In Therapy

A user's guide to psychotherapy

Psychotherapy Has an Image Problem, Part II

Happy National Psychotherapy Day

Why turquoise?
In Part 1 we took a look at one problem (of several) facing the field of psychotherapy: our public image. Clients still feel shame admitting they attend therapy, our effectiveness research is not well known, our portrayal in the media is less than favorable, many assume we’re a luxury for the middle and upper class, and we lack a unified promotional campaign.

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That sounds pretty grim for one million therapists in the U.S. and their tens of millions of clients. Before therapy proponents address hot-button issues like the impact of Obamacare, the controversial DSM-5, and the interplay of therapy and medication, therapy has to seem like a viable option. If therapy looks scary, ignorant, foolish, or self-indulgent, we won’t have the luxury of debating diagnostic minutiae.

What can we do about this?

Testimony: If people came out from the therapy shadows and talked about their experience in therapy with friends and family, therapy might gain more credibility. It’s easy to argue sweeping philosophical proclamations against therapy, but it’s hard to dispute a friend who personally experienced growth through the process. Therapy has saved innumerable lives, for example, and not everyone knows this. Dialogue benefits both parties, so let’s set stigma aside and start talking about therapy.

Translation: We need to communicate effectiveness research in language people can understand. Essentially, therapy needs a better PR campaign. Analyses conducted by academic journals as well as venues like Consumer Reports have found that therapy benefits the recipients, and in many cases the changes last longer than medication. This is far from common knowledge, but it should be.

Telegenics: We should find media venues to talk about what real therapy entails and subvert the dramatized media message. The surprising fact is, a lot of what happens in therapy is much more interesting and dramatic than what reality TV and the fictional dramas report. Anyone up for a TEDx Psychotherapy conference? Let me know.

Tenderness: Millions of low-to-no-income people receive quality psychotherapy services through community mental health centers (CMHCs). These noble clinics are often overworked, understaffed, and grossly underfunded. We all can support these clinics with donations of our time and money. Private practice clinicians can offer pro-bono supervision hours, in-service education, and assist with fundraising.

Telling: Therapists spend most of our year competing against one another. Our online profiles talk about our exceptional training and unique personal experience as we tout ourselves as specialists in everything. That’s fine, it’s the free market at full tilt. But how about setting our own specialness and theoretical differences aside for one day to promote psychotherapy instead of our own practice? One day to talk about the benefits of taking an hour to look at yourself to gain some deeper understanding while making some behavior changes? Just one day? Is it okay to encourage someone to take the plunge into therapy, even if it isn’t onto our calendar?

It just so happens today is the second annual National Psychotherapy Day, a day for therapists, clients, and therapy advocates to promote the profession, fight therapy stigma, support CMHCs, and spread therapy research. Come on over to our facebook page and website to join the party. We’re trying to move in the direction of the points above, but we have a long, long way to go. We can use all the help we can get.

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Today is about promoting the field, not individual therapists. But if you’re interested in looking at my website or facebook on any day other than September 25, you’re welcome to do so.

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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