Your Health is More Important than Stigma…
There is still a lot of social stigma around mental health and related therapies: a lot of people receive the message that “you’re crazy or sick” if you need therapy or mental health care. However, while psychotherapy, talk-therapy, and psychopharmacology are interrelated treatments for mental illness, therapy is also a process of progressive emotional growth and lifestyle change, regardless of its relationship to mental illness. I think of the range of therapies as analogous to the range of treatments for physical ailments. Severe injuries may require invasive surgeries, medication regimens, and a long recovery time, while chronic ailments can be addressed with physical therapy, exercise regimens, and lifestyle changes, which can benefit almost anyone. Yes, some mental illnesses are like severe injuries and require multiple, coordinated forms of intervention – but just as with physical injuries, most of our ‘mental ailments’ are lower level and can be addressed in ways that not only alleviate suffering but actually improve life satisfaction.
Defining Therapy as Well-Care…not Sick-Care
For those who don’t see therapy stigmatized, or have experienced therapy in the past and have moved beyond the stigma, therapy can function as a form of psychological exercise, a regular experience clients use to “better themselves” or their relationships. In my practice, I discuss this as a distinction between “well-care” vs “sick-care” and define well-care as “preventative medicine” instead of sick-care, which is similar to emergency or urgent medicine. In physical medicine, after an emergency, many people try to improve their health and lifestyle through physical therapy, exercising, whatever they have to do to address underlying problems that they didn’t know were leading to a crisis. I see the exact same thing with my regular clients. I meet them first in a crisis situation, and once we address that, we work to improve day-to-day habits and functioning not only to avoid emergencies but to address life goals and that always mysterious idea of ‘happiness’.
Yes, Even Our Brains and Hearts Need a Checkup
Therapy is a place to gain insight into yourself – your emotions, your thoughts, and their relationship to your behaviors. Many times, a person first seeks therapy after a crisis occurs; for example, the discovery of an affair, the possibility of divorce, a family member’s death, or depression or anxiety impacting daily life. Just as you go to your primary care doctor for annual checkups to ensure that you aren’t missing subtle cues about significant illnesses, you can also use therapy to ensure that emotionally you and/or your relationship are on the right track and that you’re addressing any potential concerns before they become crises.
The important point is that therapy is like physical medicine in two important ways: there are as many varieties of treatment as there are people and conditions, and for this reason, there should be no social stigma in making use of it. Once we move past the stigma, we can find out how therapy can most benefit our specific situation and help improve our lives.
Check back next week for Part Two: Committing to Therapy, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts about therapy as a part of healthcare? How do you view therapy and mental health?