It shouldn’t be, but even in this day and age, it still is for some people. I actually understand it.
Modern psychotherapy has been around for decades and, for some of us, there’s still a stigma around getting help. Here’s why.
We live in a culture of do-it-yourselfers, self-made women and men (e.g. mothers who “do it all” and men who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps). It’s what America was built on. We often equate success with self-reliance, and to a degree, that’s not an entirely bad qualifier.
In addition to ourselves, we also want to raise our children to value self-reliance. For the most part, this is a good thing. However, if we only value total self-reliance, then we miss out on connection with others.
The problem is that the overwhelming majority of us need human connection. This is both a psychological fact but also a biological fact of life. We are literally hardwired to live connected lives with others.
The problem is that society has placed so much emphasis on autonomy, self-reliance, and independence, that we are now conditioned to live emotional lives of isolation. This is a painful way to live.
And while it’s true that Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway existed in a vacuum of sorts on his remote island, he had his volleyball friend, Wilson, to work through his isolated life with – even if he was only an inanimate object in reality.
You also see this in young children who play with their imaginary friends. Wanting connection is completely normal. It’s one of the primary ways that we thrive in life.
Why do people go to therapy?
We all have people and situations in life that challenge us. Maybe we have a fight with our partner, something unexpected happens at work, or we experience a traumatic situation. In order to cope with these experiences, we have our “normal and usual ways of handling things, which were created from our early childhood coping mechanisms.
Sometimes our ways of coping work very well for us. Sometimes, not so much.
We also may not realize that our coping mechanisms are constantly working in the background, running our subconscious. Or, we might be well aware but feel that we are unable to control it or do something differently.
Sometimes are coping mechanisms not only don’t work, but they can make things worse without our even realizing it.
This is where things can go wrong. Not being able to effectively cope can have a negative impact on our ability to function at home, at work, in school, and our relationships in general.
Unresolved problems like these can lead to ongoing conflicts, alienation from others, sadness, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, increased health problems, abuse, and feelings of confusion, frustration, and even hopelessness.
Unfortunately, far too many people often suffer needlessly and painfully in silence. Sometimes for days, weeks, months, and even years.
I have some good news for you. It just doesn’t have to be this way. There are so many reasons to feel hopeful. Connecting with even just one another person is a great way to start feeling better.
And this is where therapy can become very useful in helping us to rewire those deeply embedded habits. It can help us to communicate our fears or thoughts in a safe environment. It can also help us to learn and then practice new methods for communicating and connecting with others.
My point here is this: we all need help in certain situations and various phases of our lives.
We’re human and we simply need each other. Relationships are what propel us forward. And, frankly, they keep us alive.
Before we move on, there are a couple of myths that can get in our way when it comes to growing a healthier relationship with ourselves and with others. I want to dispel those myths for you.
Isn’t asking for help a sign of weakness?
This is a myth that used to be very common. For some people, it still is.
We may have been taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Therefore, we then tend to also believe that seeking out counseling is also a sign of weakness. This erring belief is a complete myth.
It turns out that the exact opposite is true for two very significant reasons.
First, asking for help shows a degree of wisdom. It takes a certain amount of maturity and self-awareness to realize when we are facing one or a series of challenges that we may not be able to cope with like we normally do.
Think about it. Would you view a child as “weak” if they needed your help to answer a question or to learn a new task? Of course not. Well, as adults we are no different. We need help too.
Does admitting that I need help mean that I am inherently flawed?
Absolutely not! No one is perfect but that doesn’t mean that we are inherently flawed.
Of course, the other problem with that dirty word, “therapy,” is that people think it implies that there is something wrong with us – that we are “damaged goods”. This is also a popular myth.
In reality, the truth is that the vast majority of us are simply normal people, having normal and often understandably upsetting reactions to the inevitable challenges that we all encounter at various stages in our lives.
Why am I afraid to ask for help?
That’s because all of this involves facing the unknown, and that can be scary to contemplate. I’ve been there. I get it.
And while exploring the unknown can also be exciting, when we are in the throes of major conflicts in our lives, the unknown is often a bit frightening.
Feeling scared, nervous or anxious is also very human and normal. You just don’t want to be caught in situations where fear is chronically paralyzing you.
Being in a constant fear is a painful way to live.
Realizing that we may need to ask for support and guidance not only takes a certain amount of maturity, intelligence, and self-awareness…it also takes courage.
Hacking our courage is one of those vitally important character traits that help us to grow in the world.
