“There’s a stigma on the word therapy. People relate it to big problems. That’s something we have to change. Going to therapy can be very healthy. It can change the way you see things and treat others.”
–Juan Pablo Galavis
“I’m in therapy to learn how to deal with people who should be in therapy.”
When I tell people what I do, I usually hear things like, “You must see a lot of crazy people,” or “Wow, your job must be so stressful seeing all those disturbed people.” Whenever this happens, I can feel myself getting a little protective over my clients; but usually, I jokingly—or not so jokingly—reply, “Actually, crazy people don’t go to therapy. It’s the people trying to deal with the crazy people who go to therapy.” You see, impressions of therapy like these have never been my experience as a therapist. I never think of my job as having to “deal with crazy people” or listen to unbearable problems that keep me up at night. The kind of people who tend to initiate therapy are willing to change and are motivated to make a difference in their lives, relationships, and overall wellbeing. I find that to be admirable and courageous—something only sane people would do.
It tends to be the case that the person who feels the most uncomfortable in a relationship or situation is the one who seeks help first—not the “crazy” person. This person is usually the family leader, plays a parental role, or has been overly involved in trying to help the people around him/her. Other therapists who work in settings like psychiatric units, non-for-profit agencies, or social work settings might hold a different perspective than mine; but as someone who works with voluntary clients, I can tell you that no one I’ve encountered has been crazy; in fact, I wouldn’t been inclined to diagnose any of them with a mental illness according to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Here’s the truth about people who seek therapy:
1. They aren’t mentally unstable.
Therapy is a resource for people to explore themselves, their relationships, and their circumstances. It simply allows people to live better, happier, and healthier lives—maybe even overcome some hardships. By no means is therapy something people use to “fix” themselves when there’s something “wrong” with them. There’s nothing wrong with people who go to therapy. They simply need to get unstuck and know they could use an extra hand.
2. They know it’s important to ask for help.
Contrary to the belief that says reaching out for help means you’re fragile, asking for help is actually a sign of strength. When you realize you’re going through a tough time and going at it alone isn’t working, it takes a lot of awareness and strength to admit you need more support. Once you start therapy, the hard work begins. Making changes isn’t easy, even when you have a good support team. That’s why so many people don’t seek help in the first place. People who voluntarily go to therapy make their mental health a priority; they’re motivated to reach their personal wellness and relationship goals.
3. They volunteer to see a therapist.
There’s a belief out there that some people are forced by their partners, family members, or other loved ones to go to therapy. However, most of the time people go to therapy on their own accord. They actually want help and are willing to seek it out. People who are forced to go to therapy may be mandated by the courts to receive treatment or involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. That’s not the case for a traditional therapy setting, which is why I refer to the people who come see me as clients, not patients.
4. They don’t always get labeled with a mental illness.
Therapy isn’t only for people diagnosed with mental illnesses; it’s typically for people who want to be heard without judgment by a person who isn’t in their personal circle—someone who’s trained to assist them in making changes to live a more satisfying life, shifting their perspective of the problems they’re facing, and giving them the tools to apply in their growth process. I believe we all want this, but some people are willing to take the next step and ask for help. It’s true that therapists can only bill insurance companies once they diagnose someone, but not all therapists need to work with health insurance. Truly helpful therapists are careful with the labels they assign to clients through the diagnoses they give them, and they’re transparent with their clients about this.
5. They aren’t always going through an overwhelming or tragic event.
Clients start therapy for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes they’ve gone through a major, life-altering event—like a death in the family or a divorce—and other times they seek out therapy for personal growth. Clients may start therapy for help with approaching a new chapter in their lives, finding direction and purpose, changing bad habits, or dealing with a relationship issue or breakup. An overwhelmingly tragic event doesn’t have to occur for people to want a happier life.
6. They understand that their therapist isn’t going to manipulate them.
Some people still believe that therapists can read and control their minds. Most people have the idea that all we do is analyze our clients, tell them what’s wrong with them, and preach to them about how to live their lives. People who go to therapy understand that this is not the case. Therapists are intended to be guides and confidantes who aim to offer their clients new perspectives and tools to help them practice new ways of dealing with life. They aren’t there to manipulate anyone.
Altering the Stigma of Therapy
I believe therapy is a lifestyle choice. It’s something that can help people stay on a meaningful and fulfilling track in their lives. It helps people deal with their emotions, make thoughtful decisions, and ultimately have a fresh perspective on their personal issues. If the stigma of therapy continues, it can stop a lot of people from seeking help that could be very useful to them. The field of psychology has begun to adopt a life coaching perspective, which allows people to see therapy as a form of personal development rather than as a process of going to someone to shrink your head.
Another stigma of therapy is that the therapist doesn’t care and only listens for the money. I often get asked the question, “Do therapists really care?” and always, at the expense of sounding super cheesy, I say, “The professional advice of a therapist costs money, but the love is free.” The truth is, usually we care too much. We get lost in our clients’ stories and occasionally get overwhelmed. However, I’ve never once met a fellow therapist who didn’t care about their clients or just did it for the money. If that were the case, we would have picked a different career.
Break the stigma! If you or someone you know could benefit from therapy check out the wonderful site Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com), which allows you to browse through a directory of therapists in your area. If you have more questions about finding the right therapist for you, don’t hesitate to send me a message on my website. I’ll be more than happy to assist you.
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier