The American stigma on therapy is outdated and, frankly, silly. I know that I’m a therapist, and that I wouldn’t be if I didn’t believe in the process. I know that I come from one of those weird, but wonderful, families that never thought of therapy as something worth stigmatizing. There were plenty of other things that were taboo and had stigma, but therapy was, thankfully, not one of them.
I saw my first therapist when I was 19, and he failed me, unfortunately. I was cocky and angry, and he was not prepared. That happens sometimes. The next therapist I saw after I had a terrible and dangerous experience when I was 22. My best friend called me and said, “Nyssa, it’s either pain or vain, and if you choose vain, I will kill you.” She meant it kindly, but she was quite clear that she would be calling me regularly until I got therapy, and not for a friendly chat. I did get therapy. I still appreciate that phone call and remember it vividly.
My second therapist was wonderful. She got me. I was stressed and scared enough that I was less cocky and less angry. I accidentally emailed her an invitation to my bachelorette party, 6 years after she had last heard from me, as she had a very similar name to a friend of mine. She took it well, but corrected my mistake, and told me that she was glad I’d found happiness. I never deleted that email.
Since that therapist I have seen 5 others. Some were great, some were good enough for what I needed, and one was memorably bad. I didn’t last long with the bad one, but I was able to get out of that situation thanks to familial support when I discussed the feelings I was having about the response I got from that therapist.
I am not telling you this to frighten. I am not telling you this out of vanity or a desire to share my own story. I am telling you this, because I am not “crazy”. I have never been diagnosed with a major mental disorder. I admit to being slightly odd, but I’m also neurologically typical. I go see a therapist for a few months every couple of years. I consider these trips to be “tune ups”. I have clients who do the same thing with me as their therapist.
Sometimes our past stays back there and let’s us get on with our lives and sometimes it likes to yell at us. Sometimes our thoughts are kind and friendly, and sometimes they overwhelm us with negativity. Sometimes getting a little exercise is enough to edit our sadness, hopelessness, or negativity, and sometimes it isn’t. Therapy is meant to be a safe place to help people manage difficult emotions or transitions. Sometimes it is to help people who are ill or severely traumatized, but sometimes it is just having a place where you can be yourself, wholly, for about an hour. It is a way to be able to test out new ideas we’ve had about our humanity. It is a place to grow safely and gently.
It is not easy. I am not saying that therapy is all gentility and light, but it should be a space where a person is safe enough to figure out what isn’t working. People don’t necessarily go to therapy because they are sick. More often than not people go to therapy because they are uncomfortable, and they can’t figure out how to make it better on their own.
It makes me so sad when people won’t see a therapist because of the stigma. Part of the beauty of thereapy is that it’s confidential. More and more therapists are even doing therapy through the internet. So, you might not even have to leave your house to see a therapist. That being said, each time a person has a positive experience with therapy, I hope that they will shout it from the roof tops. I want for us as a society to respect the people who are brave enough to seek the help they need. I want for our society to appreciate that no one is an island and therefore should not be expected to go it alone.
In the book The Happiness Advantage Shawn Achor discusses the benefits of social support during stressful times. He shows how when a company is in a financial struggle team building is necessary to help them recover. In the midst of lay-offs, people who isolate, and then only become more and more discouraged, which in turn produces less successful work. Thus, the cycle continues. However, reaching out to others, improves moral. This in turn encourages people to do better work, in part because they like where they are and what they are doing; not because they are afraid, like the isolated people, but because they are motivated and part of a community.
This week, I encourage you to reevaluate your views on therapy. I hope that you would feel comfortable talking to a friend about the stigma on therapy and consider where it comes from and whether or not it’s from a valid place. I also encourage you to have some fun this week. Enjoy the people in your life, and smile, a lot.
Nyssa Hoerner is an LMFT-Associate, supervised by Bill Woodburn, LPC, LMFT, MEd, and is currently accepting new clients. Sign up for her newsletter by visiting her website at www.nyssahoernercounseling.com.
Photo credit: trees by Greg Westfall. https://www.flickr.com/photos/imagesbywestfall/