Therapy has long been stigmatized. Many people fear talking about going to therapy, or seeing a psychologist, because they are afraid of what others may think. Reality is, there are still attitudes in society that view symptoms of psychopathology as threatening and uncomfortable. Many commonly misconceive therapy-goers as ‘weak,’ ‘mid-breakdown,’ ‘unstable,’ ‘crazy,’ and or ‘lacking a healthy support system of friends and family.’ These attitudes perpetuate the mental health stigma that negatively affects a large portion of our population.
Today, over forty million Americans live with a mental health condition.
It’s time to change how we think about mental health and those that seek help
One of the best ways to challenge the mental health stigma is to talk openly about experiences of mental health. Many who misconcieve, or think negatively about therapy, do so because they lack understanding, or a way to relate and empathize. It’s human nature to fear and judge that which is new and unfamiliar. Yet, mental illness affects the lives of too many for us to continue to ignore it. It’s time we as a society become more aware and compassionate.
In an effort to educate and raise awareness, Wellman Psychology & Associates collected real accounts of individuals’ lived experiences in therapy. Eight brave individuals opened up to our team about their experiences in therapy as a step in inspiring others to do the same. These stories provide genuine lived experience and perspective when it comes to making the decision to start therapy, and appreciating what can be gained from action and support.
Excerpts from lived experiences in therapy
Why did you seek out therapy? What did you gain from your experience?
Relationships: 38 year old, man
Why go? “I was in a turbulent relationship. I wasn’t sure what was going on or what I was contributing to the issues. I was feeling a lot of blame and I was wondering what I could be doing differently. I wanted to seek someone out that could explore these issues with me and figure out what I could do to communicate better with this person I cared so much about… I sought out individual private therapy in order to seek out improvement of the larger issues within my control."
Take Away? “I discovered what boundaries were important to me and how I should assert them. I also learned that another persons reaction cannot be controlled by my wording, so I can’t hold myself responsible for the repercussions of expressing my feelings.”
Balance: 28 year old, man
Why go? "I was in my apartment with my roommate who is my best friend. I had been horizontal on the couch for longer than I would like to admit. We had spiraled into a Law and Order S.V.U. binge… There was an unexpected shift that changed the energy in the apartment during that couch focused night. My roommate suddenly sparked up, 'I am going to start seeing a therapist.' She had been thinking about this for some time and that day had committed to it.There was no hesitation or uncertainty in what she announced to me. Instead there was a lot of excitement and passion! She talked about who her potential therapist was, how she had googled her, where the building was, how she would get there, and what day of the week she had decided to go. Listening to her go on, I wanted that for myself. I wanted that excitement and pride of doing something to better myself."
Take Away? "Three of my life long frenemies, 'Lack of Confidence,' 'Stress,' and 'Anxiety' do not make appointments with me... I am not afraid of experiencing the lack of confidence, stress, and anxiety. I now feel I have an ability to control or manipulate that “chaos” and those feelings to my well being when they come up. I hear them but they do not command me. By showing up once a week and empowering myself, sharing my thoughts and opening up it gives me a sense of balance. That balance gives me the control."
Happiness: 31 year old, woman
Why go? “I originally thought about going to therapy long before I actually made an appointment. I found myself feeling numb a lot, even during times of celebration or when great things were happening. I didn’t enjoy spending time with my friends as much as I used to, or doing things I used to feel so happy doing. I was confused because I constantly felt that I ‘should’ be happy because nothing really ‘bad’ was happening in my life. I was always tired and stopped taking good care of myself like I used to.”
Take Away? “I realized that if something makes me uncomfortable, it may be something I need to work on to understand more. I realized that it’s so easy to avoid making the changes or doing the work because it’s scary. Taking a step in the right direction, although emotional, can be a huge source of relief when going through a difficult time.”
Career Growth: 40 year old, man
Why go? “I began therapy because I wanted to be the best in my field. My doctoral graduate program strongly recommended that all future therapists engage in their own therapy process. I also believed that going to therapy would help me achieve balance and growth spiritually.”
Take Away? "Along the multi-year process in therapy, I came to realize that therapy was providing me freedom; freedom to be me, love me, fulfill me. Clearly, it was a much more powerful experience than I anticipated, and was absolutely necessary for me to achieve everything I wanted. Therapy provided me with everything I needed to make big, risky life decisions with confidence, and to find genuine happiness, pride, and accomplishment. It helped me become a more effective, authentic person and therapist."
Performance Control: 23 year old, woman
Why go? “I was a really competitive athlete, and I was struggling with emotional control and anxiety on the field. I was so passionate about playing at the next level, yet everything seemed to be too big of a challenge. If I messed up one pass, I basically could not focus for the rest of the game. I would just keep replaying the mistake in my head. I was tired of being mad at myself, and just tired in general. I knew I was better than that, so I sought help.”
