In Therapy

A user's guide to psychotherapy

Happy National Psychotherapy Day

Is therapy a decadent indulgence?

Take me to your leader

Today is National Psychotherapy Day (website, facebook), a day where clinicians, clients, and therapy advocates unite to promote the profession, fight stigma, educate the public, and draw attention to the needs of community mental health. Who cares?

Nearly a year ago, when this project was still in the formative stages, I had a brief consultation with a VP from a big time marketing firm. He was doing his job, playing devil’s advocate, when he asked: “Why should I care about a day for psychotherapy? Isn’t that just a decadent indulgence for the middle to upper class? What kind of cause is that?” 

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I was stunned, a little angry, and then grateful. That rather harsh sentiment was a blessing in disguise as it helped to clarify and galvanize this mission. It’s exactly the kind of distortion that makes a day like this necessary. 

Psychotherapy is a decadent indulgence for the middle to upper class? 

Tell that to the struggling college student trying to make sense of a learning disability or eating disorder. Tell that to an abuse survivor who knows a significant portion of their life may include therapy, regardless of their income. Tell that to a couple on the brink of divorce ever since the layoffs. Tell that to the guy in rehab. Tell that to the depressed young woman in rural Virginia on a two month waiting list to see a therapist at a community mental health center.

You think our logo looks strange?

Decadent indulgence? There’s no mud wrap with cucumber slices in therapy. 

And that’s just one of the distortions our field faces. By (completely valid) necessity, our profession takes place behind closed doors covered by a legally mandated shroud of secrecy. People fill in the blanks with their own imagination, which isn’t always accurate.

So we decided to tackle a few of these distortions head on. People who participate in National Psychotherapy Day are invited to:

Talk about therapy to reduce stigma - We let the exploitative, simplistic, between-the-commercials shrinks on TV and in the movies tell us what therapy is like. With tens of millions of people in therapy at any given time, we could give accurate depictions of therapy if only people shared their own experience with a couple of friends. You don’t have to give details, just own that you go and share what you’ve found helpful.

Support low-fee counseling centers - Chances are, there are a handful of these within a few miles and you don’t know it. They counsel many people at reduced rates and keep the lights on through community donations. Get to know them, volunteer your time, or contribute funds. They’ll be happy to have your support.

Share psychotherapy effectiveness research - We live in an age where primary care physicians carry the brunt of the mental health load, and they’re more likely to recommend pharmaceutical rather than psychotherapeutic treatments for emotional problems. MD’s are bombarded with enticements from pharmaceutical reps, but they might not keep up on the psychotherapy literature that shows that therapy is generally as effective as medication, the effects last longer, and there are fewer physical side effects. You could print out these articles for your physician, or just email this article. Do the same for anyone who doubts that talk therapy actually helps.

Give feedback to therapists - In order for therapists to keep growing, it’s crucial that they solicit and implement feedback from their clients. This week is a great week to begin that process. More on that here.

Wear turquoise to show your support - This wasn’t my idea. I didn’t even have any turquoise clothes until a serendipitous trip to Old Navy last weekend. But I agree with the idea that we need something to unite therapy proponents in a tangible, visible way. For that reason, I will don my finest (and only) turquoise shirt and look for others wearing turquoise as a united statement against therapy stigma, for low-fee counseling, and for the profession of psychotherapy. And I’ll be proud to do so. 

This is only year one, so if you’re catching us a little late don’t worry. We’ll be back next year with a better game plan and an even bigger following. Therapy is a decadent indulgence, after all. 

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You’re not too late, join the turquoise brigade here and show your support. 

Beyond national social causes, I write a bit about the nuances of therapy. If you’d like to follow me you can always like my facebook page.

Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

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