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"Weak minds seek therapy for their trauma. Strong minds figure it out on their own": A response.

I saw this comment while scrolling through Facebook comments on a picture describing trauma and the impact on the brain. My initial reaction was shock, and frankly, disgust, as how can anyone even fathom this is true? And how invalidating for those strong individuals who have healed their trauma, or are continuing to work on their healing everyday.

While there is a level of, I think, justification in my gut reaction, I took a step back when the smoke of my initial reaction faded and rather than asking the "what are they thinking?" question, I shifted to the "what happened to them to reach this thought?" Immediately I was able to approach the comment in more of a sympathetic lens and try and see what could be behind such an idea for a person, which led to some other thoughts about seeking mental health help. Being "trauma informed" you become more aware of this type of mind shift -- away from the "what's wrong with you?" to the "what happened to you?" -- and allows for you to be more present with the person on a humanistic level.

Not all therapy is awesome.

Yup. I said it. And yup, I am a marriage and family therapist and a certified sex therapist (read: someone IN the mental health field and proudly holds the title of "therapist"). But the reality is, not all therapists are created equal, and not all clients fit into the neat little theory-boxes the medical model of American culture likes to place them. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, can be a wonderful theoretical tool to use with clients to help them break through negative thinking and understand how their thoughts are impacting their behaviors, and how "challenging cognitive distortions" are impacting their view of the world, then offering a "reframe" of their view to something more reality-based or less negative. But CBT can also cause some marginalized folx (i.e., BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, combination of this, or others) to feel gaslit, dismissed, or invalidated for their experiences and that their "cognitive distortions" are something to be fixed, versus acknowledging that the systems they live in are causing legitimate struggles and stress and the thoughts/impacts are not due to distorted thinking at all.

Checking out the professional licensing boards' websites you can find information for therapists who have caused legitimate harm to their clients and their violations of ethics on display for people to learn about (and hopefully some therapists to learn from). Sometimes therapists will say or do something that made a client feel uncomfortable, was insensitive, or invalidating, and have difficulty with recognizing the hurt or not feeling it "was meant that way." Therapists, despite what some may try to portray differently, are human and are not exempt from causing harm, offense, or unintentional damage.

The type of therapist you see is also important to ensure you have the "right fit" for your needs, which is why there should be some kind of mention, in my opinion, in the beginning of the therapy relationship, of what to do if you're not with the right person (Spoiler alert: you have the right to leave that therapist and find another), or telling you that the therapist has an ethical obligation to refer you to someone who may be a better fit to serve you than them. So listen to your gut. If, by the third session, you just don't feel like it is a good fit, or something "feels off," and/or you don't feel so comfortable with opening up more to the therapist, that might be an indication you need to seek someone else. (I do believe clients know the difference between "I am just nervous talking about this with someone" versus "I don't trust this person" -- the latter is what you want to really hone in on!) A final thought on therapy not being awesome, is sometimes it just didn't help in the ways we wanted/hoped it would. And sometimes that is okay. Some things cannot be shifted into the "I don't ever feel bothered by that anymore"-zone and sometimes that is okay; learning to accept life as-is is sometimes the best healing. But if you feel the round of therapy you did didn't meet what you needed, chew on a little bit what, exactly, you felt you missed, and then use that answer to lead the next search for a therapist. As I mentioned before, all therapists are different, so finding the "right flavor" of therapist for you is a vital process. (Check out my blog on things to consider when looking for a therapist, here.) To tie this back to that shocking comment, perhaps this person had a horrible experience in therapy, where their own trauma was worsened or they didn't get the care they were truly seeking, thus writing therapy off completely.

Stigma. Stigma. Stigma.

As much as my little therapist heart wants to believe that our culture is fully embracing of mental health therapy and encouraging people to seek trauma therapy or sex therapy when they need it....the sad reality is, it's still not fully accepted in America.

For example, I have often heard from clients that their partner does not want to come to therapy because they "don't want someone telling me how to live my life", or they "don't need that woo-woo stuff," often leaving my client crushed and feeling hopeless of anything getting better. I try to share with my client that that reaction is often from the misconception that therapy = counseling. Therapy, by its definition, means "to promote healing," while counseling, by its definition, means to "give advice" (which is also not knocking the importance of those wonderful counselors and coaches out there). While there is definitely advice-giving in therapy, the therapist's true job is to provide a safe, non-judgmental space, for clients and their others to come in to process and understand the reasons for thoughts, behaviors, and changes in their lives, and to collaboratively work with the client to discover new ways of healing, growth, and pleasure (in the sensual and platonic sense).

Often when a partner is finally convinced to come in to therapy with my client, they find the process at least a little helpful in the sense they've been able to reach a level of understanding of the client and what they have gone through, how they feel about things, and offering some space for reply/reaction to the client. Sometimes the partner finds out that the therapist is not trying to tell them how to live their life, what to feel, or what to do -- rather they are offering a third-party perspective on what they're bringing in to the session that can sometimes offer clarity to the situation they've never thought of.

Seeking help = Weakness

Then there's (and this could easily fit in the "stigma" section, too) the thought that you're "weak," or somehow dumb, if you go to therapy to seek help. But this cannot be farther from the truth! Reaching out to a complete stranger (at least before you meet them) to see if they'd be willing to listen to the thoughts, behaviors, ideas, struggles, etc. that you've been juggling alone, is anything but weak! It actually takes quite a bit of bravery and vulnerability to begin the therapy process -- especially the first step of reaching out to a bunch of smiling photos of strangers to see if someone -- just one of them -- has an opening for you. That simple steps is putting yourself out there and it often the hardest step. Perhaps the original commenter did not have healthy or dependable care givers in their life to help model for them what seeking help is, or the benefits could be, so they see reaching out for help as a weakness because, when they tried it, they were othered or made to feel inferior.

American culture (and the other gendered expectations within it, and other cultures) is also drenched in the "individualistic" and "independent person" mindset, so naturally reaching out to someone outside of ourselves is shamed and seen as a weakness. Receiving help can be seen as an admission to failure; you couldn't do it on your own. Perhaps this is the underlying viewpoint the original poster was coming from?

Or perhaps their upbringing taught them that (assumed gender, as this is still a prevalent belief with men and mental health) "men don't seek help. They figure it out on their own." Cultural expectations also place certain behaviors in stereotypical gendered behaviors. So if the poster is a man, perhaps seeking help is seen as more "feminine" and thus, a weakness? We are not immune from our cultural impressions, expectations, and pressures. Even if we are against blatant -isms from our culture! They still live within each of us and can influence how we think and behave.

But I will shout it from the rooftops: GETTING HELP FOR YOURSELF IS A STRENGTH, NOT A WEAKNESS!

Just one step.

No matter if this is the first time you're reaching out for help, or the hundredth to get a new perspective from a different type of therapist, reaching out for help is a sign you care about yourself, your loved ones, and others. You want to invest in your health and change your life for something that fits better. And, especially, seeking help to heal from trauma is anything but weak. It is a brave step toward regaining your power and releasing the grip hold trauma can have on our lives.

Just take one step. Even if it is looking at a website to browse what therapists are in your area. Just one step forward to investing in yourself, because you are not, despite what cultural messages may try to say, meant to walk this journey alone and you are worthy of healing and peace from trauma.

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