People go to therapy for all sorts of reasons. Some people need professional help when it comes to dealing with bullying, divorce, anxiety, or serious mental illnesses such as depression. For example, when I was a little kid, math made me so anxious that I’d cry at the mere mention of a test. To therapy I went. As I got older, I used my sessions with the most fabulous shrink of all time (she wrote me a recommendation letter for my sorority and we’re now sisters) as an outlet for gossip. Something juicy would happen, and instead of stirring the pot by playing the “he said, she said” game with my friends, I’d go to her and talk about it until I lost interest. I avoided drama and had a place to talk about whatever I wanted without fear of judgment.
It wasn’t until I came to college that I realized the negative stigma attached to therapy. Along with buying dorm essentials and textbooks, “find a good therapist” was on my college to-do list. I made an appointment with our counseling services office and found a wonderful counselor right on campus. But when I’d tell new friends or sister, “Oh, can’t do lunch actually, I have therapy!” their reaction was if I’d just said, “Oh, I can’t do lunch actually, I’ve got to get fitted for a straightjacket!” “Why? What’s wrong?” they’d ask in a hushed tone, wide-eyed. Nothing was, or is, specifically wrong–I just like having an unbiased adult (read: not my mom) to talk to about life, answer questions, and help me work through problems. Even if there had been something seriously wrong, we should support people for having the sense to recognize that they need help, and for having the maturity and bravery to ask for it. The idea of therapy shouldn’t make people nervous, but rather be accepted as a wonderful way to cope with difficulties, express concerns, and benefit from the knowledge of a professional.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help. College is an extremely overwhelming experience, regardless of how well-adjusted or capable you may feel. Everyone is met with issues at one point or another that they simply don’t know how to handle, and in college, those issues tend to be more frequent and pressing. If we could change the stigma associated with therapy, maybe more students would be likely to seek help, and we’d see a healthier and happier American college scene. Friends can be wonderful listeners and advice givers, but they’re not trained professionals. Therapy doesn’t have to be about fixing something that’s wrong–it can be a tool to prevent something from going wrong in the first place.
In order to de-stigmatize therapy, we need to normalize it. For those of us who’ve benefitted from therapy, we need to share our stories. For those who have questions, ask them. It’s time we start treating our mental health with the same kind of concern we have when it comes to treating our physical health..