Addressing the Stigma Behind Therapy
The body is a complex machine. When it is functioning optimally, blood flows smoothly across multiple systems, the organs fulfill their assigned duties with ease, and cells rush to mend cuts and scrapes big and small quickly and seamlessly. If the body falls short of any of these functions, you see a doctor to get to the bottom of the issue. You likely don’t see seeking medical advice as a moral or personal failing, and nor should you. Your doctor has been specially trained to understand the rhythm of the human body, its many nuances. They may prescribe you medication or lifestyle changes. They may refer you to a specialist better equipped to handle your specific issue. Whatever the case, you trust them to help you achieve excellent health, and most reasonable people do not question that or the person seeking the treatment.
Within the body is another fascinating machine that is both highly revered and vastly misunderstood: the brain. Like the body as a whole, the brain can oversee some remarkable things when it is at its healthiest. Also like the rest of the body, the brain can fall ill. When it does, you may find it difficult to do the things you love to do. You may find that you tire more easily, experience drastic changes in appetite, or feel more irritable or despondent. Mental health treatment varies from person to person, although many people find that they benefit from therapy.
Unfortunately, therapy carries some stigma that can feel impossible to shake. A study from the Institute of Psychiatry at King College London concluded that this stigma is the leading reason that people skip out on the mental health treatment they deserve. Researchers pored over 144 studies, which spanned many countries and considered over 90,000 participants.
In this article, we want to explore this stigma more closely, tackle common concerns head-on, and help you understand what you can expect when you seek therapy.
If you are feeling ashamed about seeking therapy, rest assured: your feelings are valid. Unfortunately, many outdated perceptions about what therapy entails persist to this day. You may worry that the people close to you will think less of you, your stability, and your general worth as a person if they find out you are talking with a professional. After all, that’s for “crazy” people, right?
Keep in mind: therapists aren’t there to prove that you’re crazy or that you have anything inherently wrong with you at all. Rather, a good therapist will actively listen to you and help you identify emotions and concerns that you might not have ever considered. At times, confronting these strange emotions may feel overwhelming, but a good therapist can help you navigate them in a healthy manner, armed with the tools you need to succeed.
That brings us to another common worry people have about therapy: that they will have to surrender their sense of control the minute they take a seat on that comfy chair. Meanwhile, the therapist will dissect them piece by piece during an impersonal, cold analysis.
The good news is that your therapist won’t be looking to reduce you to some arbitrary label. Labels don’t help people overcome trauma, come to terms with their past, or learn to cope with troubling symptoms. Concrete actions do. Your therapist will hear your concerns and help you devise a plan to confront them––a plan that makes sense for you. In sum, a good therapist will encourage you to take control of your situation. The only difference? You won’t have to do it alone.
So if seeking therapy is nothing to be ashamed of, what can we do to help normalize it? We can start by emphasizing this truth:
It’s one thing when your friends and family assure you that seeking therapy is both practical and admirable. However, sometimes that voice in your head still nags: is this really a good use of my time? What if someone I don’t want to know finds out?
You can fight that voice with these numbers:
In other words: you’re not some strange outlier. Sometimes, the brain falters––just like stomachs get upset and backs ache and eyes strain. Seeking help for any of these conditions is normal. Why should your mental health be any different?
Perhaps you are still reluctant to make an appointment with a therapist. Maybe it’s not just what other people think or how you fear your therapist will perceive you that’s holding you back; maybe it’s how you feel about it, too.
Some people forgo therapy because they worry that seeking it will prove that they are weak. The language surrounding therapy may not do it many favors either––for example, “getting help.” While there is nothing at all wrong with getting help, you may feel that doing so implies that you are helpless. It may help to adjust perspectives in this case. While getting help may be part of your mission, you can also think of therapy as:
Talking with friends and family is a great way to connect and commiserate with those who know you best. That’s the key phrase here, however: your family and friends know you well. A good therapist is an impartial party, ready to listen to you as would a friend but with the diplomatic distance of a professional. With their guidance, you can more adeptly identify what’s holding you back or triggering symptoms. Think of it as having an outsider take a look at a painting that you have grown so accustomed to seeing that all of its unique characteristics fade into the backdrop. This “outsider” can point you toward those little details so that you can figure out what role they play in creating the whole.
It’s worth emphasizing again and again: seeking therapy does not make one weak. In fact, it takes quite a bit of strength to be willing to be vulnerable. A good therapist won’t intentionally put you in such a position, but at times, talking through your emotions and accepting them for what they are can make you feel that way. Just remember: to gain strength, sometimes you will ache. Your therapist is there to guide you as you soothe those aches and emerge stronger.
Even once you come to terms with visiting a therapist for the first time, you may want to know what to expect. That way, you can better prepare for what’s ahead. While therapists may vary in approach, you can usually expect your first appointment to look something like this:
1. The Paperwork. Ah, the most tedious part of any first-time appointment. When you arrive at the office, a receptionist will likely hand you a clipboard and pen and have you fill out some intake information. The information requested will likely be fairly basic: think your name and address, general medical history, and insurance information. You will want to make sure that you have your insurance card handy if your therapy is going through insurance.
2. The Hello. This could arguably be the hardest part of your appointment: meeting your therapist for the first time. Your therapist will introduce themselves, let you know what their credentials are, and how they can help you. They will also assure you that everything you tell them will remain confidential, provided that they do not think that you are an immediate threat to yourself or others.
From there, you can introduce yourself. Don’t feel as though you have to bare your soul right then and there. Start simple by talking about your hobbies, your family, your job—anything that makes for easy conversation. Above all else, let it feel natural.
3. The Heart of the Matter. Once you and your therapist have gotten to know each other, they may ask you some questions about what brings you to therapy. For example: do you have any symptoms? If so, what are they? How long have you had them, and do they interfere with everyday life? They may also ask you what you hope to gain from therapy and how they can help you achieve that.
Answer these questions honestly and completely. Remember that they aren’t trying to stump you or catch you off guard. They simply want to understand how they can best help you.
4. The Stage to Yourself. Your therapist will give you a chance to express any concerns and ask any questions you may have. Don’t be afraid to ask anything! Remember, this is your session. You deserve the chance to advocate for yourself and understand what you can expect from this person.
Ready to see what therapy has to offer you? Reach out to us at the Center for Modern Therapy today!