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Everyone Should Go to Therapy

Recently I wrote a post about why some people might choose psychiatric medication over seeing a therapist. (Fine, so it wasn’t that recent. >.<) I promised a followup post about a belief that I hold concurrently–everyone should see a therapist.

Now, before everyone freaks out, let it be known that I say “everyone” only in the most theoretical of ways. Meaning that, I recognize that as things are today, what I’m proposing isn’t really possible. But in the Happy Fun Miriam Land of the future, where stigma against mental healthcare is gone, insurance coverage is reasonable and available to the majority of people, and research has identified effective therapeutic interventions for most mental problems, everyone should and would be able to go to therapy.

For now, I’ll qualify what I’m saying with this: if you are able to see a therapist, you should, and if you are able to take your children to see a therapist, you should.

Why?

Well, why do we have regular dental and physical checkups? Why do children receive vaccines? Why do we make an appointment with a doctor when we think we’re coming down with something serious?

Hopefully the answers to those questions are self-evident.

Clearly, it is acceptable–and even expected–that people seek two types of healthcare throughout their lives: preventative and palliative. We should see a doctor regularly to make sure that nothing’s going seriously wrong with our bodies, and we should see a doctor when we suspect that something IS going seriously wrong with our bodies.

This much isn’t in dispute. But what about our minds?

For the most part, people wait until things are really, REALLY wrong with their mental state before they go see a psychologist. (And some don’t go even then, but that’s a different story.) For instance, I didn’t see a psychiatrist for my depression until I wanted to kill myself. People with eating disorders typically don’t receive care until they’re dying, or close to it. People with anxiety issues don’t get help until their anxiety is preventing them from having any semblance of a normal life.

Like most physical maladies, mental illnesses don’t just come out of nowhere. They usually develop from years and years of poor coping strategies and maladaptive beliefs. For instance, I remember being as young as 6 and constantly thinking that everyone secretly hates me, nobody wants to be my friend, and everyone’s talking behind my back. Guess what? When I was 18, I still basically believed that. Except by then, my beliefs had become self-fulfilling prophesies, and they had reinforced themselves until it became nearly impossible to get rid of them. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if a child psychologist had helped me get over them 15 years ago?

My little brother, age 10, thinks he’s ugly. He has adorable curly hair, itty-bitty freckles on his face, and beautiful blue eyes. He’s thin and athletic, but thinks his stomach is fat and sometimes does crunches in his room. He hasn’t really learned how to make friends yet, and he has nobody to teach him. As a result, he thinks nobody will ever want to be his friend, and he chooses to brag and show off for attention rather than try to make other kids want to be his friends.

My brother does not have depression, an eating disorder, or even–believe it or not–a serious case of narcissism. What he also doesn’t have, however, are effective mental tools for interpreting the world and for being happy. And he’s not going to find these tools on his own.

What if, in addition to physical checkups to make sure that kids’ bodies are developing correctly, that they’re learning good hygiene, and that they’re eating well and exercising, we also had regular mental checkups to make sure they’re developing good mental habits?

Clearly, not everybody is going to need constant mental healthcare like I do, and like everyone else with a serious mental illness does. Most people would be totally fine checking in with a trusted family therapist every once in a while. But others, like my brother, would seriously benefit from catching the problem before it mushrooms into the sort of thing that I went through.

Even if people never do develop diagnosable mental illnesses, unhappy children often grow into unhappy adults. Ever had a boss who made your life miserable by demanding constant ass-kissing to protect her fragile ego? Ever dated a guy whose fear of commitment destroyed the relationship? Ever had a bully in high school whose inability to relate to others in a positive way greatly affected your own life?

These people have psychological issues. I’m not saying that in a degrading way at all; many people have issues. But because most people don’t think that they should see a therapist unless they want to off themselves, people like these usually don’t get help.

Although I strongly despise the mindset that people with mental problems should be treated as personal inconveniences, the fact is that people do affect each other emotionally. Imagine if every time someone got a contagious illness, all they could do was just continue going about their daily lives until it passed, infecting everyone they came into close contact with. Luckily, that’s not how it works; most people go see a doctor when they realize they’ve come down with something. What if people did the same for mental problems?

I think that’d be a much more pleasant world to live in.

And I promise I’m not just saying that because I’m going to be a therapist and want money.

