Everyday I talk with people about counseling and therapy- Whether while working, or simply at a group gathering where everyone asks each other about their professions. The response is commonly the same. The common reason given for avoiding seeking help in therapy is the belief that going means a person is unable or incapable of solving their own problems, they are weak, or they simply are “crazy.” On top of these misconceptions, people are afraid often about how they would feel if other saw them or knew they were going to therapy. Flawed. Unlovable. Worthless.
Reality check: the majority of people that seek help through therapy and regularly go are everyday, ordinary people with everyday, ordinary problems. Some of the most common reasons I see people are because they are adjusting to big life changes, improving their relationships, processing anger, experiencing grieving, working on self-esteem, and addressing the beliefs about life, people and themselves that are at the core of who they are. Of course there are a host of other issues that people go to therapy for, which are likewise completely normal. At any given moment in the U.S., 25% of our adult population has a diagnosable mental health condition. Getting help with emotional and mental health is more common than we know.
While the belief that people are flawed continues to permeate views, I believe and have seen that people seeking help for common and normal issues is actually an indication of emotional maturity. It indicates that an individual can assess and accept that he or she needs help from another and is willing to do what it takes and is necessary to take care of him or herself.
So where in the world does this myth come from?
Weakness comes at a cost. Many generations of Americans have experienced the painful consequences of showcasing any sign of weakness. Among the list of brutal consequences includes being disliked, bullied, teased, ostracized, and excluded. And what do people do when they experience these negative consequences? People spend their lives hiding their pain and suffering. They wouldn’t dare put it on display for fear of being rejected and hurt. Instead of showing up in truth about how we’re doing, we respond with “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” and then proceed with life.
The kicker is that perceived sense of weakness is not in fact weakness at all. It is simply value judgments made by other people who are afraid. If someone is afraid to own the difficulty and pain in their own lives, they can’t stand it when seen projected on the life of another person. And still, the fear of being discovered seeking help from an expert or seen in the waiting room is far to great.
There is importance and power to being witnessed by another human being. They are able to hold compassion for you when it is difficult to hold ourselves. Some upbringing may have provided messaging ensuring children it was in fact okay to cry and feel. But this holding space is not the experience of many. For those feeling high amounts of vulnerability and judgment of others, the safety and confidentiality provided by a therapist can be like salvue to a wound. It also may be the reason they’re finally able to step out of their comfort zone and go to therapy. Therapy is and should be a place of safety, where all thoughts and feelings are welcome.
While Dr. Phil and other shows can be highly entertaining for viewers, they portray therapists as highly confrontational and demeaning. Of course producers are working towards shock and awe. But the effects are countless viewers perceiving therapy in a negative light. Instead of media outlets showcasing the positive functions of therapy, they feed the fire of previous views mentioned above. The result is people being frightened away.
If you’re functioning from media’s script of mental health and it is deterring you from going, let me encourage you that it is not like the sitcoms. Don’t be afraid and seek help if you are needing it. At Optimum Joy we pride ourselves in partnering with people, relying on compassion and our skills as counselors to help people move through and past pain. Don’t hesitate to call us if you’re desiring safety and connection that produces growth.