My closest friends are currently dealing with depression, work stress, relationship issues, anxiety and the terminal illness of a family member. But they don’t ask for help. Not one of them is seeing a therapist for their emotional distress. They soldier on alone. Why? Because the stigma of mental illness still lingers like a bad smell in an elevator. So I thought it was time to blow some of the myths about therapy wide open in the hope that it will encourage more of you to try therapy.
My friend Mark Pacitti writes an excellent blog called Dancing with the Black Dog. The other day he posed a question to his 10,000 followers: “What’s stopping you from talking to a psychologist?” His own reason had been the stigma of mental illness: “I remember the first time I was referred to a psychologist for my anxiety and depression. It felt like from that moment on, I was being marked for life; that I’d forever live under a dark shadow, known as the guy with something wrong with him who went to see a shrink.” Thankfully he did get help and now he is helping eradicate the stigma of mental illness. Have a look at his most recent campaign “It’s OK to say if you don’t feel OK”.
So what are you own reasons for not getting help for anxiety, depression or stress? After all, I’m just an ordinary 45-year old woman, sitting on comfy chairs in my therapy room, waiting to help you. There are thousands of mental health professionals like me across Australia who would love to help you. So what’s stopping you from getting help?
Let’s look at some of the reasons people hold off on getting help:
1. I’m not crazy
You don’t have to be ‘crazy’ to see a therapist (I’ve covered this in another blog – have a look). My clients are normal people like you and me – they’re just doing something about their depression, anxiety, stress, relationship troubles. Some of them are just at a crossroads and they don’t know where to turn. Some of them are facing a life change. What’s common amongst my clients is that they are all taking a proactive stance on their emotional and psychological health. They are practicing self-care.
2. Fear of being ‘found out’ and judged ‘mentally ill’.
Do you tell your work colleagues every time you go to get a bikini wax? Do you tell your parents every time you go on a Tinder date? I sure as hell don’t! You don’t have to tell anyone you’re seeing a therapist if you don’t want to. How are they ever going to find out? Your therapist is ethically bound to maintain confidentiality. They will only break confidentiality if you pose a danger to yourself or to others. This means your friends and family do not need to know you’re in therapy unless you want them to. So potentially the only person judging you is you. (And by the way, fear of being judged is a great thing to work on with your therapist. What would it be like if you could just be yourself without worrying what everyone else thought?)
Most therapists take care to preserve your anonymity. I mostly work from home and I don’t have a sign on my gate. So to someone in my street it would just look like I’ve got a friend dropping by for coffee. I live in a small town on the outskirts of Brisbane and I often see my clients out and about as I walk by the sea or do my shopping at Woollies. I just smile at them as I would any passer-by. If they want to stop and chat that’s up to them, but if not I just keep walking. Your therapist is not going to ‘blow your cover’. They’re not going to come up to you in public and say “hey I was thinking about that total a’hole brother of yours… oh this is your brother, so nice to meet you.. I really must dash off now….”
3. Not wanting to ask for help.
Some people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. That they weren’t competent somehow. That it means that they were failing. But answer me this…. Would you try and cut your hair yourself? Would you extract your own tooth? No you’d go to a hairdresser or a dentist (preferably the teeth thing is done at the dentist – they’re not usually very good at hair). You see a professional for the maintenance of your body, so why not go to a professional for emotional and psychological maintenance?
4. I don’t want to rehash the past…
A lot of people think that therapy is just about talking about the past. And yes, some of it is. But it’s also about the present. My favorite psychology author (yes I do have one, I’m a total nerd), the amazing Psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom, talks about working with the “here and now”. I work with what’s going on in client’s life right now: their interpersonal problems including their therapeutic relationship with me, because that is a reflection of their relationships outside the microcosm of the therapy room. You heal in therapy because of the therapeutic bond that you form with your therapist. You try out behaviours with your therapist and get it reflected back to you. You get to see what works and what doesn’t, how other people might perceive you. All in a safe, non-judgemental space. And this brings me onto my last point…
5. I tried it once but I didn’t like the therapist
There are so many different kinds of mental health professionals out there. Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers, support workers. You have to find the person that’s right for you. I say ‘person’ because you need to find the human that you click with, because it’s the therapeutic relationship that’s going to help you heal. We’re all human – you don’t like everyone at work or at school, so don’t expect to like every single therapist you encounter. If you don’t like the therapist, say thank you and move on. Next! Don’t give up until you find your person.
I go to see my personal therapist every fortnight. As a therapist myself it is extremely important that I’ve cleared out all my sh*t so that I don’t impose it on any of my clients. I LOVE going to see my therapist – sometimes it’s the highlight of my fortnight. She’s not my friend, she’s my therapist. She empathises when I bitch and whinge about my life. She patiently listens while I excitedly rattle off all the cool things that have happened. She laughs at the crazy stuff that happens. She points out my blind spots. She helps me work through difficult emotions like sadness, anger and jealousy. She helps me heal myself. And I value every single hour I spend in her therapy room.
So do yourself a favour, an act of self-care, pick up that phone and ask for help. That person may turn out to be one of the most valuable people in your life.
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