When I talk to friends and acquaintances about therapy, I often hear these comments. Do any of them sound familiar?
- “I can talk to my friends about my problems.”
- “Why would I talk to some stranger about my problems?!”
- “I’m not crazy.”
- “Therapy is cool for others, but not for me.”
- “The therapist is going to ‘psychoanalyze’ me.” (here, ‘psychoanalyze’ means to discover something I’m ashamed of)
- “The therapist is going to think I’m crazy.”
- “I am not in crisis.”
- “I don’t need therapy… It’s my husband/wife/boss/co-worker/fill-in-blank who needs to change!”
- “I’m not paying someone to listen to my problems!”
- “I can deal with my issues on my own.”
With each of these statements, I want to issue some food for thought, but before I do, I do want to acknowledge that therapy is still very stigmatized in our culture of independence, autonomy, and self-direction. Especially among some African-American and immigrant populations, the thought of talking to a therapist is akin to standing in front of a rifle brigade weaponless and naked. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but hooray for creative license.
“I can talk to my friends about my problems.”
Why yes, you can. And if you’re lucky, your friends will be very tolerant, empathic, and insightful. But for many people, talking to friends can be a frustrating experience. Some friends may relate everything back to themselves; some may tell you to get over it; some may retreat because they don’t want to or don’t know how to deal with your issue. At the very least, most friends will expect some reciprocity when they have an issue. A therapist is someone who is trained and skilled to listen, and is a person that has agreed to focus together on your concerns.
“Why would I talk to some stranger about my problems?!”
Yes, I hear this one a lot. This one often comes from people from cultures where problems are either dealt with exclusively in the family, or not at all. From a historical and societal perspective, telling a stranger one’s business is opening up oneself to attack or vulnerability, so it makes sense you wouldn’t want to talk to someone you don’t know. For that reason, there are strict confidentiality laws protecting clients. For example if I get a phone call from someone who asks about a client of mine, I cannot acknowledge that I even know who that person is, let alone discuss any of their personal information. But if you’re wondering what the benefits are of talking to someone you initially don’t know, see the above section about friends.
“I’m not crazy.”
Of course you’re not. This idea that only the severely mentally ill get therapy is a stereotype founded in the past. In the 19th century, the mental hospitals (dubbed lunatic asylums!) consisted of severely mentally ill patients that were often involuntarily committed and ill-served. The many abuses that took place in these institutions were finally exposed in the 1940s. Therapy is not the same thing as institutionalization, although psychiatric hospitals include psychotherapy in their treatment plans. Everyone has their problems, patterns, and concerns and if they become an issue that effect your quality of life, then therapy is a good option. As an aside, having a severe mental illness is just that – having an illness. Equating illness with insanity is antiquated, and for lack of a better word, ill-informed.
“Therapy is cool for others, but not for me.”
This usually comes from those who intellectually understand the benefits of therapy, but have a block against actually going themselves. Reasons could include a resistance to having to feel emotions; a strong self-identification of being “together;” or feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff they’ve buried to survive up until now not wanting to open that can of worms, so to speak. Yes, therapy can be scary initially, but over time allows for better relationships to others and to oneself.
“The therapist is going to ‘psychoanalyze’ me.” (here, ‘psychoanalyze’ means discovering something shameful)
I love this one for many reasons. The first is that therapists are not magicians, they do not know black magic, nor are they psychic or have x-ray vision. We know as much or as little as you share with us. We may see patterns or behaviors that are blind spots to you, and with which we can help, but we can’t read your minds. The second reason I love this one is because it comes from the premise that you have to conceal the things that you’re ashamed of in therapy. Therapy is a place where you get to explore your so-called flaws without judgment. You get to talk about episodes in the present or in the past that you think are shameful, from the small details to the major life issues and consequences.
“The therapist is going to think I’m crazy.”
This is usually the foundation for many of the other reasons people don’t go to therapy. We’re afraid of judgment – by family, friends, strangers, and even our therapist. We’re often used to getting negative feedback (see “I can talk to my friends” above) and therefore expect these same negative responses to come from our therapist.
“I am not in crisis.”
This one dovetails into the “I’m not crazy” reasoning above, where therapy is only justified if it’s a “necessity.” It’s okay to be in therapy as long as there’s a crisis but as soon as the crisis is over, therapy is seemingly hard to justify. If therapy continues to be useful, helpful, insightful, and/or comforting, then it’s worthwhile.
“I don’t need therapy… It’s my husband/wife/boss/co-worker/fill-in-blank who needs to change!”
It may be true that any or all of those people in your life need to change, but there are a lot of reasons that they’re responding to you in a certain way, and there are a lot of reasons why you’re still in relationship with them, even if it is sub-conscious. Every interaction is co-created, so it’s important to look at your side of the coin. And since that other person or those other people aren’t in the therapy room, it’s worthwhile to learn about yourself in the meantime!
“I’m not paying someone to listen to my problems!”
Money is a huge issue in therapy, putting to question issues of care in the therapeutic relationship. Let me provide a reframe: You are paying the therapist for their time, and for their expertise and training. Here’s a little secret – the therapist cares about all of his or her clients. If I didn’t care about each and every one of my clients, I couldn’t do the work. If people are willing enough to be vulnerable in the therapy room, my natural response is to care.
“I can deal with my issues on my own.”
Stereotypically this is a male response. Yes, you can deal with your issues on your own, and the question becomes, how is that working for you? Are you having the same issues over and over? Or are you skilled at resolving your stuff on your own? What would it mean to have someone there to share the burden with you? It might feel really different; in fact, I would imagine it would.
I come from a place where I think everyone should go to therapy at least once in their lifetime, if only for the curiosity and experiential aspect of it. I know not everyone shares my belief in that regard. However, if there are problematic patterns, situational issues, or past traumatic events in your life that are holding you back, I would suggest seeking out help. There are many resources available to you. If you’re in the military, counseling is vitally important and I believe, it’s free. In California there is Medi-Cal and many county and city subsidized programs, especially for children, through non-profit organizations. There is private individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and couples counseling. Many insurance plans have in-network therapists. Many therapists also work on a sliding scale, so if you’re at all interested or curious, check it out. I dare you.