Pride or Shame
Sadly, mental health concerns continue to be a source of shame for many people. What would people think of me if they knew I was in therapy? Sometimes clients are heaping shame on themselves, and sometimes family or friends are shaming them for needing help. From my vantage point, therapy is as normal as going to primary care for a sore throat. There is an issue, let’s get it solved!
I frequently see very intelligent, capable people struggle with embarrassment and shame when they cannot maneuver their way out of the crisis they are in. They are often generous, kind people who are used to being the fixers and caretakers for others, but now they need help and support which is uncomfortable new territory! These clients spend a lot of energy trying to hide their struggles from loved ones, because they do not want to be a burden, or they fear their loved ones will not understand.
It takes humility to be on the receiving end when you are used to being the giver. Who knows what God is trying to do with our specific trials? Scripture tells us that our trials offer an opportunity to grow, to learn to trust God and to understand what it means to live in community. We all struggle in different ways; some are just better at keeping their pain hidden. Unfortunately, hidden things do not get healed.
Therapy does not mean you are crazy!! Therapy provides an opportunity to confidentially talk with someone neutral, which is helpful when you need to find direction or sort out issues at work or home. Good therapists offer a fresh perspective and help us develop skills to be more successful in life and relationships. Therapy is an act of courage and self-respect. I am worth it, and the people in my life deserve to have the best of me.
As illogical as it seems, people sometimes fuse with their problem and it becomes their identity. This makes it MUCH harder to give up! For example, “I am just an anxious person, that’s who I am!” or “Everyone knows I can’t function without my husband!” Does this person sound like they really want to change?
It is hard to see ourselves clearly. We might minimize our issues and fail to see we are driving others crazy! People always do what they do for a reason, even when the reason is not obvious at first. Some people have become attached to their dysfunctional identity either by modeling, habit, or secondary gain. Maybe this person saw crisis handled with panic and helplessness growing up, so their behavior feels normal. They have used this dysfunctional behavior for so long it is now a habit.
If they are able to attract a partner who takes on the role of soother and caretaker, why should they change? Behavior is driven by consequences. Dysfunction can be inadvertently rewarded. Change would mean giving up their identity, and its hidden rewards.
Avoidance is about putting off today what I might get to tomorrow. And the excuses are endless: I am too busy, it costs too much, it will take too long, it stresses me out, I will get to it later, and so on. The ignoring fallacy is at the heart of avoidance. If I just forget about it, I won’t feel stressed, and my problem will go away. This is childlike magical thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if this approach to life really worked? Sadly, it doesn’t and avoidance can cause our problems to end up bigger and more gnarly than when we started.
Belief That Change is Not Possible
Honestly, not everyone who goes to therapy changes. There are a lot of reasons for this: the client was not ready or was being pushed into counseling against his will or quit therapy too soon. Lack of progress could also reflect the limited insight or skill of a particular therapist, or possibly a poor connection between the therapist and the client.
Therapists usually specialize in certain areas, so finding the right one can take a bit of research. There are different types of therapy and the presenting issue or concern will largely determine which type will be most useful.
Therapy works when several things align: the right therapist, working with the right client, at the right time, in the right way. This means the client trusts the therapist and the process and is ready to do the work needed. Change usually does not happen in a few sessions but I have seen clients get better, stronger, more confident and “graduate” from therapy many, many times!
Therapy works. Neuroimaging shows that therapy actually rewires our brains. It changes our neural networks. Some of our well-worn networks have not been serving us well. Therapy offers an opportunity to shift to and strengthen healthier neural networks when we learn new ways of looking at things and healthier ways to cope. Therapy can be hard work, but the benefits can be life-changing.