Take Away? “It wasn’t easy, especially with the mental health stigma in athletics. But looking back, it was crucial. I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did as an athlete or person without help. I learned a lot about myself that I had been ignoring. Soccer was just one part of me, but it was taking all my attention and focus. It was causing me to suffocate without balance. Seeing a psychologist helped me gain techniques to bounce back from mistakes and be resilient in challenge. I gained confidence and emotional control.”
Understanding: 28 year old, woman
Why go? “I sought out therapy at a time in my life when I was very unhappy and felt unsure of myself in various parts of my life. I was looking to connect with a therapist for support in better understanding what was going on with me, and how to get back to a happier place.”
Take Away? “I learned that I have many of the tools I need to take care of myself; listening to myself and trusting myself are some of the most important tools I have to live fully and authentically.”
Wellness: 28 year old, man
Why go? “Several years ago, I found myself feeling unhappy, dissatisfied with the way things were going in my life, and unable to figure out the ‘why.’ I’ve experienced therapy before and had a handle on some tools and tricks that tend to help me snap out of any periods of depression or anxiety, but they were not having an impact. So I decided it might be time to try therapy again and see if what I was applying to try and improve my experience was addressing the actual issues in my life. Spoiler alert: they weren’t.”
Take Away? “Ultimately, I developed the ability to tune into my own thoughts and feelings and actively listen to what I needed or wanted, and make decisions related to those needs. Through therapy, I was able to realize that I had been historically making decisions in my life that felt like they were “the right ones” because they benefited other people, but meant I was self-sacrificing at every point. I was in several situations, including a long-term romantic relationship that continued to push me in directions that I could not continue in without compromising the person I actually am.”
Clarity: 26 year old, woman
Why go? “I felt like I needed someone to talk to, and that it had to be someone new. I love my family but every time I talked to them it just made me more upset, like they didn’t get what I was talking about. I needed a fresh perspective. I felt like I had a huge weight on me that I just needed off, and I didn’t know how to get it off myself. So I decided to ask for help.”
Take Away? “I wish I had help earlier. I was afraid of asking but I wasted so much time being sad, and miserable when I should have just started therapy. I also learned that its really normal and many of my friends go to therapy as well. Once I started talking about it, others did too.”
What can we learn from these lived experiences?
Acknowledge the value of therapy. These stories illuminate the hidden side of therapy; the good side that only those who go recognize. Mental illness is commonly perceived as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, and daily functioning. Yet, every person experiences mental illness differently. For some, with appropriate support and guidance, mental illness can spur positive growth and development. It can be a very positive experience...
“I developed the ability to tune into my own thoughts and feelings and actively listen to what I needed or wanted, and make decisions related to those needs…”
"I learned that I have many of the tools I need to take care of myself..."
"Seeing a psychologist helped me gain techniques to bounce back from mistakes and be resilient in challenge. I gained confidence and emotional control."
"By showing up once a week and empowering myself, sharing my thoughts and opening up it gives me a sense of balance. That balance gives me the control."
The value of therapy is clarified and illuminated in these lived experiences. These individuals gained freedom, self-confidence, inner strength, balance, and resilience.
Strive to re-frame therapy. Interestingly, each individual shared a similar desire to improve, and acted bravely in seeking the help they needed to pursue progress. Many of the challenges that brought these individuals to therapy in the first place, are challenges many of us can relate to. Therapy for them became a positive experience in which they actively strove to better their lives, relationships, and careers. This perspective can help us, as a society, re-frame how we think about therapy, and begin to change the labels we assign to those who go. Seeking help and support through therapy is not 'scary', or 'weak', or 'crazy,' but rather, brave and courageous.
Encourage the conversation. These stories inspire action. Mental illness is common, livable, and treatable. Instead of fearing and quieting those with mental illness, we must more readily encourage conversation and action. Speaking up and seeking help through therapy is courageous. When it comes to mental wellness, seeking help and support early is crucial in improving mental outcomes and striving towards recovery.
“I learned that its really normal (therapy) and many of my friends go to therapy as well. Once I started talking about it, others did too...”
"My roommate suddenly sparked up, 'I am going to start seeing a therapist.' She had been thinking about this for some time and that day had committed to it.There was no hesitation or uncertainty in what she announced to me. Instead there was a lot of excitement and passion… Listening to her go on, I wanted that for myself. I wanted that excitement and pride of doing something to better myself."
- Reflect on your personal understanding of mental health. How has this article changed your thinking...?
- Challenge yourself: Imagine a friend told you that he/she was seeing a therapist. How would you respond? How might you adjust your response to better support your friend?
- Strive to learn more about mental health and stay aware of how it impacts our society.