Black and white. Butterfly. Look again. See if you see something different.
For some, therapy is like a trigger word. Associations of dark rooms, interrogative statements, and a feeling that’s so uncomfortable that you’re physically shaking follow—an ode to the 1950’s. Even today—in hindsight of all the social progress we’ve amassed over years of fighting—there is still an unspoken stigma that is centered around mental health, and especially with the actions that need to be taken when someone isn’t really as ok as they seem. Perhaps it’s generational trauma, as 47% of Americans believe that going to therapy is a sign of weakness (as noted in a study done by Forbes). As newer generations start to take down the metaphorical walls previous generations have spent so long on building, we can start to get to the bottom of why people are rejecting something that’ll help them, and why I believe everyone should consider therapy at some point in their lives.
Firstly, it’s important that we recognize why people are so scared of going to therapy before we can understand why everyone could benefit from such science. Psychologically, we tend to have coping mechanisms for things that we find uncomfortable. For example, if someone is having a conflict with a loved one, they may repress their emotions by drowning themselves in their work as a means of distraction. We dislike having our emotions displayed in the open because it makes us vulnerable, and therapy is exactly that: extreme vulnerability in front of someone you technically don’t know. Avoiding going to therapy for something we’d rather not relive is a strategy of both avoiding finding out why you feel a certain way about something, and having to handle the strength of your emotions in a situation that could be seen as embarrassing for some. It’s worth mentioning that traits of toxic masculinity and having to appear strong also causes—specifically for men—people to avoid talking about their trauma. The age-old idea of appearing “masculine” and the idea that “men can’t cry” has actually had more of an effect on men than we might’ve previously thought. It works like a ladder—older men are taught this from their fathers and pass this down to their sons. Although we’ve made significant strides in getting rid of that stigma, lessons learned from youth are often hard to erase, and therefore we may have to wait years until this philosophy eventually strings out. Lastly, people are turned off from going to therapy because it’s always associated with having severe trauma or incredible negativity. Therapy is just talking to someone about your life—it doesn’t have to only be bad. Because society sees therapy as dealing with trauma, people who don’t have that much baggage sort of fall into Imposter Syndrome, or feeling like you can’t attend because you don’t have that many issues to figure out. If we promote therapy as a way of just talking to someone about everything happening in your life, then hopefully we will start seeing some results.
Just like we all grow up in different environments, it’s important to understand that we have different reactions to strong emotions like anger, sadness, grief, and fear. For example, let’s say two classmates work on a project together and receive a poor grade even though they both put in hours of work and dedication to crafting something that should’ve gotten them a better grade. One person could cope with the anger of getting a bad mark and fear of what their parents may think by drowning themselves in work, offering to do excess amounts of homework and research for extra credit. The other recipient could call up their best friend and rant to them about the bad grade, displacing their anger onto their friend and taking it out on the person that’s on the other side of the phone. While we all have adverse reactions to invoking emotional circumstances, there is one thing we all have in common: talking to someone does make it better. Studies consistently show that behavioral and emotional interventions work just as well or even better than medication in treating mental health problems (as quoted from a Forbes study). Regardless of how trivial something may seem in retrospect—compared to other, more daunting reasons—it’s still valid enough to bother you. Talking to a therapist about something and getting it off your chest can only be beneficial as it improves your communication skills, it allows a professional to observe how your mind works and offer you the best advice to overcome your obstacles, and it benefits relationships when people learn how to trust and communicate effectively about their problems. It’s also worth noting that talking to a therapist can help you discover yourself more. It’s just like having someone else read your final paper before you submit it: a therapist will notice things about you that you yourself cannot. Having someone who spent years studying human psychology observe your behaviors and emotional responses is a great way to find out more information about yourself and maybe even find out things that you’ve subconsciously buried down. Obviously, there are certain circumstances that deviate from the traditional argument of asking yourself if you need therapy—depression, anxiety, negative thoughts, PTSD, and more—but a large number of people that attend therapy sessions don’t have outlying situations. Talking to someone who has the resources to help you in a non-biased, confidential space can only be something worth trying.
Unfortunately, the negative conversations surrounding therapy still have nation-wide consequences today. No matter the number of mental-health campaigns swirling around in Los Angeles, traditional, more closed-minded societal norms prevent a large number of people from getting the help that they need. Knowing this, we can take initiative in our primitive years to start turning those fearful conversations about black and white butterflies into ones that are voluntary.