How to Overcome Cultural Stigma Surrounding Counseling

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Counseling is a useful tool that can help people develop coping skills and process emotions and feelings. But for some, the negative stigma that surrounds therapy sessions is a major deterrent to seeking help. Despite a growing awareness of the benefits of counseling for people of all backgrounds and situations of life, this negative perception still makes some people hesitant about giving counseling a try.

However, concerns about how counseling is viewed should not deter you from taking an empowering step forward in your life. If you want to transcend this cultural stigma in pursuit of addressing challenges through counseling, consider taking the following steps.

Recognize that you are not “crazy.”

Whether you are seeking professional help to address a mental illness, or simply to sort through an overwhelming number of emotions and thoughts, you should start by recognizing that you are not “crazy” or whatever other pejorative you may be tempted to use to describe yourself. Have an open mind and put aside the stereotypes that you have seen in popular culture. These preconceived ideas can be damaging in and of themselves. According to a 2013 international study by Indiana University, stereotypes about mental illnesses are large contributors to the stigma that surrounds seeking help.

Whether you are seeking counseling yourself or have a loved one who is in sessions with a professional, it is also important to avoid the temptation of putting a timeline on the process. Therapy is not something that you do for a predetermined amount of time and have to accomplish all your goals before the clock runs out. It is not like taking your car to a mechanic, where it starts broken and after a little bit of work leaves “fixed.”

Counseling is a process that involves reflection, exploring insights and implementing choices; it is not a quick solution to the problems that you face. Recognize that everyone’s experience is different, and the number of sessions that you participate in is not an indicator of how well you are doing. Spending a longer period of time in therapy does not mean that you are worth any less than any other person. Everyone’s life experiences and counseling journeys are simply different.

See the wisdom in asking for help.

If you are ready to seek counseling to address whatever challenges you are facing, you should not be embarrassed. In fact, you should be congratulated for having the prudence to ask for help. After all, if someone were feeling physically ill and went to see a physician, you would not think that the action made the person weak. Rather, going to a doctor is a natural response to a physical ailment. In the same way, if you are dealing with an emotional or mental challenge, counseling sessions may be an appropriate and reasonable response. Seeking help is not something to be ashamed of but instead is an important step toward improving your quality or life.

If you are dealing with a clinical condition such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, it is especially important to avoid letting the opinions of others create self-doubt or shame in your own life. To fight this temptation, the Mayo Clinic recommends reaching out to people you trust for support, joining a group with others who share your struggle and advocating for yourself by speaking out against stigma. It also is important to be intentional about not defining yourself by your illness.

Whether you are seeking counseling to sort through feelings of stress or anxiety, or aiming to address a clinical mental health condition, recognizing that obtaining professional assistance in overcoming these challenges is an important step.

Woman sitting in a therapy session

Realize you are not alone.

One of the fastest ways to erase the stigma associated with counseling is to realize that you are not alone. Because many people are hesitant to discuss their struggles, you may not realize just how common it is to seek some form of professional help, whether it is to work on an intimate relationship or process through a childhood trauma.

According to a survey by the American Counseling Association released in 2011, anxiety disorders affected 40 million Americans ages 18 and older in 2009 (about 18 percent of the demographic). However, anxiety is not the only common struggle. The American Mental Health Counselors Association reported that in a given year, 20 percent of the population experiences a mental disorder. The organization said that by 2020, behavioral disorders are even likely to surpass physical diseases globally. Furthermore, a white paper by Liberty Mutual reported that two out of five people do not just worry occasionally — they worry every single day. The bottom line is that no matter why you are going to counseling, it is likely that many others — perhaps even those in your own social circle — are in the same boat. Isolating yourself because you think that you are the odd one out is not only harmful, but it is also simply false.

Start with yourself.

If you want to eliminate the stigma surrounding counseling, start with changing your own view. By having a healthy outlook of your own situation and goals in your therapy process, you will be able to speak more openly about it with others. While you do not need to share the personal details of your sessions, you also do not need to hide the fact that you are going to counseling from close family members or friends. If you feel ashamed of it, others will pick up on that and wonder if it is something that is shameful, which will only increase their misconceptions. You even may be able to find opportunities to help educate others, such as through an online blog or a presentation at a community gathering.

Ultimately, your own view of yourself is more important than what others think. If you believe your counseling to be useful to you, that is what matters. Therapy is a powerful tool for overcoming challenges and improving your life. Do not sabotage yourself by allowing an unfounded stigma to keep you from taking steps forward in your life.

Pursue your Master’s in Counseling Online with Bradley University.


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