Think Going to Therapy Makes You Weak or Weird or Wrong?
We think therapy is for people who can’t get their lives together. After all, why else would you be seeking help from a complete stranger about managing your personal life? We think that therapy is for people who aren’t capable or talented or productive or smart or _______ enough. We think therapy is for someone who’s broken or deeply flawed or deeply disturbed.
We think therapy isn’t an option because we must protect our problems. Many people grow up in families that believe outsiders shouldn’t know about their issues, and revealing them would be a betrayal, bringing shame upon the family, said Daniela Paolone, LMFT, a holistic psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif. “As a result, the family may address the issue among themselves, or pretend as if nothing is wrong and ignore the issue completely.”
We fear that seeking therapy means we’re not self-sufficient, said Sara L. Weber, LPCS, an eating disorder specialist and founder of Discovery Counseling in Austin, Texas. And not being independent or self-reliant is one of the worst things we can be in our society.
At her office, Weber commonly hears that clients fear coming to therapy because they worry what others will think if they find out about their sessions. They worry that their friends and neighbors will start seeing them differently if they knew, she said.
We fear that “our character will be questioned. People may literally ask questions like: ‘Why can’t you just figure it out on your own?’” said Weber. We might ask ourselves versions of the same question. What’s wrong with me that I can’t fix my own life? Why am I always struggling? What does that mean about my character, about my very identity?
Weber’s clients also view their mental health issues as a personal weakness—because of the unspoken message that they should be able to “decide” not to be worried, fearful, depressed. “Instead of thinking of therapy as a supportive collaboration to address a problem, they think of it as a failure in personal responsibility.”
We think we just need to toughen up, and stop being so fragile. We just need to stop being so sensitive, and snap out of it, and get over it. We think that focusing on our feelings makes us too soft, too vulnerable. We think it makes us pathetic.
Parents or grandparents might make statements like, “Back in my day there was no such thing [as therapy],” said Carolyn Ferreira, Psy.D, a psychologist in Bend, Ore., who helps people rebuild relationships, overcome depression and anxiety, and recover from trauma and addictions. And people were perfectly fine without it, they might add…. except they weren’t. Except people simply struggled and suffered in silence.