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Google Is Not Your Therapist

Google gives us the answers we crave. But are they more helpful, or harmful?

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In this article

There are many reasons to seek professionals rather than relying on Google.

We humans crave answers. Whether you look at it from an evolutionary or philosophical perspective, our hunt for answers has been the force behind so much of human progress and survival. We want answers to the little questions that pop up all day (and help us survive), and to the big ones that keep us up at night (and help us progress).

Enter Google, the ultimate conduit for our innate drive to forage for answers. It’s easy, it’s instant, it’s almost endless. What could go wrong? Quite a bit, actually, depending on what type of answer you are seeking. Case in point: when seeking answers about quitting addictions. There are so many important reasons to consult professional sources.

Here are just a few pitfalls of treating Google like your therapist:

1. It drains your time, and your motivation.

Your time and motivation are valuable and finite currencies, and trying to Google your way to recovery depletes both. The world of recovery is already an endless abyss of options and information, some good and some very, very bad. Put that abyss online, and it gets even more overwhelming. Trying to curate your own recovery program via sifting through search results is inefficient and worse, often ineffective. Save yourself time and headaches by investing your time and energy in addiction recovery guidance from clinicians, counselors, coaches, or programs, rather than using up all of your energy searching on your own.

2. It can lead you to over-rely on unsupported opinions.

Googling your addiction concerns can lead you to free-for-all style recovery forums. While crowd-sourced wisdom and peer-to-peer support absolutely have a useful place in recovery, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. They are particularly prone to anecdotal evidence and can sometimes provide misleading or downright false information. These range from the dangerous to the bewildering to the silly. And even when you avoid incorrect and misguided search results, they may still lack the nuance to be applicable to your situation. It’s important to check the wisdom of the crowd with the expertise of people who have been trained to provide it.

3. You may find what you want to find, rather than what will actually help.

Like any major lifestyle change, quitting an addiction requires taking an honest look at where you are and where you want to go. That means candidly confronting the pros and cons of your addiction. This is tough to do when you treat Google as your therapist, because you can, perhaps subconsciously, avoid truths that are inconvenient or uncomfortable. For example, you might type in “Why drinking/drug/other addictive behavior is actually good for you” or “how quitting makes you feel worse” and find pages of results that validate your doubts and demotivate you—even though they are incorrect or reflect only a tiny, tiny shred of the truth.

4. It can amplify unhelpful myths and stigmas.

Despite the efforts of data engineers, search engine algorithms often still favor popular results over the most applicable or objectively true ones. And in regards to substance use disorder, a lot of popular opinion is stigmatizing and damaging. It was only a few years ago that the office of the Surgeon General released its first addiction-related report declaring substance use disorder a mental health condition. Thus, it’s no surprise that the internet will also reflect the longstanding stigma and confusion surrounding the subject. This can strip away your motivation and send you in unhelpful directions when trying to quit.

5. Medical supervision is sometimes essential for quitting an addiction.

Google is no substitute for consulting with your doctor. Getting adequate medical care is important for all of us, whether we’re trying to kick an addiction or just living our lives as fragile humans. But if you are trying to recover from substance use disorder, the stakes are even higher—there are physical health consequences of quitting many types of addictions, and sometimes ones that are dangerous without appropriate healthcare (alcohol withdrawal syndrome, for example). And diagnosing yourself with a mental health condition via search results can lead to making poor decisions that don’t apply to your real-life situation.

This doesn’t mean you should never Google what you’re going through or use search engines to research. Sometimes just seeing the hundreds of search results can help you realize that you’re not alone! But it’s important to temper your Googling with the advice of trained professionals and the support of caring peers who can provide honest and personal guidance.

Cassandra McIntosh is a Workit Health contributor. She brings a unique mix of expertise drawn from her background in counseling psychology, socio-organizational psychology and consumer insights.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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