Why it’s so darn hard to seek therapy?
You may have experienced it before: you feel there’s something not quite right with you – maybe you’re not sleeping well, being kept up by recurrent thoughts… maybe you’re barely coping with every day anxiety or you have consistently been feeling down for some time… maybe you’ve been noticing unhealthy patterns in your relationships… you feel you might need professional help but starting to look for a therapist seems to be out of the question. Why is that?
Mental health care is still surrounded by a lot of stigma, both in the way it’s seen by society (public stigma) and in the way we perceive people seeking therapy (self stigma).
And stigma stems from common misconceptions, misguided notions, myths and assumptions about the process of therapy, mostly coming from the way therapy is represented on TV and novels.
So let’s have a look at some of the myths that act as a barrier to seek therapy – and the truths behind them.
Truth: While this can be true in some instances, this attitude can be one of the main barriers to reach out for help and eventually seek therapy, especially for men. Therapists can support you as you unfold the issues and problems you’re experiencing so you won’t spend years trying to deal with them, and likely getting worse. In therapy you learn strategies to take away and manage those issues by yourself whenever they pop up in your life.
This myth seems to be connected to stereotypical gender roles. While women are generally seen ‘psychologically open to help-seeking’, for men, any admission of feelings, not coping or need for support can be perceived as compromising their gender role.
Truth: Seeking therapy takes enormous courage and vulnerability. So it’s really the opposite! It signals your resourcefulness, strength and commitment to yourself, to confront your issues, to be a better person, to understand more about yourself and invest in your future, to have better relationships and a future more aligned with who you are.
Truth: The cost of therapy can certainly add up, but, at least here in Australia, you can access some Medicare and private insurance rebates for counselling and therapy. Some therapists have bundle discounts or offer their services on a sliding scale, especially if they aren’t registered with Medicare.
Also, you can discuss the frequency of your therapy with your therapist and spread out the cost.
You can also flip this myth and ask yourself: what’s the cost of not going to therapy? Think of the impacts – both financial and otherwise – your issues have on your work performance or your relationships, for example. When you allow yourself to spend on yourself and your personal development, you’re investing on your future.
Truth: There are many different reasons you can be lead to therapy. These include personal growth and development, issues with relationships, confidence and self-esteem, stress and life transitions. Read about some of them here.
Hence a person in therapy is a ‘client’, not a ‘patient’.
There’s also something to be said about the value of seeking therapy early if you notice particular issues or emotional distress. This can allow you to stop your situation from worsening and get better quicker.
While diet and exercise certainly support your mental health, what really helps is building your resilience.
In its original meaning, resilience indicates the ability of a substance or object to return to its original shape after being bent, stretched or pressed? That’s what therapy does – it develops your capacity to go back to ‘normal’ after experiencing difficult situations that everyone, sooner or later, deals with (such as loss, stress, uncertainty over the future, etc.).
Truth: Therapy can be a difficult journey. However, while you may experience uncomfortable feelings, therapy is more about self-awareness, deepening your understanding of yourself and building your resilience to cope with issues that everyone, sooner or later, deals with (such as loss, stress, uncertainty over the future, etc.). Therapy can support you to navigate life with a bit more ease.
And if uncomfortable feelings do come up, good therapists can help you regulate your emotions safely and avoid overwhelm.
Truth: Talk-therapy is still used extensively, however, therapists are trained in a wide range of methods, including experiential and somatic modalities, which can be used if you are open to them.
Process Work, the modality I practice, makes use of active imagination, art, movement, sound and bodily sensation to unfold your issues so you can have a direct experience of what supports you. Read more about Process Work here.
Truth: The relationship between a therapist and a client is very different from the one between friends. It’s psychologically intimate, but strictly professional and confidential. As such, the power dynamic is very different than with your friends.
While talking to family and friends may be a vital support and can have beneficial effects on your mental health, therapists have specific skills and expertise to facilitate your understanding of what’s going on and create a safe environment for you to explore those issues and any emotions that may come up.
Besides, using your friends as a substitute for therapy may put a strain on your friendship.
It may also be easier to talk openly with a therapist, who is ethically bound to confidentiality and has no vested interests in what you do.
Truth: There’s a high number of different therapeutic methods, underpinned by diverse models and approaches. You may have heard of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Arts Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, for example.
No matter the modality, what matters – and this has been scientifically studied – is the quality of the relationship you have with your therapist. That’s why it’s important to choose somebody you click with.
Therapists are individuals and in addition to their skills and knowledge, they bring into the therapeutic relation their own unique mix of values and attitudes. So if you had therapy before and it didn’t work, don’t assume all your experiences with therapy and different therapists will be the same.
Truth: Some therapists may have gone through the same challenges as you, but this isn’t necessary for the effectiveness of your therapy. One of the foundational therapy skills therapists learn in their training is empathy, the ability to ‘feel with’ another, to understand and share their feelings.
Truth: Good therapists are driven from a genuine interest for the people they see. They are curious and fascinated by the uniqueness of their clients.
Truth: Seeing a therapist is like seeing a trusted person every time you want to address specific issues or a simple chat if you feel that’s what you need. You can think of it in the same way as taking your car in to a garage for a specific problem, or a simple tune-up.
On the other side, there may be a belief that once you start therapy you’ll be in for life. Which is not true either.
These are some of the reasons why it’s so darn hard to seek therapy.
So – how many of these myths were you holding as true? And how do these truths land in you?
If you are experiencing difficulties in your life, maybe it is the time to make another step from here and start researching approaches and therapists that may be suitable.
If you’d like to discuss any of this, or you would like to have a feel for who we are and the work we do, contact us.
Continue to follow our Blog to have more guidance on other aspects of this vulnerable journey towards therapy.
Corrigan, P. W., Rao, D. (2012). On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(8), 464–469.
Lannin, D. G., Vogel, D. L., Brenner, R. E., Abraham, W. T., & Heath, P. J. (2015). Does self-stigma reduce the probability of seeking mental health information? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63, 351–358.
Seamark, D., & Gabriel, L. (2016). Barriers to support: a qualitative exploration into the help-seeking and avoidance factors of young adults. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 1-12.