It might not work.
This may be true, but of course it is never that simple! Many people never engage in therapy because it feels too intangible; there are no guaranteed results, so it’s important to consider expectations. If any licensed mental health provider promises results, beware! There are many factors impacting therapeutic outcomes, and I encourage up front discussion of expectations with any potential therapist.
To fully engage in life means that we develop courage by stepping into the unknown. This doesn’t mean we do so blindly, we need to be deliberate and do our homework to make sure we are making informed decisions. Informed does not equate to guaranteed. Life doesn't come with a warranty.
Assessing the potential risk
As we explore and confront places of pain, things may get worse before they get better; we are intentionally facing problems rather than avoiding them. The notion of exploring the challenges in our life becomes less daunting when we can step in with someone who is capable, compassionate, and objective.
Assessing the potential benefit
Yes, it is important to recognize the risk of any activity we choose to engage in, but the potential payoff is what fuels our motivation and should be considered equally. If we are open and willing to employ new strategies with someone trained in this work, the results can be life changing.
I can’t change who I am.
A good mental health clinician doesn’t want to change who you are either! In fact, much of the process value lies in creating a deeper understanding of who we really are, not just who we think we are. It’s about developing a greater acceptance and compassion for our own unique personality; exploring growth opportunities from a more empowered position.
Doing vs. Being
The therapeutic approach is ultimately designed to highlight the difference between identity and behavior. Too often we tie our sense of self to outward action, and there is a huge difference between who we are what we do.
Some of our less than helpful behaviors mute our personality and take us further away from our true self. Successfully engaging in therapy means that we explore and challenge the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that get in the way of being the person we were created to be.
The path to living a life of authenticity and freedom isn’t easy, but it is worth it. It requires honest observation and a desire to understand and work on what can be changed, and create a healing space for what cannot.
Therapy is for people who…
The second reason we don't go to therapy, no one want's to be described as the person who needs therapy. Let’s explore how some people might finish the sentence "Therapy is for people who..." Which of the following descriptions do you relate to?
"Therapy is for people who can’t hack it on their own."
They use words like; weak or crazy and then they may or may not claim to be kidding. First to make fun of therapy either overtly or covertly. Feeds the fears and builds the negative perception with jokes and criticism.
The Quiet Bystander
"Therapy is for people who need some kind of help?"
Their comments feel more like questions because emotional care is mysterious and maybe scary. Constitutes those in the crowd who feel uncomfortable with the topic; they avoid discussions around mental health. They allow uncertainty to quell their voice, so they say very little for or against. Content remaining uninformed and without a solid opinion.
The Inconsistent Supporter
"Therapy is for everyone, except me."
Full on supporter for the people who really need “that kind of help”. Describes the type of person who engages in therapy with adjectives that exclude themselves. Outwardly supportive, but inwardly carries unspoken judgement or misinformation that makes it fine for others, but it isn’t for them.
The Hesitant Participant
"Therapy is for people who need some outside perspective and help, but no one better find out that I go to a therapist!"
Bravely engages outside help, may or may not work hard in therapy, but they do not want others to know they go to therapy.* (see important note below)
"Therapy is for people who recognize that life is full of ups and downs and it's ok to engage outside support."
The person who positively encourages and defends mental health care. They are willing to talk about emotional health, and they prioritize it for themselves.
We need advocates, so how do we recruit and create more of them? I will be a broken record throughout this blog series… Start a conversation. Talk to other advocates and be curious. How do we change any kind of preconceived impression about therapy and mental health care? Inform and equip yourself. Feeding the larger story is easy, but confronting ignorance takes courage.
So who are the real people who engage in therapy?
If I were to describe the people I have worked with in therapy, they don’t fit any stereotypical characterization; there is no "type". Of course I work with people who are skeptical, some choose not to engage, and some people just are not ready to put forth the effort. The majority of my clients are willing to work hard despite the apprehension of stepping into unknown or uncharted territory. They are courageous and willing to be introspective. I have the privilege of sitting with clients who boldly face some incredibly painful circumstances and show remarkable resilience.
I have nothing but the most profound respect for anyone who is willing to confront a challenge and create something different for themselves and their relationships. Therapy is for people who want to grow and learn and break patterns of unhelpful behaviors, and they are willing to do the work to make it happen.
*When it comes to participation in therapy, confidentiality in the process is a critical component. As a therapist I am bound by strict regulations to preserve client’s privacy and confidentiality. There are MANY factors to consider about confidentiality outside the scope of this article, so this is NOT to advocate any disclosure about participation in personal therapy. We can be full advocates of mental health care without sharing anything about our personal experience in therapy if we so choose. Examination of the rationale behind whatever choice we make is something that each individual must clarify for themselves, responsibly, and safely.
Intellectually we understand mental health care is important and most people profess a desire to lessen the stigma. I have to believe a time will come when our emotional health is viewed in the same light as physical health. Most of us are able to recognize the benefits of preventive health care check-ups, exercise and good nutrition. We might agree in theory that mental health care is important, yet it seems as though it only gets widespread attention when we find ourselves scrambling in response to a loss or tragic event. The spotlight shines brightly on on mental health awareness when we use hindsight to second guess and pass judgement on missed opportunities, and signs we failed to see and act on.
Serious mental illness is not the focus of this piece. However we cannot respond effectively to the larger issue of mental illness if we do not step back and first consider preventive mental health care. Proactively addressing an issue will typically result in greater success than a reactive reply to a crisis. We have to start by confronting the stereotypes attached to therapy and people who go to therapy. Those who have not done focused self work with a therapist cannot be expected to fully understand what it offers. In my experience, those who initiate therapy do so to take responsibility and control of their own well being in a way that many do not.
Change the Mindset
We must stop casting aspersions on therapy. Are you an advocate or an antagonist? Stand up and start the conversation. Today. Now. If we want to normalize and endorse the importance of emotional health we must take responsibility for our role in changing the mindset. We must equip ourselves with information and understanding. We need to bravely step into dialogue, demystify the process, and dispel the misconceptions about mental health care and therapy. If we want to change the perception, we can’t be afraid to talk about it.
Start a Conversation
In the coming weeks, my hope is to use this blog to initiate conversation about why we don’t go to therapy. Please feel free to share your comments and start talking with friends and family members. We can’t make a difference if we perpetuate the silence. I'll kick things off with a very common concern I hear about therapy, the stigma itself.
What will people think if they know I’m in therapy?
On that same note, I also hear, "people will think I’m weak if I can’t fix my problems on my own". It was Albert Einstein who said “We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. It's amazing how we can make universal logic situational!
How many areas of our life are we considered weak if we seek to expand our understanding and knowledge base? How about if we need expertise? Are we ashamed to admit we hire accountants to help us with our taxes, personal trainers for fitness, doctors, lawyers, hair stylists, tutors, mechanics, computer techs? We can justify contracting virtually any other service provider without shame. For some reason, personal issues fall into a unique category of exception, as if we shouldn’t need to engage someone to help us with emotional challenges. How do we overtly or covertly feed into this way of thinking?
If we are stuck and not getting much traction in dealing with an emotional or relational problem, it should show strength of character to seek the support of someone trained in that area to help us. It should not induce shame or secrecy. We encourage others to ask for help, but do we take our own advice? Are you an advocate or a silent participant? If you want to be part of the solution but don't know what you can do, just start a conversation, you never know who you may be helping!
Check back in the days to follow for additional discussion points about why we don’t engage; along with some suggestions and alternate perspectives to consider. Please forward to friends, family, and co-workers to continue the conversation. We CAN make a difference together.
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