Why everyone should see a therapist… at least once.

I was at the chiropractor a few weeks ago, making my appointment for the next day. I asked to come in a little later, because I had a doctor’s appointment. The following day the chiropractor, in making small talk, asked how my appointment went. It went well. He then asked if I’d mentioned that I’d started getting adjustments. I froze for a moment, my chest tight with that familiar discomfort vulnerability brings. I braced myself for an uncomfortable clarification.

“It was a therapy appointment, actually.”

I’ve been going to therapy on and off for over a decade, and still I find it more comfortable to say I have a doctor’s appointment than to say I have therapy. Not because I’m ashamed. But because I’ve seen the shift. I’ve experienced first hand being treated differently by someone because they found out I see a therapist. I wish it was a positive change, but unfortunately it usually isn’t.

Of course my chiropractor didn’t bat an eyelash. Alternative medicine professionals tend to be more accepting of mental health treatment than the average person. Whole mind and body wellness is kind of what they’re all about. Plus my chiropractor is a pleasant and compassionate human being.

But despite knowing I probably wouldn’t be judged at the chiropractor for seeing a mental health professional, I still hesitated to give in to that vulnerability. Because there still is a stigma, and it’s brutal.

Even if you don’t stereotype or view a person differently for going to therapy, there’s still a stigma there.

If someone tells you they have a doctor’s appointment, you most likely don’t give it a second thought. Everyone sees the doctor. You probably don’t ask, “Oh, why the doctor? Do you have high cholesterol or something?”

If someone tells you they have a therapy appointment, be honest, you probably dwell on that for a moment longer than you would a doctor’s appointment. And maybe you would even ask, “Oh, why therapy? Are you ok? Are you depressed or something?”

Not that it’s a bad thing to ask. Or be concerned. And it really isn’t your fault if you dwell on therapy longer than you would a primary care appointment. It’s social conditioning. Even I dwell on it; I feel solidarity when I meet a fellow therapy goer. And glad they feel safe enough to share that with me.

I don’t think the stigma is always a bad thing. For example, the genuine concern a person feels when they find out someone they care about is seeing a therapist –that’s good. It’s a product of compassion. But I do think therapy should be more normalized. Normalized like a doctor’s appointment.

Which leads me to the question, why don’t people see a therapist for a routine check up like they see a doctor for a routine check up? Even if you’re the healthiest person alive, it’s good to see a doctor at least once in your life, because you can’t always tell what’s really going on in your body. It’s the same with your mind.

Therapy is more than just treatment for mental illness, it’s preventative, and instructive. In therapy you learn LIFE skills. Things that aren’t just helpful for someone with anxiety, but can be helpful for anyone. You learn how to care for your mind. How to work through difficult emotions. How to strengthen relationships. You learn skills and habits that can better your quality of life no matter where you are on the mental wellness path.

Most therapists have seen or currently see a therapist themselves, because they understand the importance. Just like most doctors would see another doctor if they needed to.

I realize this isn’t exactly practical in our current state, considering health insurance usually won’t cover therapy if you don’t have a mental illness, and paying out of pocket can get really expensive.

But maybe we could at least change our perspective. If you don’t want to see a therapist because you’re ashamed, or going will make you feel weak, or you think that’s only for “crazy people,” reconsider. Because therapy is for EVERYONE.

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