Ending the Stigma associated with getting therapy
You may have heard about “ending the mental health stigma” in the news and on social media lately; but do you really know what that means? Do you know that you can be a part of ending it? Let’s take a closer look at this topic. Also, for the sake of this blog, I am referring to outpatient counseling. *
What is mental health stigma?
Mental health stigma refers to the idea or belief that some people have that there is disgrace or shame attached to those who have diagnosable mental health conditions, or those who seek treatment for their mental health or emotional well-being, even if there is no diagnosis.
Let me first say that “Mental Health,” simply refers to the health of your mind. It amazes me that this “stigma” even exists because, in fact, your brain is the most complex organ in the entire body. Think about it! Your brain literally controls the function of every organ, chemical, process in your body. It controls how we move, feel, think; it controls our lungs, heart, and every word we speak. So why is it so far fetched that, given this organ is so vastly complex, there could be a glitch from time to time. Even when the mind isn’t malfunctioning, why wouldn’t you take it for a tune up? I mean, you take your car for a tune up—and that’s just a hunk of metal. Your brain and all of the intricate processes are designed to keep you alive so of course you should bring into the shop for a tune up!
This makes sense, right? So why do so many still feel so much shame and embarrassment around the idea of going in for a tune-up? Well, let’s look at a few of the reasons.
Where does stigma come from?
Let’s blame your parents! No, seriously but not seriously…part of the stigma comes from our family beliefs around getting therapy. When I was growing up, I don’t think I even heard the word “therapy” or “counseling.” I did go to school with a girl whose dad was a psychiatrist but, at the time, I had no idea what that was. I don’t think my parents would have been opposed to me seeing a therapist but it just wasn’t talked about. Therefore, I came to reason as a young adult that if I were in therapy, something must be “wrong” with me.
And in no way am I saying your parents are to blame, I’m just saying that generationally, it wasn’t talked about 30-40 years ago. It’s only been in recent years have I heard someone refer to their “therapist” during the normal course of a conversation.
Let’s also take into consideration that there weren’t that many therapists years ago. I think that is, in large part, because this profession is a woman-dominated profession. And most women only just started focusing on their careers several decades ago (I’m not stereotyping, just stating the facts. Men make excellent therapists!)
Culture can play a role
Culture also plays a large part in the stigma. There are many cultures that still believe that you are to keep family business within the family. Children in specific cultural groups are told to keep their pain private, to seek out help within the family, or within the church. In fact, some cultures don’t even believe in mental health diagnoses.
I think culturally (referring to America), we have come a long way. It is not uncommon to see your favorite “Bachelor” or “Real Housewife” be on camera with their therapist. Therapists are showing up on the big screen (or should I say your living room) now more than ever.
What can we do about breaking the stigma around treatment for mental health?
I received a call from a client one time who said it perfectly: “My wife and I would like to come in for a marriage tune up.” That’s exactly what outpatient counseling is. Now, for those who are struggling with more severe mental health diagnosis, they may need a higher level of care than your weekly counseling sessions. However, if we invest so much in what we wear, what we eat, the car we drive; why wouldn’t you invest so that your mind and emotions; and your relationships are functioning to the best of your ability?
You can do your part to end the stigma!
Starting today, you can make the fact that you have attended therapy, that your child has attended therapy (with their permission), that your marriage has attended therapy (with approval from your partner) a part of general conversation. I love when I talk to people and they say, “My therapist said…” It also helps people to feel “normal.” When we hear someone is in therapy, don’t stereotype them as “crazy” or make some derogatory comment that attaches the meaning of “illness/shame/disgrace” to it. If someone is behaving in a way that is not their best self, stop saying “They need therapy.” The best of us could benefit from therapy—you included.
For now, I challenge each of you who have been to therapy/counseling to go to our Facebook page at: mytherapyconnectionnj, find the post that says, “I want to end the mental health stigma,” and comment “I have been to therapy.” Feel free to share on your own page. Let’s all encourage each other to talk to someone. There is no shame in it!
*Outpatient counseling is for those who do not have acute mental health disorders, who are not at risk of suicide, and can be treated safely on a weekly basis.