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The Answer to Therapy Stigma

The Answer to Therapy Stigma

How can we stop stigma in therapy?

I can remember my first time as a youngster going to speak to a therapist … Yes Yes Yes, I know what you’re thinking  “He has issues” or at least “He had issues,  I wonder if it was anything serious”!

According to the British Journal of Psychiatry only one third of people with a mental health issue seek psychological assistance, other studies elsewhere suggest that people who do consult will often delay treatment six to eight years. Stigma is often explained as one of the huge reasons why people will avoid going for help.

Many are putting in great efforts to ‘combat’ the issue of stigma in therapy, mostly by way of creating ‘further awareness’ of mental health issues, somehow hoping that by it being more out there, people will subsequently begin to feel more comfortable with the idea of going for help.

Last month I wrote an article in the Times of Israel titled ‘Does Mental health really need further awareness’, suggesting that further consciousness by the public is not in fact making any difference. This blog is in a way a follow up from that.

me

The stigma issue:

There are two main aspects within the stigma issue, one is the shame aspect – people are ashamed to share personal issues and the other is trust.

It could be said that the shame aspect is largely the fault of society in general; society tends to judge people who go for therapy in a  negative light, to the point where the phrase “you should go for therapy” is often said over as a way of an insult.

In essence, it should be obvious that people who do choose to go for therapy, do so in order to help themselves, in order to improve their lives and really are to be admired for their courage to ultimately do what it takes to improve their life. There is nothing much scarier than having to go and speak to some complete stranger about personal issues.

This brings us to the next and more important point:

The second facet that comes along with the stigma is ‘trust’. Many people do not trust that psychotherapy can effectively help…and for good reason, therapy does not always help.

But other than that, there is something which is far more blatant and obvious.

To put it plain and simply:

People do not trust therapists, in fact, most people seek to avoid therapists and it has little to do with the fact that they dislike being analysed…

General uptightness in the name of projecting professional competency

The idea and intention of setting boundaries in therapy was set up for the sake of the clients feeling of comfort and sense of security. But, when it comes to a point where these characteristics have defined the very nature of therapists themselves, we have to start examining who’s needs are being served. Who is gaining? And how are the potential therapy clients being effected?

straight_jacket

 

An uptight attitude will not create more trust and connection – It creates more taboo!

Commonly, therapists who have their own websites or utilize the social networks are very cautious not to write anything personal about their own personal lives. In some cases, looking at a therapist’s website, it is so bewildering, so academic, belletristic (for lack of a better word), it’s almost as if they don’t want you to understand what they are talking about.

But unlike when one visits an accountant, therapy clients actually need their therapist to be human and personal.

If therapists would only change their ‘popular approach’  and not be afraid to publicly express vulnerability, to project something that at least resembles who they are, people would begin to be more trusting of them. There is no reason that seeing a therapist should have to feel like one is going to consult with G-d himself.

Clients need to understand that in as much as therapists need to project, that they (the therapists) are not in a position of power or control; they are simply there attempting to create a quality space and environment for the client to make change possible. In traditional therapy this theme is something often talked about but in practice, this is not what clients are perceiving.

Just as an idea, a vision, wouldn’t it be great if therapists in general could make it a common practice of cracking a joke every once in a while about their own industry …and really there is so much to laugh about. Therapists could stop taking it personally when people joke about the therapy industry and instead laugh along. It would indeed be so much more refreshing and people could feel more okay and more relaxed about the idea of speaking to a therapist.

I know this is never going to happen!  But for those few that this does make some sort of sense to…

There is no doubt that being and acting your true vulnerable self works better to create a general client rapport than any rapport building ‘technique’.

einstein

We cannot solve the problems of stigma by simply emphasizing on the importance of mental health and creating more awareness, that in itself is not what will get people to feel more comfortable about speaking to therapists. Only therapists can stand a chance to get people to feel more comfortable with therapists.

By allowing people to see therapists as people who have their own challenges to face at times, therapists will subsequently be making themselves more available for sufferers. They may or may not gain the same respect they had gained previously but they will certainly be able to accomplish far more in their role as helping people.

To sum it all up…

Raising further mental ‘awareness’ will not get rid of the stigma, making mental health and therapy less taboo and unmentionable will!

So…for the first joke!

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

4 Comments

  1. To me it is the label "Therapist" "counsellor" that is the challenge. When people can see you as just like anyone who will respect your world without sitting there as a Therapist then the question of stigma fades to a certain extent. I alwys tell the counseling particpants that rather than couselling enable them to see their challenge and help them counsel themselves

  2. very true.

  3. Frank Bourke, Bruce Teal, Peter Keene and I are just finishing up a study of thirty Vets with PTSD. Many of them are fearful and untrusting. And because Frank and I are not Vets, we expected some resistance. But the simple practices of rapport, being people interacting with other people, and being appropriately self revelatory almost always broke the ice. Even when doing research, humans respond best to other humans, not to titles, diplomas, or achievements. Humility don;t hurt either.

    • Fascinating Richard!. Have you published anything on the study?

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