about Who Goes to Therapy and Why
Today we’re going to start with a visualization exercise.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine the type of person who goes to therapy.
What do they look like?
What do they sound like?
How much money do they make?
What are their concerns?
I’m going to take a risk and wager that despite your best efforts, you envisioned an upper-middle class white woman reminiscent of Glennon Doyle or the women from My Favorite Murder. They drink mommy wine, binge watch Housewives, and wear Lululemon as domestic athleisure. Their concerns are about parenting or stress or about how their husbands don’t listen to them, and about how they want more time – full stop. They want more time. And freedom.
Don’t get me wrong, this beautiful subset of human definitely occupies a relatively large portion of therapy space – and it’s certainly the subset the media has portrayed – but my question is: what’s happened in their lives that they’ve found themself in a relationship with an unresponsive partner, hefting most of the domestic and emotional load? Who or what taught them that this specific life was aspirational or that their worth was such that they should settle for the socially expected standard as defined by cisgender heterosexual men? Why are they self-medicating with wine?
We don’t know. We don’t know what’s happened to anyone beyond what they’ve told us. We don’t know what happened to these women or the messages they were force fed about self-worth and gender roles or relationships or what their family situations were like as kids. We like to assume because that assumption distances us from their pain and from the discomfort of our similarities and judgment.
So I’m going to challenge you here and say something totally off the wall (as if an uncomfortable diatribe about the stereotypical therapy seeker wasn’t already off-putting):
THERAPY IS FOR ANYONE AND EVERYONE.
There. I said it.
If you are a human living in the world today, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any other socially constructed factor, therapy is for you. Because frankly, the world has felt fucked for a while, and we need as much help and love and community and support as we can get.
Often, there’s a tipping point at which folks seek therapy. Capitalism and settler colonialism have most people drinking the Boot Straps Kool Aid (can you imagine how gross that actually tastes?), believing that we have to endure trauma, hardship, adversity, or psychic pain on our own. That seeking help or support or comfort is weakness.
But we’re all jugglers here, trying to keep countless flaming balls in the air, and inevitably one too many gets thrown in or we get exhausted by the constant effort and it all comes raining down into a fiery inferno of shame, guilt, and perceived failure. That’s usually the tipping point.
What does that look like in real life? How do we define those terrifying fiery balls? Less metaphorically, what are some common reasons people come to therapy?
1. Mental Health Disorders:
Psychotherapy is a cornerstone in the treatment of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. It teaches you effective coping strategies, provides you with tools for navigating difficult situations, and offers a supportive space to manage symptoms and improve overall well-being.
2. Relationship Issues:
Challenges in relationships, whether romantic, familial, or social, can significantly impact your mental health. Therapy helps you explore and understand attachment styles, identify patterns of communication, improve interpersonal skills, and navigate conflicts constructively.
3. Stress Management:
Life is stressful. Psychotherapy helps you develop healthy stress management techniques, coping mechanisms, and grit to navigate life’s persistently increasing demands more effectively.
4. Trauma and PTSD:
Folks who have experienced trauma, abuse, or significant life-altering events can find psychotherapy instrumental in processing and healing from these experiences. In many of these cases, therapists use specialized approaches such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to address trauma-related issues.
5. Life Transitions:
Major life transitions, such as job changes, divorce, loss of a loved one, or retirement, can evoke a range of emotions and challenges. Psychotherapy provides a space to explore these transitions, cope with associated stress, and adapt to new circumstances.
6. Self-Exploration and Personal Growth:
Some people seek therapy as a means of self-discovery and personal development. Psychotherapy offers a structured environment for exploring values, goals, and aspirations, fostering a deeper understanding of oneself.
7. Behavioral Issues:
Individuals struggling with destructive or harmful behaviors, such as addiction, eating disorders, or self-harm, can benefit from psychotherapy. Therapists work collaboratively with clients to identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and promote healthier alternatives.
8. Low Self-Esteem and Confidence:
Psychotherapy helps you build self-esteem and confidence by exploring the underlying beliefs and thought patterns contributing to negative self-perceptions. Therapists assist in reframing perspectives, improving self-talk, and developing a more positive self-image.
9. Grief and Loss:
Coping with the death of a loved one or experiencing a significant loss can be overwhelming. Psychotherapy provides a supportive space for processing grief, navigating the stages of mourning, and finding ways to move forward.
10. Managing Chronic Health Conditions:
Individuals dealing with chronic illnesses often face emotional and psychological challenges. Psychotherapy can be an essential component of holistic healthcare, addressing the emotional impact of health conditions and helping individuals cope with lifestyle changes.
This list is not exhaustive. It doesn’t cover living in a global pandemic, witnessing multiple current genocides, or the terrifying environmental impacts of climate change. This list is solely inter- and intrapersonal. You’re likely juggling multiple of these factors simultaneously in addition to the seemingly endless chasm of geopolitical violence and bullshit, and this is not a “more the merrier” situation. So why not improve your quality of life just a smidge? Slow down? Take a breath? Get support?
At our most base, humans are pack animals. We weren’t meant to be this constantly stimulated, doing this much work, or carrying this ungodly emotional load alone. So don’t. Find yourself a community, put together your team – who you choose rather than who you’ve been given – and get yourself a therapist who sees not only who you are, but who you can be – even if you can’t yet.