Why People Avoid Therapy.
There have been many movies released about emotional traumas and family issues and they have included the psychologist as part of the storyline. So I think the idea of psychology is something that’s quite understood. Or is that just me?
Movies like ‘Cake’ with Jennifer Aniston or ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ were stories about mental illness with the focal character being the one afflicted.
The American movie love affair with mental illness started as early as black and white movies in 1931 featuring the effects of post-world-war on veterens, to the 60’s when we were introduced to multiple personality disorder in the movie ‘Psycho’.
Fast forward to 2001 and schizophrenia is introduced in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ – about John Nash, the Nobel Prize winning mathematician. And in 2012, bi-polar disorder was the storyline in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’.
The psychology of the mind is displayed in both its scariest forms and saddest experiences where you’d like to see the protagonist overcome his/her adversity. Whatever the story, we’ve definitely been exposed to lovable and despicable characters labelled with some kind of mental or emotional affliction. It’s so openly displayed and yet, there is still huge stigma attached to needing a course of help to address it, even in its most mildest form. It is an illness of the mind, just as the flu is an illness of the body.
For me, seeing a therapist wasn’t a difficult decision. It wasn’t anything I felt shame for doing or was even afraid to share. But I understand that my experience of mental illness is different from many.
My mother has worked in the field of psychiatry for basically my whole life. She worked in government and private health care with patients that required full-time institutionalised care.
I grew up visiting psychiatric hospitals almost on a daily basis when we would pick her up from work. I even remember spending time at hospital family days, which the hospitals would host for families to visit their institutionalised kin.
I remember being asked by friends if my mother spends her time analysing my siblings and I, and I recall how intimidated would-be boyfriends were thinking my mum would be able to see through all their bullsh*t.
Some time ago we were in a mall together, and there was a man at the checkout having a very loud conversation with himself. To others watching it was very unsettling but my mum just acknowledged that he wasn’t causing any harm and seemed to be conversing with the voices in his his head.
I know that I’m talking about quite serious mental health issues; institutionalised individuals and people that hear voices. These are obviously cases where people have had no choice but to seek medical care.
And I suppose it’s because of all these experiences that I am quite aware that I have grown up with a positive outlook on psychiatry and psychology. But obviously everybody has not had my experience and therefore don’t share my view.
But I am interested to understand why so many avoid therapy.
So I asked a few people why they believe there is such a negative view on seeking mental health interventions, like psychologist, therapists or counsellors. The purpose was to open up dialogue or at the very least have people question why they feel resistance in themselves to seek help. Have a read and I’d love to know Here’s the feedback and I’d love to know if anything resonated with you?
“What we’re encouraged to believe is “normal” by societal standards is actually deeply unhealthy and pathological behaviour. So people struggle to identify mental health issues. Sane people tend to test their reality – it’s a key difference between most sane and insane people – but if you’re checking reality against an agreed-upon insane standard then it’s difficult to identify what healthy should look like. If everyone is worked to the bone, has poor sleep and eating patterns, is encouraged to be compulsive, to compartmentalise, etc then no one knows what’s bad.”
“Mental well-being has a stigma attached to it, in terms of people not being able to understand or conceptualise the actual issue because they can’t see or make sense of it.”
Nobody likes being sick. Everyone wants to be strong because we live in a society that exploits the weak/sick/vulnerable so obviously we want to avoid admitting we might be ill too. Especially mentally ill because society has also made that seem largely a life sentence. You can’t make it go away allegedly.”
“Seeing a psychologist implies admitting failure and that I need help.”
“My fear is about opening up and being exposed, and that comes from my childhood and my view on masculinity – you don’t show weakness and you don’t talk about your feelings.”
“Those that are steeped in tradition and culture believe that religion is all that is needed to find peace of mind and health.”
“Culturally and historically people have associated psychiatrists and psychologist with crazy people.”
“I’m cautious and afraid of opening up and telling my story or having to consider how hard it would be think and talk about my life.”
“It’s old school where people think there is “something wrong” with them or they’re being labelled as psycho.”
I respect peoples’ view on therapy. I know it’s going to be different based on beliefs, culture and experience. I didn’t spend my whole life in therapy. I was in my late thirties when I first went for therapy and it was really when somebody I trusted said I needed to, because I was going through something really tough. I can only say that my life changed enormously when I did go and because it made me more accountable for my well-being. Whatever you decide, I can tell you that there are really great, well qualified psychologists, counsellors, coaches and psychiatrists that are great at what they do. They are great at keeping secrets and being respectful of your history and culture. If you take the step, choose somebody that you feel comfortable with.
In an upcoming post I’ll be talking about alternative interventions to talk therapy, so do look out for that.