Growing up, I always thought I would be a nurse. I knew I wanted to help people, and this remained my career plan until I went to visit my childhood best friend, Myra, who was in nursing school herself at the time. She showed me the biology lab, including the animal cadavers. Let’s just say my physical reaction to the cadavers was a clear indication that a nursing career was not going to work for me.
But I still knew I wanted to help people—that aspect hadn’t changed, even if I didn’t have the stomach for nursing. So, over the next several years, I committed myself to learning and praying about potential careers, taking the time to search out what truly matched my heart and my interests. My exploration eventually put me on the path to becoming a licensed clinical social worker/therapist.
Since I graduated with my master’s degree in 2002, my career has evolved greatly. I have worked in mental health care and family court, with individuals coping with mental health issues, substance abuse challenges, foster care issues, and developmental disabilities. I have loved every area I’ve worked in, but the one area that has been a constant in my career is the field of mental health.
Mental health issues are common, but they are still often stigmatized, though it can be said that stigma has decreased, to some extent. Information about mental health concerns and potential causes and factors has greatly increased in recent years, along with new research on helpful and effective interventions and treatments. Both are available to more people than ever, in many areas. If you walk into a mental health clinic or a private practice, it may appear that many people are comfortable seeking help.
But despite the general increase in existing knowledge and information related to mental health and the many concerns people may experience, there still remains a multitude of people who hesitate to seek out the help they need.
Therapists Can Experience Mental Health Concerns, Too
Therapists and counselors are helping professionals, sought out by those who are working to address and resolve mental health symptoms, relationship conflict, grief, substance abuse challenges, and other potentially life-altering circumstances. Though therapists might be just as likely to experience any of these as anyone else, they may avoid seeking help, out of the fear that a “therapist in therapy” might be interpreted as them being mentally unstable or otherwise unfit to practice. They may worry what a diagnosis associated with their symptoms might mean for them, their practice, and their continued livelihood. They may also struggle with the added challenge of a lack of support and understanding from close friends and family members who do not understand the importance of mental health.
Therapists and counselors might also struggle with some or all of the following thoughts and questions:
- What are people going to think if they know I’m in therapy?
- People will think I’m crazy.
- I want to call to schedule an appointment, but I’m afraid.
- I can work through this on my own because I have the skills to do so.
- I’m not sure if I have the time to fit this in.
These thoughts not only serve as a hindrance to greater well-being, but they can also have the effect of strengthening negative stigma toward therapy and mental health issues in general.
It’s important that therapists and professionals know seeking help is not a weakness. Rather, seeking help is a true sign of strength and a testament of a person’s commitment to being emotionally and mentally well. By seeking help, a person can become better at practicing self-care, addressing their life concerns, and serving others in a helping role.
When you consider the above, you may find it understandable that a large number of therapists and other health care professionals may be hesitant or afraid of seeking professional help and going to therapy. But it’s important that therapists and professionals know seeking help is not a weakness. Rather, seeking help is a true sign of strength and a testament of a person’s commitment to being emotionally and mentally well. By seeking help, a person can become better at practicing self-care, addressing their life concerns, and serving others in a helping role.
Many mental health professionals may be halted by the thought that they may be seen as unfit to practice if they seek therapy, but this is far from the truth. Granted, there are situations that may result in professionals needing to step down from positions if their mental health deteriorates to the point where it presents a concern to the safety of the self and others. But in many challenging situations, this is not be the case, and the quickest and most effective path to healing, help, or recovery is with the support of a trusted and skilled professional.
As you reach out and seek the support you need, the following tips and considerations may be helpful.
- Don’t let fear stop you. You may experience concern, worry, even fear. I encourage you to push through the fear until it dissipates and you can identify and focus on the pros of seeking treatment. When fear paralyzes us, it can make us believe we cannot get through whatever we are facing. As a therapist, you may have told others frequently about the benefits of therapy, and it never hurts to remind yourself of them, either.
- Realize you are not alone. Therapists see the benefits of their work with with those they treat daily and know there are many individuals and families who may seek out their treatment to address concerns. Therapists can see the impact their work has had on the lives of others. Try maintaining this perspective as you seek professional support for your own issues. In other words, trust the process for your own life. You can experience the benefits and healing of therapy just as the people you work with do.
- Explore resources in your area (or outside of your area). As you obtain the courage to step out and do something for yourself, remember there is an abundance of resources in your area that can be found through internet search engines or from your insurance provider. You have the option of seeking resources close to home or work or outside of your usual area. Some may find it more helpful to see a provider outside of their immediate area.
- Think of therapy as the most important component of self-care. By prioritizing your scheduled therapy appointments, you are prioritizing you! Your mental health is equally as important as your physical health. Scheduling and keeping your appointments can help create a sense of balance, mental stability, and emotional well-being in your life. By doing so, you are ensuring you have set aside time to process what is important to you. What’s more, by creating and complying your own self-care plan, you may encourage others to do the same.
- Schedule the appointment. Instead of putting off the phone call to make an appointment, call (or send the email) now, while you’re thinking of it. Change is possible, but action is necessary. Fear can hold us back and prevent us from accomplishing what we hope for in life. Don’t be afraid to make the call. That first phone call is the beginning of your therapeutic relationship and journey to wholeness.
There are some clinicians (myself included) who specialize in working solely with therapists and other helping professionals, and this is something you may wish to keep in mind as you search for your own counselor. You may find you are more comfortable working with a professional trained to help other helping professionals.
Working with the public and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help involves education, advocacy, and treatment—for ourselves as well as others. Let’s work together to end the stigma associated with mental health. Therapy can be of benefit to anyone, at any stage of life, even if they are not actively experiencing a mental health concern. As therapists, we have an obligation to ourselves, our profession, and the community we serve by first ensuring our own mental wellness.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sharon J. Lawrence, LCSW-C, LCSW, ACSW, EAS-C, CAMS-II, DCC, therapist in Largo, Maryland
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.