On a weekly basis I hear someone state that a person they know “really needs to go to therapy”. It is usually said with a hint of insult attached to it and delivered either with or without humor. My response is almost always a gentle reminder that we all need therapy, to which every person responds, “Yeah…of course. I know. But they REALLY need it.”
That’s when I know for sure that they don’t know. The stigma surrounding mental health care is alive and well. Unfortunately, this stigma combined with a general lack of understanding about mental health, prevents people from seeking care for purposes of both maintenance and distress. The result is that people most often seek mental health care when they are in crisis, not as a regular act of basic wellness. So that leaves us to question, what is the purpose of therapy? Who really needs to have it? If, in fact, we all need therapy, when do we need it?
Therapy is a part of maintaining emotional health and overall wellness. It’s where we learn to identify emotions, communicate effectively with others, and develop coping skills to help us manage the highs and lows of life. Just as we prioritize the importance of having a physical from our Primary Care Physician every year or biannual dental appointments, seeing a psychotherapist every year in order to assist us with the challenges of daily life should become a regular part of how we care for ourselves and our families.
All of those things are needs that we have before the hard stuff happens…heartbreak, trauma, death, divorce, or financial instability. These are events that we cannot control or anticipate. These major life events have the potential to alter how we, and the generations that follow us, function in the world for years to come. Our goal should not be limited to merely surviving these tough times. Engaging in regular therapy helps us to have psychological and environmental supports in place that can lessen the impact of these intense experiences and assist us with getting back on track. It’s great to have the support and understanding of loved ones, but it is not a substitute for professional care. Professional psychotherapy allows someone to assess organic mental health challenges that you may not even know are present and if you do, will not know the best ways to manage. Mood disorders, executive functioning disorders, and thought disorders are usually not improved through advice or suggestions from loved ones.
It is time to shed the stereotypes of the “normal” person and the “crazy” person. There are no “good teeth” people or “bad teeth” people. There are people with regular access to dental care and people without regular access to dental care. Once we understand that regular, consistent mental health treatment is a vital part of maintaining general health and wellness, we can move past the idea that “those people” need therapy and start looking for a therapist that will help us on our personal journey to health and wellness.