It comes at the end of the first session. The client looks up and asks “so, do you think I’m crazy?” The first time a client asked me this question, I assumed it was a joke. There are times it is said with a chuckle or a sigh of relief; however, there are many times this question arises with real fear in the client’s eyes. It is a question that often keeps people from seeking help altogether.
Mental health stigma is alive and well in our culture. As is stigma against asking for help in general. It is common for people to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, a sign of failure. In my work, I have encountered many people who needed help. After all of my experiences, I can say without hesitation that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If asking for help were easy, everyone would do it.
I can understand why attending therapy can be intimidating or embarrassing. In the past I have struggled as a therapist over whether I should disclose to others that I have been to therapy before. Over time, I have challenged my own bias against seeking mental health treatment. Yes, therapists have biases they have to work through and I am no exception. Working through my biases has helped me become more confident in my own story. Now I know that I am a better therapist, not despite the fact that I have been to therapy, but because of it.
For many people, attending therapy brings up feelings of shame and guilt. There can be assumptions that therapists have our lives together and have never had to seek help for our own mental health. I have become more forthcoming about my own experiences with therapy for a number of reasons. As a businesswoman, I think it is important for people to know that I believe in my own product. As a scientist and a practitioner, I know how and why therapy is beneficial. But on a more personal level, I know that my life is better because of the work I have done in therapy.
As a therapist, I can appreciate how hard clients are working, because I have done it myself. I’ve sat in the client’s chair and taken a hard look at the things in my life that I want to change. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and it helps me have compassion and empathy for my clients who are trying to change their own lives.
One of the most important reasons I have become more transparent about attending therapy is my commitment to reduce stigma. My hope is that we can change the question. Instead of trying to decide who is or isn’t crazy, let’s admit that we all need help sometimes and have the courage to ask for it when we need it.