Courage is what we need when we are afraid. Fear is precisely why we need our courage. And sometimes, we may not feel very courageous. A good therapist can help you with that.
Tapping into our courage can also help prevent us from becoming a prisoner of our fears. When we actually get the friendly ear of another who we can safely confide in, doing so also helps us combat loneliness.
There is a reason that old sayings tend to stand the test of time. The following old saying certainly qualifies: “Pain shared is pain halved.” I agree.
I have family and friends to talk to. Why do I need a therapist?
It’s true. You may very well be thinking, “But, Gary, I have friends and family that I trust. Isn’t that their job? Why do I need to pay a therapist?”
In many situations, our family and friends are enough, and we don’t need counseling. That’s a good point. Having good friends and family members that we can trust are important and even vital to our well-being. I have family and friends that I talk to on a regular basis about the day to day of my life.
But, let’s remind ourselves that sometimes, no matter how well-intended, family and friends can be so close to us that they cannot always be as objective as we might like them to be, and in the ways that we may really need them to be.
It’s at times like this – when conflicts aren’t resolving – that we can often benefit from a new perspective.
As therapists, we’ve spent many, many years training to listen deeply, to support you, and to provide you with new points of view, and interpersonal techniques that perhaps your friends, your family, and well-meaning acquaintances may not have in their back pocket.
Does therapy even work?
Remember that vacuum that no one exists in? It’s actually a very good thing we don’t. Humans are social animals. There are specific areas of the brain that are activated when we are connected to others.
These areas of our brains have much to do with our sense of well-being and literally need stimulation through connection with others.
Scientific research clearly shows us that we are born to thrive on our abilities to connect, relate and ultimately, to harmonize with others.
This means our ticket to getting out of our own way is simply in co-creating a positive relationship with ourselves and with others. How does that happen in therapy?
When it comes to therapy, a client can have the experience of actually feeling heard, understood, and valued by someone who is objective and also cares that you get the best outcome possible.
Oftentimes, if someone is really committed to looking inside, and they have someone who is competent and truly cares about their well-being, that’s the combination that is likely to be the most successful.
Your path to more love, more joy, more positive relationships, and more tools to manage less positive relationships in your life is in that same built-in human process of connection that you were born with.
This means that you very likely already have what you need to move forward. You just need a safe place to open up, to learn and practice new, interesting, and healthier ways to communicate, cope and problem solve, and the courage to do the work.
What is the therapist’s role?
A therapist’s role is to provide you with a safe and supportive relationship to help you while you work together to help you face the challenges in your life.
Therapy isn’t something that a therapist does “to you”. It is a collaborative effort.
Like a good helper, we’ll maybe even hand you a tool buried in your toolbox when it’s a bit out of reach. And a therapist will be there with you every step of the way so that you no longer have to deal with all of this alone.
I also think that you deserve to have a therapist who will actually have a real live conversation with you. I am very interactive with my clients. I don’t just sit there in total silence, occasionally nodding my head, and only asking you how you feel.
Yes. We’re actually going to talk. We will have discussions about what is important to you. You’re going to get live real-time feedback. And, yes, sometimes you may ask for advice and I will offer it.
Here’s something that almost all of my clients who work with me discover. Over time, they begin to experience an increased sense of self-esteem as they tackle things in their life that they never thought they would be able to confront.
They also report that they continue to discover new and exciting possibilities in their lives: new opportunities to be happy and strengths they never knew they had. This can be a very exciting time!
The bottom line
Think about it. This is your life we’re talking about. They say you only get one shot at this. I tend to agree. This is probably not a dress rehearsal. There aren’t going to be any do-overs once life ends.
So, if this life is the only life you’re ever going to have, don’t you want to give yourself the very best chance to live it fully, and experience more love and more connection?
Bottom line? It’s this: I think you deserve the opportunity to explore your maximum potential in this life for more fulfillment, personally and professionally. I’ve helped thousands of people discover just how to do that.
So, if what you have been doing has not been working as well for you as you might have liked, maybe this is the time for you to try something new.
What do you think?
I hope that this article has been helpful. As an experienced therapist, I have helped hundreds, probably even thousands of people just like you do precisely this for over 25 years. Of course, you are likely to still have questions you would like to have answered about therapy, and whether or not it is something that you want to explore.
I would be more than happy to offer you a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if I am a good fit for what you need. And if for any reason I am not a good fit for you, I am more than happy to help you find a therapist who is.