permission to independently create content, offerings and services that are truly ground-breaking and innovative. The paradigm shift is inspiring in many ways. It feels empowering both for business owners and those benefiting from the new accessibility of previously coveted information around holistic healthcare. People identify with the terms “self-healing” or “self-healer.” However, in an age where appropriate caution or hesitancy is often attributed to “self-limiting beliefs”, there isn’t much room for humility. Pop psychology and coaching dissuades people from embracing humility in the face of over-valuing personal worth. For instance, you often hear phases such as “boss babe” and “charge what you’re worth” as a focus upon female empowerment specifically. There is an article titled, “Charge What You’re Worth is Such BS” that describes it best, “You are amazing, you are ambitious, you are intelligent, and you are enough. The price you charge for your services, programs, and products does not determine your worth as a person.”

Being a boss can be held in balance with being a student. Setting prices that generate enough money can be negotiated with learning how to make services more accessible, which might mean tackling the anxiety and bias many therapists feel toward billing insurance. Challenging the myth that a price point reflects your worthiness will mean distancing from the culty community that pushes you to build a business that goes against your values. In essence, there is a call to address how fear shows up in ascribing to these trendy ideas that only inflate one’s Ego. Embracing humility can feel threatening! Sitting with the discomfort of uncertainty takes practice and ironically, the only way true empowerment is born. When you learn to lean into discomfort, you understand that distress isn’t personal or signifying a deficit.

My advice? It depends on what role you play in this water we’re swimming in.

For pre-licensed therapists or coaches: consider the services you offer and do some deep reflection on whether your knowledge and years of experience are embedded in your marketing and prices. Do you properly assess who is an appropriate candidate for your services and who/when someone is best served elsewhere? Do you know the other mental health resources in your community? Who is supervising or mentoring you? Do your values align?

For licensed therapists: Are you focused more upon building a brand vs. providing a mental health service? Do you receive regular consultation (either individually or within a group) to keep you grounded in a field that is experiencing a massive shift? Have you considered accepting at least one insurance plan? It’s not only easier than ever before, but reimbursement rates have finally increased! Working with third-party payer programs, such as Headway or Alma, are also becoming more popular if you are uncomfortable with doing billing yourself.

For clients: What are your goals and who is best qualified to help you meet them? Know the credentials of the person you are working with and their specific experience. If you are a trauma survivor, are you working with a licensed therapist that specializes in trauma treatment? Please know many good quality therapists accept insurance, which guarantees they are held accountable by a regulating body (unlicensed therapists cannot bill insurance).

Best wishes to all of you in these wild west of times,