There’s a notion that you must be a little crazy or harbour a complex and strange problem in order to see a therapist.
But therapy isn’t reserved for the select disturbed few, it’s for everyone.
It’s entirely normal to feel confused or stressed by day-to-day challenges such as relationships, family life and work.
Yet, there is still this view among a large proportion of society that suggests seeing a therapist is not as normalised as it should be.
In an attempt to remove the stigma of seeing a therapist, Emma Lovell and Sharon Green share their stories.
As a society, we don’t know how to talk openly and honestly about our mental health.
Despite increased awareness, there is still such a stigma around seeing a healthcare professional to address your mind. We say it’s okay, we encourage people to do it, but still it’s not ‘normal’.
I’ve been seeing healthcare professionals for my mental health since I was 17 years old. I’m now 31 and I continue to check in with psychologists, doctors, kinesiologists and other practitioners who can help me through a stage in my life.
People don’t actually know what seeing a therapist looks like. In Hollywood movies, people are always lying on a couch, talking about their childhood, with a surly academic type nodding their head and taking notes. But in my experience, this couldn’t be further from reality.
My first experience seeing a mental health professional was out of urgency. My parents were separating, I had exams at school and I wasn’t coping. I asked to see the school counsellor. It was a great first experience. She listened, she was understanding, she was compassionate. It was just what I needed before taking the next steps to get through a tough time.
I then visited my family GP. He was brilliant, understanding the severity of the situation and guiding me towards the help I needed. Not all doctors have a good knowledge of or approach to mental health, so it’s important to get second opinions if you’re unsure.
Not every mental health practitioner is the same and they won’t suit everyone. I once went to a counsellor who asked me to use drawings and figurines to express my feelings. For others that may work, but for me it felt awkward. I prefer to speak what I feel. But that’s the point – you can find the help that’s right for you.
I wrote about my initial struggles with depression recently, and one of the most important steps in my journey was seeing a psychologist. He gave me practical tools and strategies to help deal with the challenges I was facing. It was structured, we set goals, and I still use many of the learnings from those initial sessions.
I’ve now been seeing the same psychologist for seven years. Generally, we have a session once a month but at times, we may not speak for a year. Sometimes we meet face to face in her office, other times we can have a phone session. It’s flexible and it works for me.
I’ve also incorporated the alternative approach of kinesiology to manage my mental health. I feel it has greatly benefited my wellbeing and added a holistic approach to my health.
Kinesiology is about the mind and body connection. It deals with movement and energies. It addresses the activities and influences in our lives and sometimes there is an element of counselling. It seems to be able to delve deeper, to a subconscious level, and address things that I’m not aware are impacting me.
Another misconception is that once you start therapy, it will become a dependency. But mental health is personal, so we can manage it in the way that best suits us.
Just because you go to therapy once, doesn’t mean you’ll be booked in for the rest of your days. It’s up to you. If you want the help, if you need the help, you can seek the right practitioner at the right time for you.
Emma Lovell is a volunteer corporate speaker for Black Dog Institute, where she shares her personal experience of mental illness to raise awareness of mental health at businesses and events.
Yes, I have seen a psychologist. No, I’m not crazy. Or unstable, or weak, or any of the other negative connotations associated with seeking help to manage mental health.
Truth is, life is hard sometimes. It can throw us curveballs when we least expect it, and we’re not always equipped with the tools to deal with those challenges.
Yet, I often hear loaded questions and comments from people that reminds me seeing a therapist is not as normalised or accepted as I’d like it to be.
But here are the hard facts: About 1 in 5 women in Australia will experience depression and 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime, according to beyondblue. The data also shows that women experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders at higher rates than men.
We live in an increasingly busy world – many of us are battling the balance of being connected to digital devices but also having a break from them, some of us have trouble sleeping, and women are most affected by mental load.
One misconception is that you only see a therapist if you’re depressed. But we all face different challenges at different times and we may need help navigating and managing them.
I have seen a therapist on three different occasions at three very different phases in my life. Each time I was facing different hurdles, but I needed help from a professional who could guide me and empower me with the skills I needed to tackle each of those challenges.
In reality, we will all be confronted with hardships at some point in our lives – death, losing a job, transitioning into parenthood, financial pressure – that we are not prepared for or don’t have the skills to manage. And there is no shame in seeking help for such things.
Another misconception is that you need to have experienced a traumatic event to warrant a visit to a therapist. But this is not always the case.
Sometimes, for no good reason at all, we find ourselves feeling sad, anxious or overwhelmed. Seeking help to overcome those obstacles, especially if they are impacting on your life in negative ways, does not make you weak or unworthy.
A few years ago, one of my friends went to see a psychologist purely to develop her self-confidence. She wasn’t depressed or anxious but wanted to feel more confident in herself and her decision making. We were never taught those skills growing up, she said, so she took the initiative to work on an aspect of herself with a professional who was qualified to lead her in the right direction.
One of the biggest benefits of seeing a therapist is that you can talk to someone who isn’t directly involved in your situation, and they can offer an impartial view you may never have considered before.
In my experience, seeing a psychologist has been eye-opening and has given me the chance to get real with myself. It can be hard facing some truths about yourself but if you’re willing and committed to working on your hurdles, then the outcomes are enormous.
Need help with getting help?
In Australia, you are eligible for at least six (and up to 10) Medicare subsidised appointments with a psychologist per year. Start by visiting your GP and ask about going on a Mental Health Treatment Plan.
Your GP will then give you a referral to a psychologist, or if you have been recommended a professional bring in their details to pass on to your GP. Alternatively, the Australian Psychological Society allows you to search for a psychologist.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, immediate support is available from Lifeline. Call 13 11 14.