3. Stigma: I was recently reminded of the impact of the negative stigma mental health can often have. To me, this is the most frustrating barriers to therapy and also one of the most difficult to change. Of the barriers I listed, stigma is more of a systemic barrier rather than an individual one. While this is changing, people often have negative images of who goes to therapy and what therapy is like. I have often discussed this with people and heard statements like, “only crazy people go to therapy,” “I’m not THAT bad off,” or “I don’t want to just talk about my feelings for an hour.” I am of the belief that everyone could benefit from therapy. I have never met a perfect person or perfectly content person. We all could use more support and a better understanding of ourselves. However, the world can often reinforce negative stereotypes through the movies, the media, and most often they way people talk about mental health.
While not a perfect analogy (I don’t like to insinuate that seeking therapy indicates an illness), I think of needing therapy to having diabetes. Medical support would not be stigmatized but expected and encouraged. Changes in diet, insulin injections, doctor’s advice, etc. would be considered positive interventions to helping your body regulate its insulin levels to allow you to live the life you want to live. Therapy is the same way! It allows you to gain insight, understanding, and acceptance of yourself and the psychological stressors or issues you are experiencing to help you live a full life.
One of my passions is destigmatizing therapy, whether through outreach programs to educate the public about the importance of prioritizing mental health, through my approach with my clients, through my website, through my blog, etc., or even my discussions of mental health with others in general conversation. However, I understand that the world is not fully there yet. While I am fortunate to live in a city that is fairly psychologically minded, I still think that the general public trend is moving in that direction as well.
For those of you who are held back from seeking therapy because of the negative stigma, I do have some advice for you. Changing the stigma in society first starts with changing it within yourself. Nothing is “wrong” or “crazy” about you for wanting or needing a little extra support. In fact, it is a very brave and smart thing to make that initial appointment! Also, you don’t have to announce to the world that you have started counseling or wear some sort of scarlet ‘T’ on your shirt. It can be a very personal and private decision. Finally, all need to watch our words and conversations about how we talk about therapy and mental health in general. Change in the cultural stigma with therapy begins with the individuals within the culture itself.
4. Pride: I have also heard people say that they can “fix themselves” or that they are “weak” if they need emotional support, or any support for that matter. I go back to the insulin analogy. Would you tell you pancreas to “get it together”? Would you believe you are “weak” if you couldn’t will your insulin levels back to normal? NO! Going to therapy is no different! However, people often view asking for help as damaging to their pride. America’s individualistic society and focus on self-made dreams have positive attributes about them but can often cause us to be isolated and too independent. There is value, and even beauty, in interdependence as well. It is all about balance! The term, “it takes a village” extends beyond child-rearing and into our adult life as well. We all need support and relationships with others and often this includes from a therapist. To me, there is a lot of strength and courage into reach out for support. You can’t do everything perfectly all the time, and the sooner you realize that and seek out help, the more content and fulfilled you will be!
5. Hopelessness: Some people have the mindset of “nothing will ever work, so why try.” To them, I say why not? If you have nothing to loose and a lot to gain, then w
hy not give therapy a try. However, I realize that this is much easier said than done. In fact, I have heard laundry lists of why not to change. There is a concept in psychology called the self-verification theory, which posits that people will seek out information and experiences that confirm their self-concept, no matter how negative, and that information that contradicts it is uncomfortable and avoided. For example, if you believe that you are worthless or not a good person, you will actually seek out, albeit often unconsciously, information that confirms those thoughts and discount information that contradicts them. For example, you might ignore a compliment from someone or your good performance on a presentation and chalk it up to a fluke or describe all the reasons the compliment doesn’t really count. You might also remember all the criticism you received or attribute a mistake to who you are as a person. The idea of changing how you view yourself can be scary. What if you have hope and try but “fail”? Feeling hopeless can seem more comfortable to the unknown of change. However, is this really the life you want to live? I have not met a person yet who is beyond hope and have told my clients that the moment I believe they are hopeless I will let them know. So far I haven’t had to tell anyoneJ You just need to find that small spark of hope and let it lead you to therapy. Once you start to make the changes, with the support of a therapist, I believe that you will see you are capable and that moving towards a more positive you isn’t as scary as it might seem now!