I was severely depressed. It got to the point where I was having great difficulty with day-to-day living. On some level, I knew I needed help, but the idea of getting it scared me. I resisted it for as long as I could, and only when I became truly desperate did I pick up the phone and take the first step toward managing — and eventually, overcoming — my depression.
Looking back, I realise how my misconceptions about therapy and treatment for depression not only prevented me from seeking out help, they also slowed my recovery. If I had known more about how therapy and other management tools for depression worked, I would have been able to make better choices as a consumer.
I know that I’m far from alone in my initial fears around getting help — what happens in therapy rooms is in many ways shrouded in mystery, and many people still don’t know what to expect from the experience.
This lack of understanding combined with the stigma around mental illness can prevent people from seeking the help they need. Just like any visible illness, depression requires intervention from a trained medical professional. Here are a few of the myths around starting therapy that I used to subscribe to — and the truths I now know from experience.
1. It means you’ve failed
Going to therapy to help work through your problems is not an admission of weakness. Initially, I believed that if I went to therapy it meant I had failed at fixing my issues on my own. The opposite is true. It takes a lot of courage to admit there is a problem and to get the help you need.
Asking for help means you’re taking action to make change. When celebrated athletes heed advice from their coach about how to improve their performance, they’re not seen as failures. Why should it be any different when people in need seek counsel to improve their mental health? It isn’t.
2. Recovery should happen quickly
Once I started to see a psychiatrist, I had unrealistic expectations about how quickly I would get better. There is no quick fix for depression. Healing will take more than one session. You may also need to try more than one therapist. They have their own methods and approaches. Finding the right fit takes time and patience.
3. Therapists are all the same
Before starting therapy, I thought it would consist of me lying on a couch talking about my childhood while an impassive doctor would periodically ask, “And how does that make you feel?”
At that time, I didn’t understand that the universe of psychological treatment is vast and much more differentiated than this caricature. It contains people trained in psychopharmacology, psychoanalysis, and social work (among others), who use many different kinds of tools for working with people experiencing depression.
There is no single “therapist type.” Mental health professionals are like any other group of people, with different styles, techniques, and personalities. You’ll likely find that you’re compatible working with some, and not others.
4. Going into therapy means giving up control
When I first started therapy, I had this idea that it meant I was putting my life wholly in my doctor’s hands, and that little would be required of me. It turns out that mental health treatment is an active process and, ultimately, what happens is your choice.
You will work closely with your doctor to find the tools that work best for you. They may make recommendations, but any decision that needs to be made is yours.
With talk therapy, it takes more than just showing up for an hour-long session each week. Between sessions, you'll need to think about what you talked about with your therapist. You need to be ready to face uncomfortable truths about yourself and be open to change.
To see results through treatment, you will need to participate and make necessary changes to your daily life. You control the process.
5. Going to therapy is something to be embarrassed about
Depression is one of the most challenging and complex health issues someone can face. Most people do not feel embarrassed before starting treatment for a visible illness — they’ll call the dentist when they have a toothache or head to the ER if they’ve got a very deep cut.
Yet, there is stigma around mental health and (even in today’s age) many people are scared or uncomfortable to ask for help. Don’t be. Your condition is not your fault, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
UK/MED/18/0301 October 2018