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Addressing Myths and Stigmas That May Prevent Some From Engaging in Therapy

Familial, cultural, or societal perceptions may keep us from seeking help.

Key points

  • Stigma about engaging in therapy can cause fear and anxiety for a client.
  • Therapists should address myths, stigma, and cultural concerns about therapy with their client.
  • Discharge of a client should always be discussed in an affirming and supportive way that addresses any fears or concerns.

I would have never imagined that I would be a therapist. However, learning to embrace the unforeseen things that happen in our lives is the irony of life. Our feelings and behaviors consist of series of choices and decisions that formulate eventually who we are in the world.

When I began therapy, I was very pessimistic. I was taught, as a Black male in a religious household, that religion was the only way to deal with my problems. Also, as a gay male, I learned to internalize my feelings, not show emotions, and always have a solution ready. In my first four to six sessions with my therapist, she spent most of our time in session disarming my fear that she was there to fix me and convince me that the work that we would do together would be collaborative. I appreciated that my first therapist was a woman because it was through our therapeutic relationship that I came to understand from a female perspective the unhealthy ways that I had internalized the expected societal gender norms of what it means to be a man.

For clients who grew up in a more individualistic culture or a family dynamic, where mental health and wellness were discussed and valued, the engagement in therapy may feel more seamless. However, for my clients who come from more of a collectivist culture or families that have not discussed the value of mental health and self-care with their loved ones, therapy is usually discussed as something utilized to treat a “severe” mental health illness. As a counselor, I could personally relate to this narrative in their conversation. Having that lived experience of not having the privilege of having therapy as a resource, I could address and challenge the preconceived misconceptions that might prevent my clients from continuing to build trust and rapport in our therapeutic relationship.

It is my hope that this post will help ease tensions about starting therapy and hopefully provide you with some context to be a more optimistic client leaving therapy as well. Here are responses to some of the myths that I have found to be relevant for addressing the stigma and anxiety that may present itself prior to engaging in therapy.

Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash
Source: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash

1. Therapy Isn’t Just for Addressing Problems

We as human beings make time for various aspects of our life that revolve around sustaining our needs and finding ways to find some relief. Our medical care, car maintenance, and the vacations we take to make time for enjoyment and relaxation provide us with a foundation to empower ourselves to live a better quality of life.

Thankfully, therapy is becoming more normalized as a way to enhance our lives, and the stigma about engaging in therapy is decreasing. It is refreshing when clients contact me about engaging in therapy to explore ways to improve their lives, without any major presenting issues in our sessions. These conversations allow us to make space in the room by having the “creative licensure” to analytically process and explore the ways in which my clients’ life can continue to be fulfilling. Exploring the shape of the various narratives that our lives could manifest can be empowering for clients to create space to take care of not only themselves but also their loved ones with healthy boundaries. Having the freedom to explore therapy in this way also ensures that there is a “mental health road map” for my clients to live a life that is truly sustainable and authentic for them.

Shingi Rice/Unsplash
Source: Shingi Rice/Unsplash

2. Seeing a Therapist Does Not Mean That There Is Something Wrong With You

I love the diversity, complexity, and subtle or nonsubtle nuances of human beings. It is indeed the spice of life. Nevertheless, since our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings reflect our childhood development, we all as human beings are doing our best to make sense of how we navigate the world. Given the challenges that we are faced with in finding solutions to our problems, we might not feel equipped to deal with some specific issues due to the lack of coping skills that were taught to us in our upbringing.

Normalizing the human experience is a part of therapy. In addition, I even join with my clients, when appropriate and not with too much disclosure, to let them know that I understand their situation or that I have dealt with something similar in the past. Our connection as human beings is one of the many factors that join us to our clients in our work, and we as clinicians are not impervious to any of the pitfalls of life. However, this is your hour and time in a session, and our presence, active listening, reframing, and challenging that occurs in session could not exist without honoring that we all are flawed.

Christina Wocintechchat/Unsplash
Source: Christina Wocintechchat/Unsplash

3. There May Be Therapy Beyond Your First Therapist

Once you have taken the time to invest in therapy, it can be daunting to think about having to end or move on to another therapist to process and explore all your thoughts and feelings again. However, there could potentially be many reasons—hopefully not because you are dissatisfied, but it happens—for you to seek a new therapist.

If your insurance determines the time period when your sessions must end, planning for discharge may present with a more solution-focused dynamic in therapy. I often explore with clients near the end of our sessions to think about in what ways would they utilize me if they were to see me again or whether they would like to have a different therapeutic experience with a new therapist. In addition, when a client does transition to a new therapist, we have an open conversation about a release of information and the level of details that may need to be disclosed to their new counselor about what we accomplished in therapy so that my client does not have to totally start over. Assisting my clients with navigating the Psychology Today directory of therapists and building my own network of therapists, that I know and trust the quality of their work for referrals, allows the client to also see that I am still a resource for support after therapy has ended.

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