Therapy Isn't Selfish
Defeating the Stigma Against Seeing Therapists
Recently, someone boldly announced that therapy was senseless in that it was simply a time where the patient got to talk about themselves for an hour. They went on to imply that this was a selfish act by saying things like, "If you're a person that needs to pay someone to listen to you talk about yourself for an hour... *shrugs* that just seems weird and unnecessary." I didn't know what to say...so I didn't say anything, and then I felt even worse.
This has been burning in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks now. As someone who has been in two separate out-patient programs and in and out of therapy for four years, I couldn't help but feel really invalidated by what they said. I knew that I wasn't the only one in the room who had been in a hospital program, and that there were even more of my friends in the room who had seen or still were going to see a therapist, and it wasn't easy for them to start that process, or even continue that routine.
I asked for a therapist when I was about 12 years old, and my parents refused to find me one. By the time I did get a therapist, my mental health had plummeted so low that about a month into therapy, I was admitted into a hospital program. To this day, I am convinced that if I would have received help earlier and more consistently, it's possible that I wouldn't have reached that low point. But also, who knows! I could have been like many others who see a therapist frequently/regularly and still end up needing to try a hospital program. There's nothing wrong with that—don't get me wrong—but with any illness, you likely want it diagnosed as early on as possible to work on prevention and possible treatments. Mental health is the same as physical health—it is a part of it, and it is just as important as it.
I would like to make something very clear about myself and many other friends of mine that see a therapist or counselor: I don't go to therapy just to talk about myself. I have been diagnosed with moderate depression, generalized anxiety, and severe social anxiety. On top of that, I have fought through anorexia nervosa, body image issues and disordered eating habits, and frequent self harm for most of my teen and adult years. Because of these illnesses, I go to see a doctor. I'm recovering from these illnesses, thanks to my "doctor." If you have a broken arm, you don't want to ignore it until it gets infected or you can't use it anymore—you should want to go see a doctor to get help as soon as possible.
When I sit down for my session, the first few minutes are used for checking in. We talk about (yes, a back and forth conversation between both of us!) how my week(s) was and how I'm feeling in the moment. This takes 10-15 minutes, or sometimes less! This includes times during the week that I was possibly triggered or any triumphs or struggles that I experienced. This usually leads to explanations for these experiences, and that also doesn't take up too much time. The majority of the time during my sessions are used discussing difficult relationships in my life and asking for advice, coming up with coping skills to exercise for when I get triggered, because even though I'm doing a lot better, I still get triggered and even relapse. Sometimes I do have to talk about myself for a bit... but this is not a selfish act!
To the person that said what they did about seeing therapists: I don't spend an hour each week talking to you about myself, so please consider that while you're telling me that therapy is useless and a waste of my money. Secondly, it is my money, and I feel that maintaining and cultivating a better mental health is a priority, and I work hard to make it happen. Additionally, it is doubtful that someone seeking a doctor for cancer would be addressed in the same way. That would be highly offensive! Why isn't this the same when it comes to mental health treatment? There is nothing selfish or pretentious about seeing a therapist to talk about what you're dealing with, whether that's you talking about yourself for an hour, or about something else that you want/need help/advice for.
Lastly, just because you see a therapist doesn't mean that you're "insane" or "crazy." I know several people that go to a therapist because they like checking in with a professional—a "check up from the neck up," as my therapist says. So, to those of you looking to see a counselor or therapist for something seemingly small, or something you're truly afraid to confront, there's no shame in that, and it's not selfish at all. I will end with saying that sometimes you do need to talk about yourself, and there's nothing wrong with that. Talking about yourself is part of self-discovery and healing. Therapy has been and continues to be such an important part of healing in my life and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. I can't see it ever hurting, and don't let anyone ever tell you that it's selfish. There's no shame in taking care of yourself.