Blame it on mental health stigma and a culture that believes in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” but most of us have picked up on the shame that can be associated with getting counseling or therapy. Many of my clients mention the stigma and shame they have to overcome in order to attend their first counseling session. Sometimes their families say things like, “You’re not strong enough to do it on your own,” or “Wow, something must be ‘wrong’ with you if you need therapy.” I often spend some time talking with my clients on why those comments can be ignorant and straight up wrong. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate my first blog post address this issue officially. Here are just 5 reasons why attending mental health counseling doesn’t make you weak… in fact, it makes you pretty badass!
It takes courage: Courage means you do something that frightens you. It means you have strength in the face of pain or grief. I would argue that courage is the opposite of weakness. Facing our hard stuff (which is pretty much what counseling is all about) is therefore defined as a courageous act. It’s not weak.
Change is hard: I propose that doing something “hard” like changing, facing uncomfortable emotions, taking responsibility… is the opposite of weak. What’s EASY is doing the same thing we always do; it can be the road of least resistance. Pretending like nothing is wrong and acting stoic can prevent authenticity and movement. What is HARD and brave is growth – working toward a goal, the discipline to feel and deal with things we want to change. Change is hard, and change is what happens in therapy. It’s not weak.
Getting professional help is smart: When I hire a physical therapist for an injury, a personal trainer to support my fitness goals, or a rheumatologist to help my arthritis, I don’t encounter stigma or shame. Counseling is the mental health equivalent to many interventionists for physical health. You recognize something isn’t working and you seek professional assistance. This is a smart choice, not a weak choice. In counseling we strengthen mental health muscles and build up mental health systems. We set measurable goals and practice interventions to reach these mental health goals. It’s not weak.
Valuing mental wellness is a positive investment: My clients value mental health. They value balance and improvement. I’m always a little confused why this is considered shameful or weak. For example, I value education and have invested a lot of time and money furthering my education. Similarly, mental health is something I value that requires time and money, be it via self-help books, medication, or mental health counseling. Those who seek to better their mental health are making an investment in their well-being. I think we all agree that’s not a bad thing. Mental health is a major component of overall wellbeing. It’s not weak.
The proof’s in the pudding: I received this email from a recent first-time client: “I just want to say that last night after leaving our appointment, I was filled with such a light and excited feeling. Hard to describe but it was a true happiness I haven’t felt in a long time. I am really looking forward to your guidance and knowledge in helping me rediscover and connect with my soul. I am ready for this journey.” If this is an outcome of counseling and people around us say counseling is weak… perhaps that’s okay. If the outcomes are joy and happiness, maybe we can just give the stigma the middle finger as we smile (like, smile big) and as we proceed forward on the high road. If you’ve been on the fence and think it might be time to improve your mental wellness, I would love to support you on that journey. I know it will be worth it! And again, it’s not weak.
Tiffany Roe, Clinical Mental Health Counselor