There's no worse feeling than opening up about your mental health only to be judged, misunderstood, or made to feel like you're "crazy." And while some negative stigma around mental health is starting to be debunked, many people still harbor misconceptions around diagnoses and treatments, especially therapy. Have you ever tried to share your therapy experience with someone, only to realize they don't get the point of it, or even worse, don't "believe" in therapy? Unfortunately, it's far from uncommon.
"I have had clients that did not want their family to know that they were going to therapy, because they were afraid that their family would think negatively of them for going or make them feel ashamed, like something is wrong with them," said Natalie Jones, PsyD, a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC), psychotherapist, and owner of Lifetime Counseling and Consulting. The stigma is often worse for BIPOC patients. Dr. Jones said that in Black families, for example, "the majority of us were raised to not discuss our problems outside of the home, and that one doesn't go to therapy unless 'you're crazy.'" That leaves not just therapy but mental health in general with a negative stigma surrounding it."
How Should You Talk to Unsupportive Friends and Family About Therapy?
First of all, decide if you truly need to have this conversation. It may be unavoidable, based on your living or financial situation, but remember that therapy, and your mental health in general, is a personal subject. Don't feel obligated to share if it's not necessary.
If this is a conversation you want or need to have, here are a few things you can say, according to Dr. Jones.
- Explain that therapy works for you, regardless of what they think about it: "Therapy is something that I do for the benefit of my mental health. I have to do what's best for me and my mental health based on what is going on in my life at the moment."
- You don't have to prove anything to them: "I don't feel that I owe anyone an explanation for doing something that helps to create stability, balance, and well-being in my life. I do what works best for me."
- If they want to discuss it, share your experiences and let them ask questions: "These are my experiences around therapy, the benefits, and why I think it's helpful. I believe just like we exercise to keep physically fit, we should also exercise our mental health to stay mentally fit."
What if their doubts are affecting your decision to seek therapy? If you notice this happening, Dr. Jones said, pause, check in with yourself, and ask, "Why does this opinion have so much weight on me?" Maybe you're holding on to an old habit of conforming to someone else's opinion, perhaps as a way to feel loved or worthy. Explore whatever resistance or tension you're feeling because of this conversation, but remember that seeking therapy should ultimately be your decision. You know what's best for your mental health; no matter what your friends or family think, your well-being is your top priority. If therapy helps you, you're not obligated to give anyone else a say.