Comments

  1. Michael says

    The worst part is that therapy has such social stigma attached to it. People tend to assume one of two things if you go to therapy; either you’re insane, or you’re emotionally weak and should just “get over it”. It disgusts me how the assumption is made that if someone goes to therapy, then they must be mentally unsound. It’s ridiculous. Just because you see a dentist doesn’t mean you have bad teeth. So why this connection?
    I’ve been going to therapy for years, and I still have to be cautious about telling people. Not that I feel ashamed – not once has needing therapy ever made me feel like I was insane. The sad truth is that it’s inappropriate for today’s social standards. I can’t tell a potential employer, “I have a therapist” because that translates to one of the following:
    - “I’m psychotic and unable to perform work.”
    - “I’m emotionally unstable and need to polish off my ego.”
    - “I have the plague.”
    The other problem is, like you said, people don’t understand that you can be psychologically fine and still need a therapist. Example – recently my sister has become downright disagreeable, frequently igniting screaming matches with our parents or just being unfriendly on a regular basis. She claims (and/or believes) that we don’t love her. We’ve offered to take her to see a therapist, but she refuses because according to her, only crazy people go to therapy. Or when she’s angry at me, she’ll say something like, “At least I don’t need therapy.”

    My point is that one reason not everyone goes to therapy is because they don’t want to. They won’t admit that it could benefit them. People are just too damn proud for their own good.

    • says

      That’s all very (unfortunately) true. My hope is that as people gain more knowledge of how therapy works and how helpful it can be, the stigma will start to fade away.

      Ironically, I’m more comfortable telling people that I have depression than that I’m getting treatment for it. How weird is that?

      I’m sorry to hear about your sister and her passive-aggressive jabs at you. It might help if your family reframes it as not “seeing a therapist” but “talking to someone supportive” or what have you. Or perhaps by pointing out that it doesn’t really matter what “type” of people go to therapy; what matters is that she would like to feel better, theoretically at least.

      Anyways, best of luck with everything. :)

  2. says

    If therapy were free, or even more affordable, then I’d love to do it. I definitely have a lot of issues with my self-esteem, body image, anger issues, daddy issues…the list goes on. but it’s not something I can afford. And CAPS isn’t the best.

  3. says

    The trouble with this idea is that, while it’s pretty easy to say what does or doesn’t count as something impairing the functioning of the body, and physiological and pathological functions and problems are quite well understood, the same cannot be said of the functioning of the mind.

    In short, I don’t trust a therapist to be a better expert on how my mind should be functioning than I am, unless there is something very clearly wrong (for example, when I was suffering from severe depression a few years back). In fact, I suspect the tendency to prescribe therapy or medication for a lot of things to be a form of enforcing social conformity.

    Let’s not forget, it’s not so long ago that homosexuality was listed as a mental health problem. If I were to go to a therapist, there’s a fairly good chance that some aspects of my sexuality and self-identity would be considered to be a mental health problem, and I really don’t feel that it is.

    My feeling is that going to a therapist, for a lot of people today, would be like visiting a doctor in the middle-ages: some of the treatments prescribed could end up only making things worse. I note that in the OP you say, “But in the Happy Fun Miriam Land of the future, where … research has identified effective therapeutic interventions for most mental problems” – but again, who decides what counts as a mental health problem? Who decides what needs help, and what sort of help is appropriate?

  4. Sunset says

    I think the current state of therapy versus regular medicine may also be to blame. I can add up the privileged idiocy I’ve had to deal with from therapists versus the privileged idiocy that I’ve had to deal with from physicians. Guess which side is winning, by a large margin? There are unfortunately a large number of mental health practitioners who use their position to attempt to reinforce standard social roles, construing societal prejudices as the models of health. As someone who has been through the mental health system, I have routinely had my concerns and frustrations with gender discrimination dismissed. I have had my religious views treated as unimportant and been treated as bigoted for expressing concerns that they were not being fairly represented. I’ve never had this type of action outside of mental health.

  5. says

    I like the idea as well but like other commenters before me I do not think that this is possible (right now). My impression is rather that therapists (and often doctors as well) have no clue and either will say that you have no problem (because they do not understand your problem, not because it doesn’t exist) or give you a random label that somehow fits what you are describing to them but which is not useful at all.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] As per what I wrote in a previous post, our culture mostly ignores mental health in children unless they’re already seriously distressed and/or problematic, in which case it attacks the problem furiously, if ineffectively (i.e. ADHD, alcohol/drug use, and delinquency). In that post, I discussed my ten-year-old brother’s skewed worldview and how it’s been shaped by the way he’s treated by other kids, and how his issues probably won’t be taken seriously until/unless they develop into something that’s listed in the DSM. [...]