Is seeking counselling and psychotherapy still considered by most people as something that needs to be kept hidden from everyone else?
The answer may be linked to the difficult relationship that society has with mental health. For most people difficulties and mental health issues are signs of weakness that needs to be concealed at any cost. Perhaps this feeling amplifies the power of their internal critic that often or occasionally says to them that they are not good enough.
It is also true that society applauds and rewards ‘winners’ and people who show themselves as strong and independent and do not seem to need help.
In A modified labeling theory approach to mental disorders : an empirical assessment Link, Cullen, Struening & Shrout (1989) write about the knowledge of people with psychiatric issues that they will be stigmatised and discriminated. This knowledge will then become an expectation of the person with psychiatric issues to be stigmatised and treated differently. This does not mean that the stigmatization only happens in the head of the person with psychiatric issues, but this person starts to believe what the public and the media say about them.
This way of seeing things does not only apply to severe psychiatric disorders, but to any other mental health issues that might make people feel different from the ‘norm’. But what is the norm? A happy life with no issues? That sounds appealing, but unrealistic.
Perhaps part of the answer lies in the acceptance of our inner beings: imperfect and on a journey towards wholeness that lasts a lifetime. This also means accepting help along the way and not being afraid to show our vulnerability.
Some celebrities have started to talk about their own mental issues to create awareness and to make it slightly easier for other people to be more open about their own issues. This openness will hopefully reduce the stigma and shame attached to mental health issues and keep our inner critic at bay.
There is evidence that the new generation of young people are more willing to look inwards and discuss their problems. The figures form the Health and Social Care Information Centre for 2012/13 showed that younger people were far more likely than older generations to seek counselling.
In 2014 the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) conducted a public attitudes survey in which 2084 adults aged 16-75 from across the UK took part. The results of this survey are the most recent figures in our ongoing efforts to track the changing attitudes to counselling and psychotherapy in the UK.
This figures show a significant increase in the number of people accessing therapy since the last public attitudes survey in 2010 when only one person in five said that they had consulted a counsellor or psychotherapist.
The BACP states that ‘These results strongly suggest that the stigma attached to seeking counselling has diminished considerably since our previous attitudes surveys in 2004 and 2010’.
Is this a sign that things are slowly changing? I truly hope so.