July 30, 2012

You Should Talk About Going To Therapy

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What is the issue?

I talk about going to therapy. Not in every article. Not every day. Not with every person. But I talk about it freely if the conversation arises. If I’m on my way to an appointment and I run into a friend who asks where I’m headed, I will say, “To therapy.” If my employer casually wants to know where I’m going on my lunch hour, and if I trust them and it seems appropriate, I usually say, “I have a therapy appointment nearby. I’ll be back soon.” If someone wants advice or brings up something relevant about stress, I feel all right saying, “My therapist says…”

Recently, someone in the comments of one of my Thought Catalog articles, got indignant about one paragraph, in a piece about my anxiety surrounding my relationship with my sister, wherein I mentioned what my therapist thought about the issue. I didn’t harp. I just wrote, “My therapist thinks…” The commenter took issue with me talking so openly about seeing a therapist. “Every other article on here mentions therapy. Seems self-indulgent,” they wrote.

I know there’s a stigma around mental health wherein for example, if I’m having a panic attack, most people will tell me it’s all in my mind and that I can control it. And I know that. And I can’t.

Going to therapy or to a psychiatrist is seen as a weakness or an indulgence. You can’t deal with your problems yourself so you need to pay someone to do it for you. You don’t have any real friends you can talk to, a deficiency on your part, so you have to essentially pay for a professional to listen to you whine. You see a therapist? You must be Woody Allen. You must be a navel-gazing lunatic. You must be an unbearable human being.

The mistaken idea is, I think, that you go in, talk about your problems incessantly for an hour and get, I don’t know, patted on the back or something by a therapist who indulges your self-obsession. I don’t think going to therapy makes you self-obsessed and so what if it does? Introspection isn’t the enemy. Sometimes we can only be better to others, in our lives and careers, if we first start unpacking ourselves. But also, that’s not only what therapy is.

If you broke your leg, you’d go to an orthopedist to get it put into a cast. If you needed a root canal, you’d see a dentist. So why if your brain is not doing what it’s supposed to are you chastised for seeking professional help? And for casually talking about doing so?

There’s also the misconception that therapy is for the rich. Sure, some psychiatrists charge a crazy amount per session, but not all. The therapist I see works on a sliding scale based on my income. I pay 30 to 40 dollars a session depending, and some weeks I could choose to pay nothing at all.

My therapist is a student, but they are qualified and smart and I feel they do a great job for what I pay. I found them by Googling, “sliding scale therapy.” It takes an hour out of my week and it helps me feel okay when I do not feel okay. (I shouldn’t even have to explain this or get defensive about it to anyone, but I thought it might help someone who thinks they are too poor to seek help.)

I have anxiety that manifests in physically painful panic attacks. I have issues with food and with growing up the child of an alcoholic. Those are just a few of the things we work on in therapy. The physical pain in my chest will not go away by seeing an MD. It will only go away through therapy. This is not an indulgence. This is medical.

If it helps one other person see that mental health is worth working on, that their problems are treatable, that there is hope — then my talking about going to therapy will have been worth it.

One friend I talked to about this said she thought everyone should have to go to therapy at least once. Her reasoning was that, “…therapy helps you to identify problems and then articulate and communicate them which are skills pretty much anyone could benefit from having in any relationship.”

I liked that phrasing. People have such a hard time understanding each other, that if we all built the skills to better communicate, so many relationships — working relationships, dating relationships, family relationships — would run smoother. Therapy is not self-indulgent whining. It’s eradicating physical pain. It’s acknowledging the importance of your mental health. It’s working on yourself so you can be better to others. You look inward, but the ultimate focus is outward.

The only way the stigma is going to go away is if we talk openly about seeking help — without shame, without criticism — the same way we would talk about seeing a dentist or a hairdresser or any other professional. If you’re on the fence, I hope you’re motivated to get help. Because I’m going to keep talking about seeing a therapist. And I am not sorry or ashamed. TC Mark

Gaby Dunn

Gaby Dunn is a writer, comedian, journalist and Jesse Eisenberg enthusiast living in Los Angeles. Email her at: …

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