The stigma surrounding mental health and treatment initiatives is changing. While there are certainly still some stereotypes associated with counseling and other forms of therapy — we’ve come a long way.
The stereotypical “I go to therapy” persona was a facade; it was never real. Therapy and counseling can help any and everyone. It’s an outlet, a support system, a place to communicate struggle and discover new ways to manage everyday stressors. As mental health becomes more prominent in the wellness landscape as a whole, so has people’s acceptance towards it.
Understanding the Stigma
So, why has mental health and counseling been so stigmatized? Well, the obvious reason is that individuals struggling with mental health symptoms are different. However, we’d be lying if that was the only reason why these stereotypes and stigmas exist.
Long before scientific methodology or understandings of the human brain or psyche existed, those struggling with mental health concerns were associated with some unpleasant mythos. Demonic presences, spiritual possession, or even witchcraft were blamed for these “differences” in people’s personas, understandings, or behaviors. As you can imagine, these led to insurmountable levels of fear and discrimination.
Over time, understandings and perceptions of mental illness moved away from spiritual and otherworldly elements, but the fear continued as it was still unconventional and misunderstood. The media and Hollywood haven’t helped much either, as portrayals of mental illness were often accompanied by violence and danger.
Today, stigmas still exist and affect those struggling with mental illness. Some of these may include:
- Mentally ill people are a danger to themselves or others
- Addiction isn’t a disease
- Those struggling with mental health issues never recover
- Kids and teens don’t experience mental health problems
- Therapy and counseling is a waste of time and money
While these are certainly not the only stereotypes and prejudices associated with mental illness, they are the most prominent and common stigmas you’ll see today. Luckily, the tides are shifting towards a more progressive and accepting attitude regarding mental illness, especially when it comes to counseling and therapy.
Why You Shouldn’t Let Stereotypes Impact Treatment
If you’re considering therapy or counseling, don’t let stereotypes get in the way of betterment. These treatment options are proven methods for improving a wide range of mental health symptoms and conditions — along with offering longer standing benefits than just medication. It’s a way to teach symptom management skills in a compassionate and safe environment.
Listen, receiving, or living with a mental health diagnosis is never easy — but you’re certainly not alone. In fact, many conditions are extremely common, which means resources, treatment options, and knowledgeable professionals are plenty — giving you reliable avenues for receiving the care you need. We’ve covered just how prevalent mental illness diagnoses are here in the U.S., so if you’d like to know more, take a look at these mental health statistics.
Do You Need Counseling?
The truth is, we all probably need a little counseling. Nevertheless, we know how belittling it can feel when someone says, “you should really get some therapy.” However, it can be coming from a genuine place of concern, and you could be projecting your own fear and stigmas onto their suggestion. Either way, it’s not about how someone else feels about what you’re going through; it’s about how you’re going to go about getting through it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking counseling or therapy help. No problem is too small or insignificant because that’s not how mental health concerns work. Your feelings and experiences are valid. Whether it’s family issues, a breakup, work-life problems, relationship stressors — you name it, counseling is for it. The only time counseling or therapy isn’t the right solution is when it involves crisis, either in the form of harming self or others — or abusive relationships.
If you’re wondering if therapy or counseling is right for you, take a look at some indicators outlined by the American Psychological Association:
- You spend at least an hour thinking about or coping with the issue you’re struggling with
- You feel embarrassed or avoid others because of the issue
- Your schoolwork, job, or relationships suffer due to the issue
- The issue has caused you to make changes in your life or develop coping habits
- Your quality of life has decreased because of the issue
If any of these sounds like what you’re going through, counseling can certainly help. When most people think of “issues”, common problems such as anxiety and depression pop up. However, counseling can be a great outlet for a wide range of problems people face every day, such as:
- Anger or rage issues
- Panic attacks
- Intrusive thoughts
- Social fatigue
- Sleep issues
- And more
Both individual and group counseling can help those facing these issues move forward and uncover healthy coping mechanisms, ways of thinking, and tools to navigate the inevitable rough days.
Your First Appointment
We know that stigmas and stereotypes affect anyone struggling with mental health concerns, but it has a significant impact on those just starting on their treatment journey. So, if you’ve never gone to a therapy or counseling session and you’re thinking about getting started — or you’re currently sitting in your car outside of the appointment Googling what to expect, here’s what you should know.
Ask questions about what you can expect. Pre-counseling jitters are common, and one of the best ways to reduce those stressors is by asking questions before you arrive. Just getting an idea of what the appointment will look and feel like can help, as much of the anxiety surrounding a first therapy appointment stem from leaping headfirst into the unknown.
Consider your goals and what you want to get out of your counseling session before going in. Don’t’ worry; you’re not the professional, so you don’t need to go overboard here. However, it’s good to have some solid goals or objectives to aim for, or at the very least, tell your counselor about so they can know where to help guide you.
Be realistic with your expectations when it comes to therapy and counseling. This isn’t a magic human that will solve all of your life problems in one session, two sessions, or even three sessions. This type of treatment takes time, which is one of the reasons why it’s so effective. It’s about learning and unlearning, which doesn’t happen overnight. Your first appointment will be very introductory, and you should go into it, knowing that much of it will be informational and conversational regarding what you want to get out of therapy.
These are just a few tips for your first session, but if you want a more comprehensive idea of what you can expect, check out our first appointment guide!
Overcoming Mental Health Stigmas
The more society understands and accepts mental illness as a completely normal facet of everyday life, the more we break outdated and harmful stigmas. Open and honest conversations about the effects of mental health concerns, education, and improved resources can have a significant impact.
While you can’t change how others speak about therapy, the language they use, or how mental health is portrayed in the media — you can decide how you’re going to move forward. First and foremost, it’s all about taking advantage of the counseling and therapy opportunities available to you and not letting the stereotypes you’ve seen or experienced get in the way of your betterment.