5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Feel Ashamed to See a Therapist
Living with depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder or another form of mental illness often leaves the person feeling isolated and invisible. This also applies to those of us wrestling with an emotional or spiritual illness that needs attention. I would know; I’ve been there far too many times to count. My brand of anxiety disorder is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which often leads to people asking, “So, you like to wash your hands a lot?” Yes, that was part of it, but the darkest moments of my life came from far more sinister obsessive thoughts that went far beyond washing my hands compulsively.
When I was first professionally diagnosed, while living in Los Angeles in 2006, the doctor said I had one of the “most severe cases he had ever seen.” I’m not sure that is an accomplishment to boast about, but it definitely left me feeling alone, weird, “crazy” and damaged. If I was one of the most severe cases, what in the world could they do to help me? It was during those first few sessions of therapy that I came to realize something profound: I was actually not alone, nor was I invisible. Through our conversations, my psychologist understood my greatest fears, reminded me I wasn’t “insane” and was able to relate my story with so many others he had heard throughout the years. Whether my case was extreme or not, he was able to show me a glimpse of hope and healing for my future.
Ever since moving back to Charlotte in 2008, I have been meeting with an incredibly gifted, loving, kind and invested psychologist. When my anxiety was at its worst, I would meet with him one to two times a week, often breaking down in tears and panic as I recounted the moments of great anxiety I had faced since our last meeting. As the years went on, healing became a reality more and more. Even though I am far better today than I was back then, I still struggle with temporary moments of depression and anxiety. I still take medication and meet with him once every one to two months. There’s no shame in therapy and medication, so I won’t pretend to be embarrassed. Those years of hiding my disorder are behind me, and I hope they can eventually be for you, as well.
If you are wrestling with a mental disorder, here are a couple of reasons to get professional help without feeling ashamed and alone.
1. Professional psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists have devoted their lives to helping people just like you.
These are not good friends, pastors or parents. As good as those relationships can be, they are often ineffective in getting to the root of our struggles, as they often struggle to understand what you’re going through. Just as you would seek professional help for a bodily illness, you should also seek professional help for the invisible battles we face within our minds. Our brains are physical organs that can become “ill.” Emotional and spiritual health may not be material in nature, but they are equally important for the well-being of each human being. We should get the right help for the brokenness we face, regardless of its manifestation.
2. We all need a listening, understanding ear without judgment or condemnation.
As much as I love my family and my friends, I would be lying if I said they always understood what I was going through. In fact, it was rare that they could relate. That wasn’t their fault; they weren’t going through the same battle as me. Their brain chemistry wasn’t in alignment with mine and I had to embrace that. It was when I started meeting with a therapist that I was able to share my thoughts and my struggles with someone who understood me and who knew how to help. They weren’t looking at me like I was “crazy.” Instead, they listened, understood and offered words of hope, life and support.
3. It’s strangely life-giving to discover there are other people wrestling with the same disorder and brokenness as you.
One of the most impactful moments in my early therapy sessions was when my psychologist would finish my thoughts. This was not the first time he had heard the words coming out of someone’s mouth. Many of his patients were struggling with similar obsessive thoughts that I thought were exclusive to me. I would be in the middle of telling him about an obsessive thought and he often knew the compulsion I would use to cope in those moments of anxiety. It was uncanny. The guy understood what I was wrestling with and how I was trying to cope with the pain, yet he didn’t judge me. This story was not new and he was not about to let me think I was alone. Most people just looked at me and stared with no words to reply; he looked at me and saw me for what I was: a broken guy who needed mending, just like so many others he counseled.
This may seem like a weak and insecure addition this to the list, but let’s face it: we all want to heal without the entire world knowing our struggles. Last I checked, no one goes around parading their brokenness on social media or in public. Rather, vulnerability is not to be given to every onlooker. Instead, we should only be vulnerable with those who care about us and who see our potential for a better future. In a professional relationship, we are given the confidentiality to pour out our heart and soul without being afraid this person will tell Nancy, Bob, the local butcher and the local news channel. Instead, we are invited into a safe place to get honest with ourselves about who we are, what we’re struggling with and the person we long to become.
5. They can help us determine if our brokenness is mental, spiritual, emotional or all of the above.
One person may have depression that derives from a chemical imbalance in the brain, while another person may be struggling with the aftermath of a great tragedy in their life. Just because one person’s brokenness may be spiritual in nature does not mean everyone else’s pain is spiritual. A professional knows how to get to the root of the problem and can help us find the right path to take toward healing. In my case, I learned I have a chemical imbalance that is not exclusively linked to my emotional health. Through this diagnosis, I was able to get the proper medications that have been an absolute blessing in my life.
These are just a handful of reasons that seeking professional help is incredibly important when we are fighting a battle that is often misunderstood and ignored. Shame has no place in determining if you find healing and a better future. We all break in one way or another; no one is immune. If a mental or emotional health battle is what you face, then don’t be embarrassed or cave to despair. There are people who can help and who want to help.
If you’re a follower of Jesus and you have been told that what you’re going through can be solved through more prayer, more Bible reading and less sin, then I want to tell you I’m deeply sorry for such harmful words. You deserve to find healing and understanding, regardless of what well-intentioned (yet flawed) Christians may say in their effort to make things better.
Seek the right help and know you’re not facing the darkness alone.
Photo by Alyssa Graham on Unsplash