Being in graduate school for counseling and seeing clients as a Clinical Intern, it is not uncommon for me to feel and see the stigma that still sadly exists around mental health and therapy. The stigma is visible to me almost every time I am asked the question, “what do you do for a living?” I gladly reply, “I’m in school for counseling and seeing clients at a private practice.” He or she often uncomfortably responds, “oh wow…interesting, that must be so hard.” Following this comment I gladly reply, “No, I love the work that I do, my clients are just like you and I, navigating their way through the complexities that life brings and I have the pleasure of helping them on their journey.” In this response, there is change.
For decades the stigma around mental health has persisted. It is a subject that people often feel uncomfortable discussing, have a lack of awareness about, and an overall ignorance to — and thus it becomes a subject they do not discuss at all. Silencing perpetuates the stigma. In talking openly about mental health and therapy, the message becomes clear, therapy can be a positive and pro-active piece of everyday health care.
Many people who go to therapy at some point in their lives don’t suffer from severe mental illness, but rather are seeking therapy for common issues that most human beings face at some point during their lifetime, such as, career issues, grief, life transitions, stress, anxiety, and relationship conflict. And for those who do seek therapy for severe mental illness, they are not dangerous, crazy, psychotic, or any other labels society has chosen for them. They suffer from diseases, much like those who suffer from physical diseases such as cancer, chronic illness and diabetes.
One of the most powerful lessons I have learned from my own life as well as from my clients is the power of sharing your story. There is profound healing in sharing our stories and talking openly about our personal struggles as human beings. Rather than discriminating, labeling, and stereotyping, we need to unite and support each other in these mutual struggles. It is time for us to stand up against the stigma.
Listed below are ways in which we can unite in order to stop the stigma against mental health and therapy:
- Educate yourself: There are many misconceptions that exist about therapy and it is our job to educate ourselves on those misconceptions. Some of these commonly held misconceptions are: therapy is only for those with mental illnesses, there’s a set time frame for being in therapy, people in therapy are on medication, therapy is not affordable, therapists tell people what to do, and only weak people need therapy.
- Talk openly about mental health and therapy: Talking openly about mental health and therapy is vital to working towards ending the stigma. When we talk openly about it, we are combating the lack of awareness and ignorance that exists around mental health. Talking openly about it will help to normalize therapy.
- Ask questions: If you have a friend or family member in therapy, ask them about it. Ask them how the experience has been for them. Asking questions can show not only interest and care in their experiences but also support. In asking questions, you are allowing them to feel opened about their own experiences in therapy, thus normalizing the process.
- Share your story: If you are in therapy or have been in therapy before it can be powerful to share your story. By sharing your own story, it can help challenge people’s misperceptions about therapy and also demonstrate to others that it can be a comfortable and healthy topic to discuss.
By following these steps and continuing to work towards stopping the stigma against mental health and therapy, my hope is that society is able to shift to discussing mental health as comfortably and as easily as they would discuss their physical health. After all, mental health is just as important as physical health.