Negative stigma attached to mental health and the impact it has.
Most of the readers that see the title of this blog will perceive it from either a perspective of curiosity/interest or from a place of annoyance/defiance at the notion of something so concretely pre-defined in writing. I think it’s important to note this range of viewpoints as a present variable going into this presentation.
On one hand there is a strong negative stigma attached to therapy. For example, how many times have you run into an instance where someone overtly or subtly admitted to you or to a friend on one level or another a genuine fear of expressing their desire to go to therapy? In 2017 Thornton found, “In the years that I have been a psychologist, one thing I have learned is that many people are afraid to go to mental health therapy. I can recall several clients who have come to see me and later admitted that they were afraid to even consider coming”.
On the other hand there is a clear benefit derived from seeking therapy. According to (Parekh & Givon, 2019), “Psychotherapy has been shown to improve emotions and behaviors and to be linked with positive changes in the brain and body. The benefits also include fewer sick days, less disability, fewer medical problems, and increased work satisfaction”.
The pressures of the world we live in largely shape our choices and decision making processes in that environment. What is deemed appropriate? What is acceptable? Under what set of circumstances? And for what reasons? We can see in a relatively short period of time just from the surface at how quickly this can become complicated.
There are also competing social norms in our midst to also consider which also preclude the individual from seeking therapy. According to (Hahn, 2017), “There are characteristics normalized in our society that become our roles, or the behaviors that we should follow. We are taught these roles through the socialization process and they come by way of primary and secondary socialization experiences, as we learn to adapt within and outside our communities, and interact with peers, colleagues, and other external persons in our social environment in different settings.”
It is in this context that is important to be mindful of that while we are a member of the society that we live and reside in; we also have cultural and gender specific roles in our communities that largely pre-define what is or isn’t allowed or deemed acceptable in one scenario or another in terms of being defined as strong, successful, appealing, and so on. These societal definitions are often skewed and tainted by bias in its many forms and it is specifically that bias which doesn’t necessarily serve our best interests in this case for an individual’s mental health and wellness.
Why is that important? Why does it even matter? Imagine you are going to therapy for the first time and your mindset going into that process and/or environment is that you are somehow weak or defective because you’re going to therapy to begin with. How will that mindset impact someone who is vulnerable or struggling with an issue? Will it empower them to actually go out and get the help they need if they feel like they are going to be: alienated, rejected, treated differently or ridiculed?
So then what happens next? In most cases for those individuals that don’t go to therapy they wind up trying to suppress the feelings and emotions associated with that issue or issues they are struggling with. This strategy gives the affected individual the illusion that they have somehow magically overcome the issue by denying its existence or trying to forget anything ever happened and thus believe they can resume normal daily activities and functions free of any emotional or psychological obstacles or entanglements.
Now I’m going to give you an analogy, if you cut down a weed growing in your lawn with your lawnmower by running over it what happens? Well for starters the weed is no longer there and as the saying goes out of sight out of mind right? Wrong, unfortunately the weed comes back and this time with a stronger and thicker root and stem. So what’s the solution? Again going back to the analogy of the lawnmower and the weed in the lawn, in therapy we would try to pull the weed out by the root system thus removing the weed from ever popping up again. This is the same way to approach an issue in therapy and it is by this process that we can begin to heal at the core of the issue and its genesis to allow the individual to resume daily functions and activities with renewed self confidence and vigor as they have now a new life experience of successfully overcoming and/or in some cases coming up with new healthy strategies to successfully manage the issue to allow them to continue to thrive in all facets of life.
So if I go to therapy how can I get the most of it? 2019 Parekh & Givon found, “To help get the most out of psychotherapy, approach the therapy as a collaborative effort, be open and honest, and follow your agreed upon plan for treatment. Follow through with any assignments between sessions, such as writing in a journal or practicing what you’ve talked about.”
Daniel Acosta M.A., AMFT is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Mission Viejo, California. He works in private practice with men, women and adolescents and provides individual, couples, pre-marital, family and marital therapy for clients in Orange County. If you would like to schedule a session he can be reached at 949-943-7820 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hahn, Amelia C., "Improving Gender Roles, Stigma and Men's Attitudes Toward Help Seeking: A Program for Change" (2017). Honors Theses. 466. https://encompass.eku.edu/honors_theses/466
Parekh, R., & Givon, L. (2019, January). What is Psychotherapy? Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/psychotherapy
Thornton, A. (2017, June 29). Are you afraid to go to therapy? [Blog post]. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://www.dramberthornton.com/blog/are-you-afraid-to-go-to-therapy