It’s really encouraging to see conversations around mental health and stigma finally happening on a more regular basis (it's about time, pals!), but one of the most misunderstood things about mental health care is therapy itself.
Wait. What is therapy and/or counselling and is there a difference?
Firstly, yes there is a difference.
While both counselling and therapy involve meeting with a mental health professional, there are a few important differences. Counselling typically involves resolving issues in the here and now, and tends to be more short-term in nature.
Comparatively, therapy tends to address more longstanding emotional, psychological, or behavioural patterns, often involves working through both past and present concerns, and typically occurs over a longer period of time.
This past week, I was talking to a family member who said “I thought about going to therapy, but I don’t think I feel that bad.” What followed was a conversation about what exactly therapy is (and can be) for, but this sentiment is one I hear all of the time.
Therapy is not just something to consider once you’ve shame-spiraled into the dark and scary corners of your psyche (or the Internet), it is a tool that you can access at any point in time.
Most people think about going to therapy as something we only do while we’re in crisis, like when experiencing serious depression, substance abuse issues, or unexpected stressful life events. You know, when things have gotten “bad enough.”
Here’s the thing: should you see a mental health professional if you are in crisis and struggling? Absolutely. 100%. Get help immediately or sooner.
But are these the only times when therapy is helpful? Definitely not.
Thinking that mental health care is only useful when things are “bad enough” is like avoiding dental check-ups until your teeth have fallen out of your head.
Should you go see a dentist if all of your teeth fall out of your head? Definitely. Would it have been helpful to intervene with whatever was happening before you became toothless? Probably.
The point is, if we can collectively start thinking about taking care of our mental health in the same way that we take care of our physical health, we would be able to move towards actually maintaining good mental health, rather than waiting to intervene once things get severe (A.k.a. “bad enough”).
So, what are some non-crisis reasons to go see a psychologist?
1. You want to understand yourself better
2. You want to make a good relationship great
3. You want to let go and forgive
4. You want to excel in your career
5. You want to be a better parent/spouse/human
6. You want to engage in self-care
7. You want to learn about and practice life skills (healthy boundaries, assertiveness, communication, etc.)
8. You want to win the Olympics.
Did you know there is a whole area of psychology that focuses on how to thrive, rather than just on how to resolve what might not be going well?
The theory of positive psychology largely focuses on the importance of positive beliefs, emotions, and strengths in an individual or a community.
In other words, positive psychology focuses on what is right with people.
Let me be clear, positive psychology isn’t merely the idea that if you just think positively, everything will be great (I see you, The Secret), it’s based off of the scientific study of what makes individuals and communities truly exceptional. Click here to learn more about positive psychology.
In fact, many professional athletes, musicians, and performers work with psychologists as a way to optimize their performance, agility, and resiliency, in their respective profession. Shout out to Emma Stone, Jon Hamm, Kerry Washington, Brad Pitt, Brandon Marshall, and Ron Artest, to name a few.
So, what does this mean?
Well, it means that you don’t need permission to take care of your mental health! You aren’t wasting time. You are not a burden. You aren’t taking away resources from people who need it more. You are making sure your proverbial teeth don’t fall out of your head.
If you or anyone you know in the Calgary area is experiencing a mental health crisis call the 24-hour Distress Centre line at 403-266-4357 or 911.