How do I explain to family and friends why I am seeing a psychologist?
There is no one right thing to say to family and friends about why you are going to see a psychologist. The best advice I can give is this: make it simple and be honest. As I tell many of my clients, there is no form of therapy that I do with others (individual, couple or family) that I have not experienced as a client myself. When I think about what led me to pick up the phone and finally make that call, it was first, being in a great deal of pain and second, being willing to admit that I needed help, usually after much distress! We do not hesitate to call upon a specialist when there is a physical problem. Why should it be any different when the problems are mental and emotional?
Unfortunately, we live in a society that still stigmatizes people for seeking help to deal with psychological problems. This is so despite the increasing numbers of people from all walks of life who have sought out therapists. It is as if the reality of what’s happening out there remains a secret until somebody has the guts to talk about it. Then, once out in the open, it is rare to find somebody who has remained unaffected by mental health issues either in themselves or some close friend or family member. Social attitudes and messages relayed early in life, however, die hard. What are some of these covert messages? “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public”, “You made your bed, lie in it”, “Strong people solve their own problems”, and “Only people who are weak-willed go for counselling”. None of us totally escape this conditioning which is why there is usually some ambivalence at the start for everybody who walks into a therapist’s office.
What many do not realize is that people’s judgments about therapy say much more about them (their values and outlook) than they do about you and what’s right for you. So it is very risky to take too much to heart another’s point of view whether it be positive or harshly judgmental. If you find yourself being significantly affected by someone’s critical comments, it would be wise to look inside at what is likely your own mixed feelings about seeking help. After all, isn’t it far more important what you think than what others think? When a client says to me: “My husband thinks it is a waste of time and money”, my response typically is to ask: “And what do you think”? Granted, it is difficult when the people close to you, family or close friends, are unable to provide emotional support for your decision. If someone close to you cannot support it, though, don’t make the mistake of getting hooked on trying to change his or her mind. Seek support from those who can give it. They are out there!