To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Open up to opening up: why everyone should be in therapy

I know from personal experience, vulnerability is scary.

But we all know that it can be hard to balance the tasks of everyday life with managing emotions and maintaining relationships. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 20% of adults in the United States deal with mental illness every year, and one in 20 adults experience severe mental illness. One in six children in the United States experience mental illness, and suicide is the second highest cause of death among adolescents aged 10 to 14 and the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. These numbers are ever-increasing; between 2007 and 2017 mental illnesses and substance use disorders increased by 13 percent—which is likely to have increased more due to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic and political tensions across the world. 

While mental health concerns are on the rise, access to mental healthcare including psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health counselors has not become much easier for those seeking help. Certain parts of the United States, including my hometown in New Hampshire, are in what I would call a “mental health deadzone,” in which there are very few, if any, mental health professionals practicing in the area. My hometown has one office of therapists, no psychiatrists and inexperienced general practitioners who prescribe with little thought. Even in places where mental healthcare is more prevalent, it’s difficult to find therapists who accept insurance. I pay a fee of $75 every week for my therapy appointments because the office I go to doesn’t take my insurance but is the most easily accessible for me during my busy weeks. Not many people are able to afford such a luxury. 

Even for people who don’t have diagnosed mental health concerns, being an adult is difficult. We are all at a unique time of transition in our lives and are planning our futures; talking to friends about your worries can only do so much, and burdening your loved ones with these difficult topics is unfair when they are likely also going through their own hard times. Because of this, therapy is something we should all be partaking in. Of course, first mental health care must become more accesible and widespread, but until then I will continue advocating for its benefits even to those who believe they don’t “need” it. 

Studies have shown that psychotherapy produces greater effects on treating mental and behavioral health issues than medicinal treatment does; taking an antidepressaant alone can only do so much! Psychotherapy also improves work functioning, teaches patients valuable life skills and is effective beyond the time frame of direct treatment, meaning that the lessons you learn in therapy can stick with you even if you stop attending sessions. You don’t need to be an anxious, depressed or traumatized individual to benefit from learning coping mechanisms and understanding how you respond to various socio-emotional stimuli. We as people are imperfect, and there’s always room to learn about ourselves and how to grow from our missteps. 

This is easier said than done of course, for reasons such as inaccessbility via location to the fact that 45% of therapists don’t accept insurance. Additionally, some people with specific perspectives and backgrounds would prefer therapists who fit their qualifications, such as being LGBTQ or of the same race or religion as the potential patient. This produces even more barriers to quality mental health care. In 2016, 86% of psychologists were white, making it difficult for non-white individuals to find a provider that can understand and correctly sympathize with their experiences as people of color. For LGBTQ individuals, the search for a therapist with their identity can be similarly daunting.  

If you are able to access mental health care that fits your personal identity requirements, I implore you to take the opportunity to attend therapy. If you think you “need” mental health help or not, you can benefit from talking to a professional. Don’t allow stigma to stop you, as therapy isn’t something “weak” people do. In fact, therapy can be extremely difficult. Pushing yourself to reach new levels of comfort in vulnerability, allowing yourself to be analyzed and bringing past experiences to the surface are all scary things to do, but doing them in a safe environment makes every other aspect of life and emotion that much easier.

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