Despite the advancement of women’s mental health awareness and access to resources across demographics, there continues to be a cultural and social stigma around counseling and therapy as a whole. In a time where more and more women are coming forward with their experiences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, sharing their stories of postpartum depression, opening up and allowing their hardships to come to the surface on social media platforms or within their circles of trust, there is still so much change needed around acceptance and understanding.
As the world continues to shift, it’s important to address the stigma that surrounds mental health resources while normalizing and prioritizing the act of taking care of one’s self. Regardless of upbringing, country or culture, the ideas behind seeking help, seem to carry with them a set of lies filled with judgment and shame that have been whispered into the ears of generations.
Lie #1 – Therapy Is a Dirty Word
Two women run into one another at a local coffee house. The first says she just came from the dentist while the second looks around, hushes her voice and whispers she came from therapy. As you can tell, that story is actually dramatized – the second woman most likely wouldn’t have shared she’d been at therapy at all. Choosing to take care of your physical health and mental health should be on level playing fields, and yet, we are still fighting to erase the stigma around therapy. Going to a dentist to make sure your teeth and gums are cared for has no greater value when compared to going to a therapist to make sure your mind is clear and healthy. Finding a counselor that feels right, attending the sessions, putting the work in – all of it is something to be proud of as an advocate for your own health.
Lie #2 – Talking With a Stranger Won’t Do Anything
Many of us are blessed to have great relationships in our life. Seeking help from a professional outside of friends and family has no bearing on a person’s relationships. Those special people in your life are incredible and may be great listeners, but at the end of the day, they offer a different type of support than a therapist can. Sahaj Kohli, Senior Editor of the Huffington Postexplains it like this: “Friendships are two-way streets, which can cause a very biased view of experiences and circumstances; therapy is a one-sided relationship with a professional who has the skills and expertise to guide and help you through your struggles and needs.” So much can be accomplished and understood when you have that clarity and support from someone outside of your personal life.
Lie #3 – You’re Wasting Your Money on a Shrink
Warren Buffet once said, “The best investment you can make is in yourself,” and he wasn’t wrong. Therapy, along with any other form of self-care or wellness effort is never a waste of money – it’s an investment. Making the decision to invest time and/or money for personal development can come in many different forms. Some people may invest in a piano teacher or a personal trainer to help them meet their goals and improve themselves. Finding a therapist that truly addresses the challenges you are having while making you feel heard and offering resources to help you grow is a priceless investment.
Lie #4 – Only Individuals Who Have Experienced Severe Trauma Need Counseling
There are still so many misconceptions about the reasons why someone would seek a therapist, one of which is that the patient must have experienced severe trauma. This can also be popularized by pop culture in things like movie and television roles. The reality is that seeing a counselor can benefit a variety of different kinds of people with a plethora of experiences. While trauma can be a factor for women to seek out mental health services, people often seek help when struggling with anxiety, divorce, depression, health challenges, mental illness, stress from work, family or relationship issues, and many other reasons. The important thing to remember here is that everyone is facing a battle of their own and therapy may be one way to help them face it.
Lie #5 – Asking for Help Shows Weakness
It’s OK to ask for help. In fact, it’s more than OK. Just look at the human race and you’ll know that we simply weren’t meant to go through life alone. There have been numerous studies showing the hard truth that women, far more than men, have a difficult time asking for help, even when needed. Self-care is not a selfish act, but a truly generous one. When you put yourself first and ensure you receive the help you need to show up your most powerfully, that’s the most generous thing you can do for your loved ones. It’s not until this is understood and accepted more commonly that the stigma filled walls that still surround these ideas can be lowered.
If you or someone you know is looking for mental health resources or wants to learn more about breaking the stigma around mental health, please check out the National Alliance of Mental Illness at nami.org.