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Issue 17 Out Now

4 Things You've Heard About Therapy -and Why It's Wrong

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic roughly one year ago, people across the world have found new ways to cope with life stressors. Virtual mental health care resources have expanded to meet the high demand and the needs of our ever-changing world. Still, therapy continues to carry a negative stigma that prevents the most vulnerable and marginalized from getting access to this type of mental health care. In light of this reality, de-stigmatizing therapy must means we have honest conversations about why people might be hesitant to seek therapy.

Just because no one else can heal or do your inner work for you doesn’t mean you should , or need to, do it alone.” -Lisa Olivera

In addition to the personal barriers we create, Black people face many socio-political barriers to getting therapy like affordability, insurance coverage, and accessibility. The impact of racism and mental health care make it very difficult for many of us to get therapy, even after we’ve recognized its importance. The structural and institutional work of increasing access to mental health care is furthered by the individual work we do toward that aim. In pursuit of a world that normalizes therapy, here are 4 things you’ve probably heard or thought about therapy — and why it’s wrong.

“I don’t need therapy, I’m not depressed.” As a grade school student, my mom would always tell me to go to tutoring even though I never faced much difficulty achieving high grades. Since I wasn’t failing any classes, I didn’t understand why I should go to tutoring. “Tutoring is not only for when you’re failing. Tutoring is there so you don’t fail in the first place or so you can maintain the grades that you have”, my mom would say. Today, and in the context of mental health, my mom’s words mean something different. I would say, therapy isn’t only for those with mental illness or experiencing mental health emergencies; rather, therapy equips you with the tools you need to prevent crises or manage illnesses. Whether you’re a mental health champion or are experiencing difficult times or illness, therapy is for you.

“Why go to talk when I can just talk to myself.” Often times our expectations of therapy is a space wherein a person lies on a couch and pours out their heart to a quiet but attentive therapist who repeatedly asks “but why do you feel that way?”. We must remind ourselves therapy is a mutual process. As much as you share, you should be receiving. At times what you gain from therapy is explicit (daily tips, step-by-steps, worksheets/activities) and other times the benefits of therapy aren’t as tangible (being heard, being given undivided attention etc). Either way, therapy is so much more than “talking” and we do ourselves a grave disservice when reduce therapy to a conversation or venting session.

“I went to therapy and it didn’t work.”(Also: “My friend — or relative — went to therapy and it didn't work.”) Unlike other forms of care, therapy’s effectiveness cannot be measured in a binary sense where it either works or doesn’t. Therapy is an ongoing form of mental health care that requires consistency and commitment. Some people feel good about their mental health care plan after one therapy session, while others don’t feel its impact for years. Evaluating therapy’s value by binary measures of efficiency, oversimplifies the very complex work therapists engage do and the complex nature of mental health.

“Therapy just isn’t for me.” Even if therapy isn’t for you (which isn’t true), equipping yourself with the mental health tools and resources therapy provides can empower you to be the friend or relative the people closest to you may need and deserve. This does not mean, however, that you should become your circle’s personal therapist. Although having a mental health tool box can help facilitate disagreements, improve communication processes, increase awareness of triggers, and develop your emotional intelligence in ways your loved ones will appreciate. Learning what to say or do if a mental health crisis arises, knowing the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, and recognizing trauma responses and patterns are all practical ways therapy is important. outside of what it can personally do for us.

In short, even if you feel therapy isn’t for you, it is.

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