I thought an appropriate topic for my first post would be a brief discussion of some of the attitudes and stereotypes that have come to be associated with therapy. The practice of seeking out therapy has taken on many different meanings in our society over the years. Of course it has been fodder for the entertainment industry, evidenced in shows such as Frasier and movies such as Analyze This in which therapy is presented as a luxury indulgence for the well-off. In these types of media the therapist is often portrayed as lofty and out-of-touch, and humor is gained at the expense of the mental disorders of patients (and the personality quirks of the therapist). There are some movies and shows that portray therapy and mental illness in a somewhat more realistic and sensitive manner, including Good Will Hunting, In Treatment (HBO), and of course the classic What About Bob? (this one is just funny-even therapists have to have a little bit of fun). Feel free to e-mail me if you are interested in finding out more about therapy- or psychology-themed movies.
I digress-back to the topic at hand. In some sectors of our society, entering therapy has become a common-place, and even a fashionable event. Going back to Hollywood, reports of different stars entering “celebrity rehab” have become almost a daily occurrence. And even if you are not rich and famous, there are some communities that for whatever reason just seem to be more accepting of mental health treatment and its value. If you happen to belong to one of these communities, the good news is that if you experience psychological or emotional issues at some point in your life you may not be stigmatized as much as you would be in another setting, and your seeking of help will likely be encouraged and perhaps even applauded.
Other people have quite a negative view of therapy and therapists. There can be many reasons for this as well. A person may have been raised in a family or a culture where the expression of emotions was discouraged, or people were encouraged to confine the discussion of their problems to within their immediate circle of relatives. In these circumstances the seeking of help may be viewed as a sign of weakness, and therapists and the whole enterprise of therapy may be seen as a narcissistic and inappropriate activity on the part of the patient and a money-making endeavor on the part of the therapist.
I could go on and on in talking about the ideas that people have about therapy. The reason that I have presented some of these viewpoints is to clarify some of the reasons that people really come to therapy (at least in my experience and practice). First of all, people who seek therapeutic help are not “crazy”, and coming to see a therapist does not mean that you are insane. Most of the people that I have worked with have a firm sense of reality, and productive and quite normal lives. They might have had a problem arise somewhere in their lives that they would like to find ways to deal with, such as a conflict with a family member or a sudden inability to perform at work. Other people may enter treatment due to a major life change or issue, such as losing a job or finding out a spouse has been unfaithful. In these situations therapy can provide a place for one to ventilate their feelings and develop an adaptive plan to take the next step in life. Some individuals seek treatment when they are ready to work through and move past traumas that have occurred long ago, such as childhood abuse. Therapy can facilitate the process of generating insight into how these traumas impact current relationships and functioning, which is crucial step in moving beyond these ordeals and being able to fully live life in the present.
Once again, I could go on an on in talking about why people come to therapy, but the most important point that I want to convey is that most of the people who seek psychological help are quite “normal” individuals who simply want assistance with the inevitable pitfalls of life. They are not deviants or “crazy”-they are your neighbors, friends, relatives, and co-workers. So if you are experiencing a life stressor or emotional problem that you would like to talk to someone about, remember that there is no shame in seeking out psychological help. It does not make you weak, or insane, or incapable. In fact, the pressure placed on us as young professionals in a fast-paced and demanding world dramatically increases the chances for stress, relationship problems, burnout, and isolation to occur in our lives. Therapy is not for everyone, but if you keep an open mind it can be a means to facilitate personal growth and positive change in your life. And in today’s world, who couldn’t use another tool to enhance enjoyment of life?
Thanks so much for reading my first post, I look forward to your comments and feedback! Have a great day, and remember life is meant to be enjoyed, so go ahead and live it up!