October is Mental Health Awareness in South Africa. Yesterday, 10 October, was World Mental Health Day. BLQ is committed to playing its part in helping to break the stigma attached to mental illness and seeking professional help.

According to IOL, South Africa has the sixth highest suicide rate in Africa. Mental afflictions such as depression, bipolar and anxiety are taking the lives of countless South Africans; it is estimated that 800 000 South Africans lose their battle with mental illness every year. This alarming statistic forces us to reflect on how we treat those with mental illness and how we treat one another in general. Psychotherapy is one of the interventions that are used to treat mental and psychological conditions. Many people who are struggling are a bit hesitant to seek professional psychological help due to misconceptions about “seeing a shrink”. While seeing a therapist may not be an absolute panacea, it can help alleviate the symptoms that lead to suicidality. Debunking myths associated with seeing a psychologist will empower those who are struggling—whether with mental illness or personal problems—to reach out and get the help they need before it’s too late. 

 

Common Myths about Seeing a Therapist

 

1. You’re paying someone to be your friend

This couldn’t be any further from the truth. No, you are not paying someone to listen to your problems. Yes, your problems will come up but it is so that you and the therapist work together to prevent them from consuming you and making you miserable. There is more structure to a therapy session than in a phone call with your friend. The therapist knows what to ask to help you get “unstuck” and to gain some kind of clarity on what steps you need to take to live as fulfilled a life as you possibly can.

When you approach your friend with an issue you're struggling with, chances are they will listen and give you their perspective based on their own life; they will also talk about their own struggles and you’ll walk away feeling unheard; this isn’t because your friend doesn’t care about you, it’s just the way we are as humans. If you are overwhelmed, you need a space that will be yours and yours alone—that’s what therapy provides. Therapy is YOUR space to be vulnerable. More than that, the therapist won't throw advice at you but will help you gain insight into your deepest struggles, which, more often than not, brings about an invigorating shift inside of you.  

 

2. You don’t need therapy, just pray

There is no denying the power of faith in dealing with life’s challenges, however, prayer is not enough—it’s too passive an act to heal your soul of all its wounds and liberate your mind from the clutches of toxic thought patterns. Therapy offers a safe space to actively work through things that have been preventing you from being your fullest self. It’s a space to unlearn and “unbelieve” narratives that have a negative effect on how you perceive yourself in relation to others, and how you perceive others in general. Additionally, prayer doesn’t cure depression and if left untreated, depression can lead to self–harm and suicide.

 

 

3. Therapy is only for those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness

This myth is preventing so many people from getting help with whatever issue is overwhelming them. Anyone who is struggling to cope with life’s challenges—whether it is grief, stress, divorce or a bad break up—can benefit from seeing a therapist. As mentioned above, therapy helps you become “unstuck”, and it helps you process your emotions in an effective manner. We all want to live a better life and therapy can help you improve your quality of life a great deal.

 

 

Debunking myths associated with seeing a psychologist will empower those who are struggling to reach out and get the help they need before it’s too late. 

 

4. If you are on medication, you don’t need therapy

Depression (and other mental illnesses) has a biochemical basis, i.e. is it due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, but it is also an illness of the soul; therefore, it requires a multi-pronged treatment plan. Medication balances the chemicals in your brain, enabling you to sleep, concentrate, make decisions, and complete daily tasks, such as showering, with relative ease. Therapy assists where medication cannot; medication cannot mend a broken heart or repair self-esteem that has been damaged by abandonment—you need to talk through such issues so that you can get to a place of peace and acceptance; it’s long journey of healing, but it is worth it.

 

5. Therapy keeps you stuck in the past

Most people often think to themselves, “therapy is all out rehashing a past I cannot change, so there’s no point really.” Therapy is not about reliving the past, it is about living beyond it. There is no denying that the past affects our present; something your parent said in the past can affect the way you perceive yourself as an adult. In therapy, your past experiences will come up but the focus isn’t so much on what happened but on how it affects you right now. The excavation process is necessary to challenge self-limiting beliefs that are detrimental to your mental wellbeing. Understanding the roots of your current struggles will empower you to challenge those toxic beliefs.

 

Everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist. Therapy provides a judgement-free space for you to be vulnerable. If you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder such as depression or anxiety, therapy helps you find healthy ways of managing your symptoms.

Therapists understand the mind in a way that your friends and family never will. Investing in a good therapist is a long-term investment in your wellbeing.