One of the most common questions that I have from people when they find out what I do is “So who are the types of people you work with?”, to which my reply is “Everybody: you, me, and everyone that wants to get the very best out of their lives.”. To which I get a slightly baffled look, then a look of inner questioning, then they ask “So, could you help me with…..?”.
Ensuring we are mentally healthy, in all aspects of our lives, should be taught in school, taught by parents, taught by conscientious employers, taught by each and every one of us. The conflict happens when we are worried/ fear what others think, what we think as ourselves and what actually being mentally healthy really means. I work with sports and business professionals to become the very best that they can be, this works for all of us!
Every one of my amazing clients have their own take on what mentally healthy really is. For some it’s to smile, for others it is to achieve their dreams, for others it is to cope. The key in all of this is that you are in positive control: of your thinking, of your work, of your relationship, of your life. When you are in control, you are able to cope, able to seize opportunities, able to do the things that you want to do, in a calm, relaxed and confident way. It doesn’t sound that scary does it? We seek advice & help when we are out of shape, when our car is is making a funny noise, when our hair is too long etc etc, therapy simply gives us the mental ability to turn things around.
Go on, give it a go, I guarantee you’ll never be the same again!
The following article written by another therapist nicely overcomes the main objections:
He knew he needed help, but couldn’t stomach what it meant to be “someone who goes to therapy”. And so days of deliberation became months of fear magnified. Today, he’s strong and in control, and fondly calls that period “in a previous life”. And he knows he’s not alone. In my work, I like to discuss fear of therapy early. Because recognising them helps us to slay them. So for you, I’ve compiled a list of the 7 biggest fears of going to psychotherapy, and how to overcome them.
Fear Of Therapy #1: “There’s something wrong with me”
Ihave a burning question for you. If you had a cough, would you call yourself “The Person With The Cough”? Would the cough become part of your identity? If your dearest friend told you in confidence that she is seeing someone as she is feeling depressed, when someone talks about her, would you think of her as “My charming best friend” or “The Depressed One” henceforth? But, we all have fears around diagnoses.
Here’s the deal: What you do with a diagnosis is up to you.
Let me explain. A diagnosis is a useful tool that to understand our experiences and guide treatment. Like, we know that a person who is anxious is likely to think more about the future than the present, and have trouble relaxing. So we can work towards staying in the present via observing the mind. For some, this ‘label’ is the Eureka! moment that explains why they are the way they are. It has a name. It tells them that they are not alone.
You can become the diagnosis. Or heal your psychological equivalent of your cough.
Fear Of Therapy #2:” How do I tell my friends and family?”
You want to tell them because they are important to you. Or because you’d like their support. Or you’d like them to stop doing something with you that worsens your difficulties- such as offering you alcohol or substances. But you can’t put it into words. I’ve done the work for you. Here are three scripts. PS They work. And you can use this for any kind of professional that you are seeing- a healer, a coach, anyone.
Fear Of Therapy #3: “Seeking help means I’m weak”
A friend of mine shared his wisdom about therapy. . or any kind of coaching. He said, “If you want to get better at tennis, you get a coach. If you want to get better at your relationship, get a therapist. You could read all the books and get overwhelmed. It can take you the ten years you’ve been trying to cope with it. Or you can go to someone trained who can give you a system. Do you really want to spend another ten years stumbling and fumbling?” I’ve not found a better analogy.
And really, what does ‘strong’ mean? Doing it all alone? So why do top athletes have coaches? Why do successful people hire executive coaches? Why do we seek mentors?
From the beginning, my therapy is aimed at teaching you to access your own power. To become your own Therapist/ Guru/ Master/ Mistress/ (insert title-of-choice).You remove your training wheels as you ride the bicycle that is you, and know that no matter what happens, you’ve got the power inside you. Y know which tools to use. And that if you ever want a therapy refresher, it’s no big deal. It’s like hiring a driving instructor for a refresher course if you’ve not been at the wheel for ten years, and you want the full confidence.
PS Many psychological professionals undertake therapy as part of their training. It’s normal.
Fear Of Therapy #4: “If I’m ashamed of myself, won’t you judge me?”
I am human. I’ve an in-built set of prejudices that I’m aware of. And I’m pretty good at weeding out those that have been pre-programmed into me by society. As it goes, I take people for who they are. I hear you, “But . . you will still have prejudices.” I can’t ride a bike. It makes me embarrassed, especially around most people who ride bikes. But they genuinely think it’s alright. I have friends who are utterly ashamed of being mathematically handicapped (their words). It makes no odds to me. Point being, what you’re ashamed of may not be the things that other people may react to.
