There’s a stigma around therapy. Did you know? People have preconceived ideas about what it means. As if therapy is some kind terrible thing, that it indicates you’re crazy, that there’s sense of shame about not being able to ‘deal’ with whatever it is on your own. That you’re weak, or broken. It’s a pretty shitty (and generally ignorant) stigma. That there is a division of people who are in therapy, and those that aren’t, and the stigma makes it pretty clear about which group you want to be in. Just so you know? That stigma is ridiculous.
I’ve wanted to write about this for ages. About therapy, and that awful, awful stigma. But writing about it meant letting the world know and that meant dealing with people’s reactions. I wasn’t ready for well-intentioned tactlessness or painfully worded sympathy, because there has been a lot of that. Its almost theatrical, the well-meaning concern. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard ‘You know I’m always here for you if you need’ or ‘you’re very brave’ or ‘you can always talk to me, if you want’.
That kind of talk makes me feel defensive.I’m not brave, and I’m not broken. I don’t need the validation. My life is not falling apart at the seams and I’m not really in need of pep talks (I have a therapist for that). There was a time in my life that I struggled with, and now I’m ready to deal with the emotional fallout of that time. For me, therapy feels like a pragmatic decision, a bit like my experience with physio. When I did my ankles in, I went to physio weekly to build up my ankle strength, and no one called me brave then. No one felt the need to check in on me or offer platitudes. Therapy was something I decided could help build up my emotional strength, and I was ready, so I made it happen.
The reactions I like best are the ones that acknowledge I’ve said it, but treat it like a relative non-event. “Oh, your going to therapy? Nice. I hear is a pretty common things these days. I did/my friend/partner/neighbour/boss is in therapy. It’s a healthy way to deal with things.” Simple acknowledgement, without condescension or pity. I’m sad that these kind of reactions are few and far between.
It’s a bit tricky, actually. I’m really struggling with the stigma, and the idea that therapy is an out-of-the-ordinary health concern. Turns out that really? It’s not. Not really. There are a kajillion difficult life transitions that can and are eased with therapy. Divorce, health challenges, relocation, work stress, or family/parenting issues. A friend said she did a few rounds of therapy before she got married (though, they called it ‘marriage counselling’ to avoid the stigma). Add all the mental health related things (trauma, grief, mental illness) and therapy really is one of those things that helps many situations. I feel like therapy is a really simple tool to help you understand yourself better. How you reflect and process, and react and emote, and is generally good for better self-care.
In saying that, therapy is really hard. Each week I square my shoulders and raise my chin and go talk to a lady about things I don’t especially want to talk about. The talking is not hard, and the lady is lovely but the emotional fall out is draining. Processing all of that compressed emotion is overwhelming. Constantly overwhelming. It means my emotional capacity is diminished slightly, and I’ve intentionally pulled back on other things to make room of all of the learning and change that is going on.
However, it’s pretty undeniable that the change I’m seeing out of therapy is a positive one, and I’m stoked to see that. Progress, hurrah!
So, fuck you stigma. I’m in therapy and self care is awesome.