Corina Notyce, DCoE Public Affairs on January 10, 2013
U.S. Army photo by Patricia Deal, CRDAMC Public Affairs
Below is a blog post from Military Pathways, written by Paul Heithaus, program manager at Military Pathways.
When you break your arm, you see a professional. If you hurt your back or are plagued by migraines, you do the same thing. But what if your sleep is constantly disrupted by nightmares or you dread each new day so much that you don’t even want to get out of bed? Are you as quick to seek professional help? Very often, the answer is “no.”
What is it that prevents us from seeking help for very treatable and sometimes debilitating mental health conditions? For most of us it comes down to one or more of three things:
- Stigma: There still exists the myth that seeking treatment for a mental health issue makes you weak and needy; that therapy is for “crazy” people.
- Fear: If we open up the floodgates, what will we learn about ourselves? Suddenly we will have to deal with all of those issues that we have been repressing for years. What if we really have a problem, then what?
- Lack of Understanding: How many people truly understand what therapy entails? Therapists and their craft have never received a fair shake in pop culture, and that’s where we tend to get our images of them.
Even those of us who have an intimate knowledge of therapy from both sides of the couch inadvertently add to the stigma in our own approach. When I have a therapy appointment, if asked where I’m going, I respond that I have a doctor’s appointment. I rarely mention that I’m going to see my therapist. When I was doing clinical work, I had no problem telling people what I did, but I’m much more reserved when the role is reversed.
In order to break through the three aforementioned barriers and make seeing a therapist as comfortable as seeing any other specialist, we need to understand what therapy really is, and more importantly, what therapy isn’t:
- Dark smoky office with pictures of Sigmund Freud on the wall
- Lying on a leather couch staring at the ceiling
- Intrusive questions about your relationship with your parents and your repressed sexuality
Instead, imagine a conversation where you’re able to open up about what most bothers you. The environment is open and non-judgmental. Most importantly, the conversation won’t leave those four walls without your permission. Imagine a person whose sole purpose during the 50-minute session is to listen to you and to understand your perspective. Imagine someone who wants to listen to you.
Imagine being able to put your issues on the table for 50 minutes a week and then leave them in that space until the following session. A good therapist will meet you where you’re at and work at a speed that’s comfortable for you. There are no judgments and no one telling you to “suck it up.”
Speaking with a therapist is one of those situations where the treatment is far less grueling than we imagine it will be. Very often, the anticipation turns out to be the toughest part of the process.
Therapy can make a big difference in your mental health. One major study showed that 50 percent of patients improved after eight sessions and 75 percent improved after six months. The effectiveness of psychotherapy for children is similar to that for adults. If you do decide to seek therapy, it’s important to find a therapist who's right for you.
And, therapy is a chance to do that great back-burner thing that we never get around to — taking some time just for us. Mental health is as crucial, if not more so, than those broken arms and sore backs. You owe it to yourself to tend to it.
If you’re wondering whether you should seek therapy, you can take a free, anonymous, online mental health assessment.
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) clinical psychologist, Dr. James Bender, writes a monthly blog post on the DCoE website. Follow his series, “Frontline Psych with Doc Bender.”