When we start going to the gym, start taking a replenishing yoga class, start drinking more water, start taking a multivitamin, start going to an acupuncturist or a massage therapist, we can’t wait to shout it from the rooftops.
In other words, when we do something for our physical health, we’re proud, excited, inspired and empowered. We feel great about our decision, and we want to tell everyone.
But how often do we beam with pride or happily shout that we’re going to therapy? How many people actually do that? Ever?
Even though it’s gotten much better, mental health stigma still persists and permeates every sector of society. Nowhere is this more evident than how our society sees physical illness (as opposed to mental illness).
Clinical psychologist Christina Iglesia, Psy.D, recently shared these distinct (and disappointing) differences between how we talk to individuals who have a physical illness and how we talk to individuals who have a mental illness:
When someone is struggling with a physical illness, we say: “You need to go to the doctor, it is only getting worse.” When someone is struggling with a mental illness, we say: “You need to stop complaining, it isn’t that bad.”
When someone is struggling with a physical illness, we say: “I am so happy you are getting the treatment you need.” When it’s a mental illness, we say: “Why would you go see a therapist?”
When someone is struggling with a physical illness, we say: “Make sure you take your medication every day or you won’t feel better.” When it’s a mental illness, we say: “You shouldn’t need to take medication in order to feel normal.”
When someone is struggling with a physical illness, we say: “Healing takes time so make sure you are getting plenty of rest.” When it’s a mental illness, we say: “Why are you still depressed, you need to snap out of it.”
When someone is struggling with a physical illness, we say: “You need to slow down and ask for more help.” When it’s a mental illness, we say: “You need to try harder and stop being so anxious.”
Some of Iglesia’s clients don’t tell anyone they’re going to therapy, including the closest people in their lives.
“My parents don’t believe in therapy.”
“People would think I’m crazy.”
These are the statements Iglesia has heard in session at her private practice in Walnut Creek, Calif., where she specializes in working with children, teens, young adults and their families.
And these are the statements that inspired her to start a powerful mental health campaign called #therapyiscool, which she launched on World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2018.
“The #therapyiscool mental health action campaign is a call to action on two fronts,” Iglesia said. One focuses on shattering mental health stigma; and the other provides funds for treatment by donating proceeds from the sale of #therapyiscool totes to mental health organizations that directly offer treatment services to individuals in need.
The aim of #therapyiscool is to encourage open conversations about mental health. “I believe that the #therapyiscool tote serves as a bold and visible statement, communicating a positive message of the importance of taking care of our mental health,” Iglesia said.
Iglesia specifically chose the word “cool” because of its positive connotation. “I wanted to find a term that promoted acceptance.”
When we think of therapy, the last thing that comes to mind is that it’s cool—and that’s sad, because that’s exactly what therapy is.
“Therapy is one of the few opportunities in which you are encouraged to explore and express your authentic self, allowing for deeper personal connections and engagement in life,” Iglesia said.
Therapy not only helps to effectively treat mental illness; it’s also an invaluable experience that fosters personal growth for anyone who’s open to it.
Therapy is a safe space, without bias and without judgment, Iglesia said. That is, in therapy, you can say anything—in fact, saying anything is encouraged, because being honest and transparent leads to real, meaningful growth and change. Because getting to the root of the problem is the first step to getting resolution. And it’s hard to get to the root when we don’t talk about what we’re really thinking and feeling and struggling with and dreaming of.
Therapy provides support and perspective as individuals navigate all kinds of challenges and work on healing, she said.
“At the end of the day, therapy is cool because it is a standing invitation that one can accept at any point in life.”
If you’re reading this and still feel awful and ashamed for going to therapy, Iglesia wants you to know that seeking therapy is a sign of strength.
“Therapy requires active participation and commitment, with a focus on identifying obstacles, and often requiring us to make difficult changes,” she said.
“Living in denial or avoidance takes limited effort, while showing up to process difficult emotions and life events in therapy is courageous, and should be viewed as such by society.”
And that’s ultimately why therapy is so cool: It is an opportunity to show up for ourselves, and the people in our lives.