"People in therapy are often in therapy to deal with the people in their lives who won’t go to therapy"
When you listen to someone talking about their experience with therapy or even just mentioning the word ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘counselling’ your first thought would be that they are dealing with some deep-rooted issues or some extreme mental illness. Images of people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD flood your brain and make you feel like you and therapy are two things that have nothing to do with each other. That just because you are ‘normal’ therapy is not something you should be engaging in. Sounds familiar? Well, then you are one of the many people influenced by the general stigmatisation of therapy.
There is a highlighted negative stereotype surrounding people that attend counselling, so much so that it evidently stops people from seeking the help they know they need, therefore burdening their everyday lives with the strain of an untreated mental illness. This is really serious as untreated mental illnesses can have a severe impact on one’s life and this misconception, that if you go to therapy there is necessarily something wrong with you, makes seeking help a lot more unappealing. Because of that many people that need help refuse to ask for it in fear of being stigmatised as the ‘mentally ill’ one.
Although a bit more normalised in recent years, therapy continues to be severely stigmatised as well as the people that receive it. Studies have shown that generally, people perceive a person in negative ways when they know that they receive therapy, compared to when no mention of it has been made. According to a study conducted by Mark Sibicky and John F. Dovido (1986): “An important factor in the decision to seek professional psychological aid is anticipated negative evaluation and stigma1. It has been suggested that because of this fear of being perceived negatively by others, many people who would benefit from professional assistance do not seek it1,2. Even people who do seek professional assistance often do so at unnecessary personal expense in order to avoid social stigmatization; they forego mental health care benefits provided by their employers and pay for psychotherapy with their own funds rather than risk disclosure at their workplace3”
And the numbers speak for themselves: approximately 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental illness while only 40% of people with mental health issues seek help. But even outside the mental illness spectrum, therapy is a lot more than a means of ‘treatment’. It can also be a tool that if used correctly can lead to a more balanced life and a very positive mindset that can improve one's quality of life and personality. Take it from someone that has been receiving therapy since middle school. No, I don’t have a diagnosed mental illness. Yes, I receive and enjoy therapy. We exist.
I began therapy as a last resort to deal with my anxiety and stress. At the time I was attending a very strict private school and I was overworking myself to keep my grades and therefore my scholarship. The pressure was too much to handle for my 14-year-old self and so my mother suggested that I try talking to a therapist she knew from a friend of hers that generally deals with teenagers. And I said yes without giving it a second thought. The sessions began slowly, we got to know each other and she asked me questions to figure out my coping mechanisms, way of thinking, reactions, social life and of course trigger points and limits.
At the start I was kind of nervous, I was asking myself “how am I supposed to talk about myself and my problems for an hour with a complete stranger?”, but as the time and sessions rolled it was like flicking a switch. After a certain point, the time doesn’t seem enough! I was surprised with how much stuff I was actually suppressing because I didn’t know how to articulate them properly, how much my actions mattered as well as how important my perception of certain things affects my reality. I have learned a lot since I started going to therapy: How to deal with the toxic people in my life in a healthy way, to deal with my emotions (the ones I can and can’t put into words), to be a better listener and to identify someone’s feelings and therefore help them deal with their situation in a helpful, constructive manner. Oh, and how to maintain my anxiety and stress at a healthy level for the most part.
My therapist and I are something like best friends, after almost three years of successful sessions together. Dare I say she knows me better than I know myself. Therapy is the school of life you have the choice to attend: you learn how to think before you speak or act, how to maintain a healthy relationship with your social circle while maintaining your authenticity and that all your emotions are valid. But most importantly you have someone to talk to for anything that is troubling you that you know is not going to judge you in any way, however unimportant the thing might seem.
My sessions have got me through the toughest times of my life: exam periods, times of extreme stress and intrusive thoughts, self-harm and all of the quarantines. I know I still have a long way to go and develop but I also know that I will have someone to help me along the road, apart from my parents that is. Because sometimes you need a third person, sometimes you want to learn how to deal with your parents or how to explain your problems to them... or sometimes you just need someone to let you rant for an hour.
Wherever you stand on this subject, I hope my personal experience has given you an insider view of someone that receives therapy that doesn’t have a diagnosed mental illness. I hope it has helped you see that therapy is not that big, terrifying thing that we make it out to be, that everyone can and would be good to receive it not only to help themselves deal with an untreated mental illness or deal with their emotions in a healthier manner, but also make them more empathetic, understanding and considerate with others. If everyone received therapy the world would become a better place. So what are you waiting for?
Go see a therapist.
2.Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health, 1961