As your therapist, I’m here to guide you, not judge you. My clients describe working with me as being in a safe and non-judgmental space. When prejudices come up, I reflect upon them in supervision. That’s how I grow as a human being.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity.”
– Pema Chödrön
Fear Of Therapy #5: “I’ll do things wrongly . . again. I’m a failure”
There’re some things you may do wrongly. Like realising that you breathed in and out through your mouth rather than the nose, thereby hyperventilating. Therefore your breathing exercise to calm you down did not work. There are some things to which there are no right or wrong answers. Like identifying what you think or what you’re feeling. It’s just you. Right now. And then there are some things that you did not do. Because you forgot. Or because you genuinely felt like you did not want to. That’s okay.
You can adopt one of two mindsets. The first being, resigning to doing something ‘wrongly’. The second one is a curious mindset where you ask yourself “What can I learn from this?”
Like with the breathing. You can learn “This is how I normally breathe when afraid. No wonder my body gets more stressed out because this is sending stress hormones into overdrive. Throughout the day I can practise breathing through the nose. I will remind myself before I start it. So when I do my breathing exercises when stressed, I will remember to tell myself ‘it’s through the nose!’ and I’ll have practised enough”.
Small shifts in mindset. Big differences in results. Which will you choose?
Fear Of Therapy #6: “I’m LGBT/introverted/of a different ethnicity. . you won’t understand me”
It doesn’t matter if you feel bad for the stereotypes and expectations that society frowns upon. Not extroverted enough. Socially awkward. Not heterosexual. Ethnic minority. Not clever enough. Sexually deviant. Not slim enough. Et cetera. I feel strongly against these labels and expectations. They make people feel ashamed of their uniqueness that they should be proud of.
If you’re ready and willing to work on yourself, that’s all we need. I will ask you questions to help me understand you better. My clients say that these questions also help them understand themselves better.
I’ve worked successfully with people of different sexual orientations, with lifestyle choices, and from different cultures. One of my most memorable work places was a year in the HIV/Sexual Health Psychology Service at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. I’ve good friends who are very different from me. You and I, we are both human beings. Fellow life forms.
Fear Of Therapy #7: “People will think I’m mad”
That.Awful.Stigma. Dean Burnett thinks 2014 marked a change, what with greater media coverage, government championing and support from the people in the UK. Yet, we continue to feel ashamed of experiencing mental health difficulties. Or we discriminate against people who experience it.
Depression is the common cold of mental health- at least one in two people will experience depression at some people in life. Because life happens. But why do we only discriminate against depression, not cold? One of my favourite things that psychologist Dr Guy Winch says is that when we cut ourselves, we know how to put antiseptic and a band aid on it. But we don’t practise emotional hygiene when we are sad or numb. We leave our psychological scars to fester, even if we know that loneliness kills. Because we are prejudiced towards physical health over mental health. Even though they are interlinked.
For every person who worries about the stigma and thus doesn’t seek help, we prolong suffering.
For every person who seeks help but spends more time worrying about stigma, we waste much of our energy and resources on the worrying.
For every person who initially worries and later confides in a friend who says “ME TOO!”, the relief is shared. And they realise that sharing is powerful and there is nothing to be ashamed of. (True story. I’ve heard it over and over again.)
Because around you now, 10% of children between 5 to 16 may be experiencing mental health difficulties. 17% of adults around you may be battling anxiety and depression. Even if they don’t have a name for it, they are suffering. JK Rowling’s got it. Catherine Zeta-Jones. Stephen Fry. John Nash. Norman Lamb discussed his family’s experiences, and campaigned for mental health inclusion within public health policy in the UK.
But it doesn’t just need to be done by people in power, famous brains or celebrities. It takes you and me talking about our experiences. It also takes those of us who shun mental health as taboo to question if these taboos are really ours. To keep an open mind. And to ask ourselves, “If this was my dearest friend suffering, would I think (s)he was mad?”.
Or, “If this was me suffering, would I want my friends to think I am mad, or continue to think of me as the person they love?”
PS If you’re suffering, you’re not mad. You’re a human who’s acknowledged their suffering. Recognition is the first step to stepping into your power.