Its ironic, but perhaps the most misunderstood component of our health is that of the mind. There are so many myths about mental health that I don't even pretend to cover all of them, but rather, I've made a list of some of the most common and most dangerous that I have come across in my experience:
Myth #1: Mental health services are for people with mental illness.
Are you less than happy about one or more aspects of your life (relationships, finances, career, health)?
Then guess what?
There is a mental health professional out there that could help you.
Today there are mental health professionals that specialize in all sorts of interventions ranging from grief counseling, executive coaching, couples therapy, and pain management techniques. As you can imagine, the majority of clients who participate in these types of treatments do not have a diagnosed psychiatric condition, but rather they simply benefit from an outside professional consulting with them about an aspect of their life that is challenging them. That's not to say that mental health diagnoses don't exist nor does that mean you shouldn't consult with a psychologist if you feel you or someone you love might be suffering from one, but it does mean that there is treatment out there for you even if you are just "going through something."
Myth #2: Treatment, therapy, counseling and coaching are for weak minded people.
Without a doubt the most toxic and erroneous myth, this couldn't be further from the truth but yet many people still feel this in the back of their mind. To admit you see a psychologist, to admit you built your business with the help of a life coach, to admit you and your partner see a marriage counselor is to admit weakness in the eyes of some. The truth is actually the opposite. Given this stigma, and considering the time, cost and effort it takes to seek out help, it actually takes courage, determination and initiative to seek out help. Is it weak-minded to be able to say you were wrong? Is it silly to admit that you are headed the wrong way and stop to ask for directions? Modern North American culture places a tremendous emphasis on the concept of the "self made man," but historically and anthropologically speaking, this just doesn't hold water. The greatest achievements of man have come from working together, and biting your bottom lip through emotionally challenging times does not actually guarantee better results nor does it speak to a better character. People who hire the services of a mental health professional are not whining to a friend, they are making strides to become better, higher functioning people. Where is the weakness in that?
Myth #3: Counseling and coaching are the last resort.
No surprise, people who seek out help early, before major problems develop or at the first signs of trouble, actually have significantly better outcomes in all aspects of life. In the same way that early intervention leads to better management of diabetes, seeking support from a mental health professional at the first signs of distress can help prevent the fallout from a more serious problem and greatly shortens the amount of time you spend suffering.
Myth #4: All mental health professionals will make you talk about your past.
This myth comes from the origins of psychology, psychoanalysis, which is a therapeutic style that does in fact involve a lot of talking about your early childhood and was made famous by one of the pioneers of this approach, Sigmund Freud. However, today more than 100 years later, there are dozens of therapeutic techniques and styles and some of them, for example solution-focused or short-term therapy typically involve minimal if any exploration into the past of the client, but rather focus on the now and of course, the future.
It's also worth noting that a good mental health professional is trained to avoid pushing you to talk about things you are not prepared to talk about. If a professional feels a current problem might be tied to your past experience, they usually ask the client about such a possibility and explore it in a way that the client is comfortable with. Our past, present and future are inextricably interwoven but that does not mean that therapy is a digging expedition. Most modern therapists address only the obvious past issues that the client offers up voluntarily.
Myth #5: Mental health services are too expensive.
It is true, we live in a world in which health services in general can be costly, and insurance providers often dispute or put limits on certain types of services, including mental health therapy or counseling. However, there has been real progress in recent years with insurance companies accepting therapy as a medical necessity (perhaps because they've finally realized that good mental health helps stave off multitudes of other conditions!). Some providers have also begun to accept less conventional models of treatment such as online therapy.
Outside of the managed care realm, there is more good news. Many therapists have sliding scales that can accommodate a more modest budget. Support groups are often set up by community organizations or non-profits and therefore, have little or no cost. Online therapy or e-therapy allows practitioners to work in less expensive areas, which in turn is reflected in their rates and the client saves on gas and transport time.
If you are facing an issue that involves a child, there are social services you can access in your community or through your child's school that are free. It is a common misconception that all child and family services through the state provide only court ordered treatments, i.e., they are a last resort for neglectful or abusive parents. In many cities and states, there are services for which you can self refer (although you may have to do some digging, it is usually not well advertised).
The emergence of life coaches or informal counselors has also offered an economical solution to less dire concerns. These coaches (sometimes called advisors, mentors, counselors, etc) often do not have the traditional licenses required of psychologists or social workers and therefore may charge less for their services. This does not mean they are unqualified or of lesser quality, in fact, they might be a better fit for you if you are seeking advice or guidance (something that traditional psychological treatments tend to shun in favor of allowing clients to reach their own conclusions). These professionals can be very helpful, but if you or the person in need of treatment has thoughts of harming themselves or others or is currently being treated by a psychiatrist for a diagnosed mental illness, then you should see a licensed professional instead.
Myth #6: Mental health interventions are a long process.
Similar to the myth related to talking about your past, this concept comes to us from the psychological interventions of the late 1800's and early 1900's, when psychology was in its infancy and the model involved seeing an analyst for hours each week for years. Today, psychology and mental health services in general have evolved to adapt to the fast-paced world of the new millennia. Most service providers offer weekly one-hour sessions and in some models, improvements are reported within 3 to 5 sessions. This doesn't mean that all your problems are solved in three easy hours, but it does mean that in many modern mental health services, you see results quickly. When choosing your mental health specialist, you should ask questions about the modality: "How often will we meet? When do you expect I will see results? How long do you think I'll need treatment?Â While they likely will not have a "written in stone" answer, you can enter the treatment process with a sense of what to expect. Comforting, right?
When we feel stress, everything is daunting and maybe a little impossible. However, it's important to remember that modern mental health services are not. There are affordable, time-effective treatments on the market that can help you with all types of problems, big or small, personal or professional. Like everything in life, the earlier the intervention, the less costly and the better the end result, so don't hesitate if you feel you could use a little help.