Lawyers, restaurant servers, teachers—name an industry, and there’s probably a meme community for it. Maybe it’s a way to cope with capitalism; maybe it’s just human nature to want to bond with whoever’s with you down in the trenches. But memes, which rely on analogy and generic imagery to communicate collective experiences and feelings, are especially helpful for therapists, who need a way to relate to each other without disclosing specific details of their work, which could violate client-therapist confidentiality. The stewards of our mental health need to blow off steam, too, so they’ve created for-therapist, by-therapist accounts, fostering online communities where they can vent after long, grueling days of emotionally-taxing sessions—all while remaining anonymous, if they so choose.
Psychotherapy Memes, one of the most popular of the therapist-run meme pages on Instagram, with more than 30,000 followers, features original memes that use humor to make light of the daily anxieties of the profession—everything from imposter syndrome to burnout to Psychology Today tropes.
“Therapists have a stressful job, and memes are a good outlet,” said the creator of the account, a licensed family and marriage therapist who prefers to remain anonymous for professional reasons. (They don’t share the account with their clients, and have only revealed their ownership to a handful of coworkers.) “There’s a pressure to be perfect or know what you’re doing at all times, and I have found in my and my colleagues’ work, that’s not the case—most of us feel insecure.”
Gabrielle Herman, a 27-year-old licensed mental health counselor, said that she and her clinician friends regularly text these therapy memes to each other. She described it as a “satisfying” way to vent about shared experiences in their field without revealing more than they’re legally able to, or overburdening each other with the nitty-gritty of casework. “We don’t have to mention the exact content of what we’re going through, we’ll just send a meme,” she explained. “You get to hide behind a shield that allows you to express yourself without coming forward, and it’s nice to have that privacy.”
Therapy memes commonly depict satisfying breakthroughs or epic fails during sessions, agita over student loans and an exhausting workload, and low-key confounding moments with clients, like when they use astrology to explain their behavior. The majority poke fun at the fake-it-til-ya-make-it therapist existence; the overarching message seems to be “we’re all a mess, but we care and we’re doing our best.”
The founder of TherapyLoveMemes, an associate marriage and family therapist who prefers to remain anonymous “just in case a client happens to see a meme and thinks it’s about them,” said that their account provides a much-needed sense of connection in the therapist community.
“I’ve had so many messages [from followers] stating they were so grateful for my memes because they didn’t feel so alone while they’re cooped up in their private practice all day,” they said. “Some say they didn’t know other people went through the same things, and others just say it helps them get some laughs in on an otherwise stressful day.”
Herman agrees that the field of psychology is extremely isolating. “If we didn’t have these memes, we wouldn’t know how common these issues are, because we’re in a silent community,” she said.
Beyond providing comic relief and commiseration, the meme accounts can also serve as a resource for therapists who are newer to the practice. Psychotherapy Memes said that she’ll do things like host Q&A’s once a week on Instagram stories, so the account can provide a helpful community for newbies to the field.
Take Laura O’Marehen, a 25-year-old student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Master’s Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, who reposts her favorite memes on her Instagram account, Therapy Meme Queen. She said that she’s able to pick up techniques from more experienced clinicians through longer text-based posts, which share (anonymous) anecdotes from actual therapy sessions.
O’Marehen said that therapy memes that visually represent a client’s symptoms can be educational, too, almost like studying flashcards; they give her “insight into the variety of clients I might come in contact with and how they experience their mental health struggle.”
“A meme is worth 1,000 words, and sometimes they capture the essence of what a client may be feeling/experiencing better than they can verbalize it,” she explained. There’s even a meme for that.
While these therapy meme queens believe in the mental health benefits of memes, they’re old-school when it comes to integrating online speak into their IRL practice. “To me, therapy is very sacred, so I’m not going to be pulling out my phone to show clients memes during session,” said Psychotherapy Memes. “They show them to me, and that’s cool, I dig that, but that’s on them.”
Jess Sprengle, a 29-year-old licensed professional counselor who posts her favorite therapy memes on Instagram as The Cranky Therapist, said that while many of her clients, who are primarily teens and young adults, follow her, and will even reference memes they saw on her account during sessions, she typically “doesn’t make it a habit of talking to them about memes as a therapy tool or technique.”
Part of this reluctance has to do with setting boundaries with patients. “Memes are certainly something that I’m willing to laugh about with clients,” Sprengle said. “But I let them know that I can’t, and won’t, follow them back, and that any interaction I have with them through social media will be very limited.”
Herman purposefully uses an alias online to make it nearly impossible for clients to find her, an effort to preserve the focus of treatment on the patient. “People come in with their own idea of who you are, and in many ways you don’t want to take that—you want to keep the session about them, and not distract from that,” she said.
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