“Why don’t you try therapy?”
As someone who believes in the power of therapy, I offer therapy OFTEN as a suggestion, but it is not infrequently met with an eye roll and some non-committal response like, “I guess”. Why is it when we hear that suggestion, it often makes us a feel little defensive or defeated?
I mean, do get it. For a long time there has been a stigma against seeking mental health help — and for men, seeking any help for that matter often comes with stigma. But that’s why I want to reframe the conversation around this suggestion.
Therapy is a privilege, not a punishment.
Let me digress for a moment.
I have always had a conflictual relationship with going to the gym. Like many people, going to the gym was “self-care” that usually tended to feel like punishment. Going to the gym was one of those things I would always intend to do, but never seemed to quite get around to doing.
One of the things that I tend to do is all or nothing. Getting a better fitness and self-care routine was usually on my “to do this year” list every year. And, like many people, I would get really excited about my new resolution and for the first 6 weeks of the year or so hit the gym really hard. Every day is gym day, every workout pushing me to the limit.
Aaaand guess what? I either ended up injuring myself (back surgery! shoulder injury! rhabdo!) or the pace I set for myself became unsustainable and I would end up settling back into my old ways after a few months. This seesaw between lacking a fitness routine and then going all out was actually doing me more harm than good.
Friends had often suggested I work with a personal trainer. These were the eye roll moments in my own life. “I should work with a personal trainer? I guess~” >eye roll<
The image I had in my head of someone who “needed” personal training was someone who was on a strict training schedule~Not me. Someone who needed one on one attention due to health issues ~ Not me. Or someone who thrived on getting yelled at and berated into getting fit~not me~. I’m more of a pleasure principle kinda gal.
I saw exercise as a punishment. Why send me to a person who will yell at me and make me wake up at 5 am and run? Sounds terrible. I wasn’t one of those people who needed it. I was healthy enough, I had a gym membership that I was sporadically using. Wasn’t that enough?
And sure, it could have been enough, but what I really needed to get was consistency. What I needed was someone to keep me accountable. What I needed was …a personal trainer to help get me off this all or nothing hamster wheel and set me on a new path towards fitness.
When I finally stopped looking at getting a healthy fitness routine as punishment, and instead looked at it as a privilege “I could be getting one on one personalized support?” it changed everything. I got to choose who I wanted to work with. I interviewed them, I visited their gyms, I read their bios: “uses boot-camp style motivation techniques” ~next! “believes in the power of waking before sunrise” ~next! Until I found someone who resonated with me: “will meet you where you are and work with you on your goals.” — ummm ok!
Going into that gym for the first time to work one on one with my trainer was hella uncomfortable. I felt awkward. “Was I dressed correctly? Are they going to start yelling? What do I do with my hands?!” But having someone who I could discuss my fitness goals with ~vulnerability moment~ who not only could give me encouragement, but who also had the tools and the support to get me to those goals was amazing.
Committing to getting healthy in any area of life is a challenge. Putting time, money, energy into eating better, having healthier sleep habits, starting a fitness routine, learning a new skill, or beginning to set boundaries is not easy. Any healthy changes will challenge you to act in new ways that are ultimately going to benefit you, but first they are going to be uncomfortable. Going to therapy and taking care of your mental health works the same way.
And could you do it yourself by reading self-help and psychology tips online? Sure. In the same way, I was getting healthy on my own by trying my best. But sometimes we just need that little extra bit of support. Sometimes that one on one personalized training makes all the difference.
Getting a therapist, trainer, coach, tutor, sponsor -all are ways to give yourself the boost you need to make that change that might change your life. There is a level of privilege that comes with the accessibility to all of these tools. But, if you can access it, why not give yourself the opportunity to take advantage of it? If you have the chance, invest in yourself. Give yourself all the chances for success you can get. Having the privilege of one on one support? It’s not too shabby no matter what area of your life you are working on.
When you can see taking care of your mental health and going to therapy not as a “punishment for being you”, but instead as a more efficient and effective way to set yourself up for the highest chance for success in life and relationships, you too can change your relationship to mental health work.
Treat your mental heath journey as a privilege, not a punishment, and see how that reframe might change the way you approach therapy.
If I have interested you in therapy :) check out these links for some awesome directories where you can start looking for the mental health trainer that works for you!
And, follow me on here or check out my socials for future posts on healthy relationships and mental health.
Kristal DeSantis, LMFT, CCTP is the author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man (available for pre-order November 2022)
Follow my instagram @atxtherapist or on TikTok @atx_therapist or visit my website: www.strong.love