In the last few years, social media users who find it impossible to stay off their devices when they would like to resist them are seeking treatment via professionals. And they’re responding. Therapists are offering counselling, mindfulness coaches are hosting detox retreats, and corporate-wellness startups are all vying to help you get through the day without constant, compulsive scrolling.

 We give people driving lessons… but everyone just gets a smartphone and off they go

The result is a wide array of options that social media users are willing to try to break their habit. Hour-long sessions can cost from $150 per hour, with longer detox camping-style retreats costing more than $500 for several days.

Getting help to be responsible

“We give people driving lessons and swimming lessons, but everyone just gets a smartphone and off they go,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, a research nonprofit, in Newport Beach in California in the US. “There are skills needed to navigate any social space.”

An ad campaign from Talkspace, which offers counseling online (Credit: Talkpsace)

An ad campaign from Talkspace, which offers counseling online, to raise awareness of the impact of social media addiction (Credit: Talkpsace)

In the last few years, the number of patients seeking help from Nathan Driskell, a therapist in Houston, Texas in the US, for so-called social media addiction rose 20% and now make up almost half of his patients, he says. Interestingly, clients asking for help with computer-game addiction have somewhat declined, he says.

Unrecognised, but treatable

To be sure, social media addiction is not recognised as an official disorder by medical classification texts such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered the gold standard in diagnosing mental disorders. Whether or not it should be is controversial. Yet, some therapists including Driskell treat patients with the same methods they would use to treat other addictions.

It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it

In some ways, the psychological impact caused by Facebook, Snapchat and other digital platforms can be more difficult to treat than other recognised addictions, Driskell says. “It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it,” he says. Driskell charges $150 per hour and works with patients on a weekly basis for at least six months.

Fighting fire with fire

New York-based start-up Talkspace offers on-demand online counselling from 1,000 in-network therapists. In 2016 the company started tailoring offerings that address social media usage, launching a 12-week social media programme to help those navigating their online addictions as part of more comprehensive therapy, says Linda Sacco, Talkspace’s vice president for behavioral health services. Therapists who participate work with patients to increase mindfulness and track their progress over several months, says Sacco, who declined to give the number of users currently in the programme.

Those coming forward actually recognise that this is taking over their life

The company offers text-message-based therapy starting at $138 per month, with $396 for live-talk therapy. And, while clients use their smartphone to hold therapy sessions, they are being taught how to use the phone in a more mindful way, she adds. Most people turn to therapy after many failed attempts to control their impulses on their own, Sacco says.

“By the time they are thinking they need treatment they have tried [limiting screen time]—were unsuccessful—and [are] feeling even worse,” says Sacco. “Those coming forward actually recognise that this is taking over their life.” READ MORE….