While many mental health service organizations offer therapy and counseling for students in need, many are hesitant to take advantage of these services because of the stigma surrounding therapy and mental illness. “According to a 2013 international study… stereotypes about mental illnesses are large contributors to the stigma that surrounds seeking help.” Often times, “mental illness” is misconstrued as being “crazy” and going to therapy is commonly misinterpreted as “mental brainwashing and headshrinking.” There are so many people that go to therapy to seek help for a variety of life challenges, so it is simply not true that seeking therapy equates to having a mental illness.
While there are people with serious mental health illnesses who attend therapy, making the generalization that everyone who goes to counseling is mentally ill is absurd.
Not only is this stigma unfair to people who are considering therapy as a helpful tool to cope with life transitions and challenges, it is unfair to the therapeutic process. The common “magical association” of therapy promotes a lack of awareness about mental health treatment, perhaps because the “realm of therapy or counseling still remains quite mysterious to most people.” Instead of ignorantly perceiving therapy as a sort of supernatural process, we need to be learning about what mental health treatment entails and what exactly happens in a therapy session.
First off, it is important to note that there are several different types of therapy; some therapists encourage more discussion and “some therapies like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), art therapy, dance therapy, and more involve little to no talking.”
Clients do not seek their own unique goals, objectives and progress in therapy, so every therapeutic process is individually specialized to every client’s particular needs. People that do not have a serious mental illness may still go to therapy to talk and seek professional help in coping with stress, relationships, mid-life crises, divorces and more.
It should be clear that the stigma surrounding therapy and mental illness is completely false and misleads many people to avoid reaching out for help when needed. So why does this stigma exist? There are many factors that caused this to come about. One of the largest contributors is the historical mistreatment and exclusion of people with mental illnesses. It creates the fallacy that mentally ill people are inferior to those without mental illnesses. Many people buy into this fallacy and avoid reaching out for help for mental health treatment out of fear of becoming a part of a group that society has labeled inferior.
Instead of condoning stereotypes that can hinder people from getting the mental health assistance they need, we need to promote the idea that therapy is a source of help and support rather than a mysterious process that “crazy” people need. Doing this will lift the barrier that commonly prevents so many people from seeking mental health treatment. Ninety percent of Americans who commit suicide “have an underlying mental health illness.” Treatment of mental illnesses happens through therapy, with occasional integration of psychiatric medication. Promoting a positive and attractive image of counseling, rather than the stigma that exists today, will increase the chances that people seek treatment and prevent them from serious life-threatening mental health conditions.
Keren Blaunstein is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.