“Often it is our brokenness that leads our heart to grow.” ~ Jack Kornfield
Have you ever considered seeing a therapist for an issue you really struggled with but found it hard to actually reach out and make the call?
Some people have no problem getting professional help if they feel they need it. On the other hand, I have known many people throughout my life that will suffer alone through a variety of issues such as debilitating anxiety, depression, grief and relationship difficulties rather than get help from a psychotherapist. This fact always astounded me, given my zealous belief in the power of good therapy.
Why do people avoid getting therapy?
Well, we could look at this from the standpoint that in general, mental health services are not as valued and accessible as they should be. For today’s post however, I want to delve deeper into the inner dilemma that many people face when they begin considering getting professional help for their problems. These ideas come from conversations I’ve had with people over the years regarding therapy and the list is by no means exhaustive. I also want to add that there are many roads that lead to growth and healing, and counseling is just one of them. Let’s dig in…
Fear of the Almighty Shrink:
Honestly, I cringe when I hear people use the word “shrink” for therapists, as if our goal is to “shrink” you down to size. There is such a deep misunderstanding about what therapists actually do and this can cause great confusion and even fear as many people consider asking for help from a therapist. Our society is still stuck in the mindset about therapy that was created in the good ole days of Freud. The therapist is seen as a cold, potentially judgmental person who has laser-like x-ray vision right into the very depths of who you are, ready at any moment to rip your fragile ego to shreds. Now, that is scary!
In truth, therapists these days are open and compassionate with a genuine curiosity to learn more about who you are at your own pace. Yes, therapists have a keen ability to observe the places you might be keeping yourself stuck but these observations are shared over time with gentleness and great care.
If fear of the almighty therapist is keeping you from going to therapy, consider this: Therapists are fallible, normal people who have their own problems too! Therapists are not holier than thou but they do have a very strong commitment to personal growth, self-awareness and the alleviation of suffering, with many years of study and experiential training in psychology. If you’re afraid that a therapist is going to “shrink” you down to size, remember that us therapists also have shortcomings, make mistakes and struggle with painful feelings and experiences at times too. My main goal as a therapist is not to analyze you to pieces but rather help you learn to love yourself more and live a happier and more meaningful life.
Many of us are taught that we should be able to solve all of our problems on our own and if we are struggling, we are simply not trying hard enough. Many people come to believe wholeheartedly that asking for help is a sign of weakness. What if it were the exact opposite? In fact, admitting that you need help, seeking it and getting it are all signs of great courage. It is normal that at some point in our lives, we will reach the edge of our understanding of how to work through particular issues.
To use a medical analogy, if your arm is broken, you would not try to fix it yourself. You would most likely need the help of a medical doctor who is trained in the understanding of the human body. Likewise, therapists are trained to help people when something in the psyche is broken and in need of care.
To give an example, maybe you are finding yourself stuck in the midst of a codependent relationship with a family member that is causing you great distress. It is completely normal that you would have no idea how to move through such a difficult and complicated experience, much like you would have no idea how to fix your own broken arm.
My point is that there is no difference between going to a therapist for help with mental health issues and getting help from a medical doctor for physical health issues. If shame is keeping you from getting help, consider this: Seeking help from a therapist means that you care about your life and you are willing to learn and grow, and overcome barriers while gaining some wisdom along the way.
I can just get help from my friends and family:
Getting emotional support from family and friends is great. But many of you may have come to realize that this method has its limitations.
For one, other people have their own lives and problems to attend to and may come to a point where they can’t provide the amount of time and attention you need.
Second, your relationships may begin to suffer as a result of one person taking up all the time for their own needs, with the other person feeling less heard or less important. You may begin to notice that your resentment or anger is bleeding into your relationships with others, putting extra strain on the very relationships you depend on.
Likewise, family and friends may have their own ideas of what they think is right for you and even though they mean well, they may be tired of seeing you suffer and may begin to feel frustrated that you are not getting better, despite their best efforts to help you.
When you begin to feel that the support from family or friends is not solving your problems, consider this: Therapy can become a safe place to work through your issues so that your relationships with others are less burdened and more enjoyable.
If you are reading this and were hesitant to ask for support from a therapist, I hope you are now feeling more empowered and less misguided about the therapy process. I wholeheartedly believe that wisdom grows by overcoming and ultimately learning from the challenging experiences in our lives.
In many indigenous cultures, it is normal to have wise people in the community whom people can turn to for help. Struggle is seen as a rite of passage, not a source of shame. It may help you to think of therapists as the wise healers in our communities. And finally, It’s normal that you may be feeling some trepidation about therapy, most people do when entering into something that is unknown. Consider changing your perspective of resignation to one of, “I want to grow and learn.” Trust in the fact that therapists go through many years of education in psychology and counseling so that we better understand why and how people get stuck, and the way out.
If you are ready to take the step towards beginning therapy, please contact me and I am happy to offer a free 15 minute consultation to address any questions you may have about the counseling process or to book your first session.
Next blog post: Why is Saying Sorry So Damn Hard?!