The Culture of Mental Health
Mental health, regardless of what some may believe, is not static. It’s ever changing, very dynamic, and affected by so much in the community. The face of mental health changes from person to person and place to place. Mental health does not impact just one group of individuals. There are so many stigmas present within the mental health community due to the irrational beliefs, polarizing views, absurd repercussions, and culturally insensitive treatments. One of the things I cringe at hearing is when a therapist states that they can treat any diagnosis from the perspective of their one theory. THAT’S ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE!!! Therapy should not be a “one size fits all” intervention because mental health isn’t a “one size fits all” disease. You can do far more damage to a consumer by treating everyone the same. Unfortunately, because of some experiences in seeking help, the lack of education regarding mental health, the lack of cultural competency, and the continued stigmas and myths many individuals do not receive the help they truly need. With that said, I offer 5 tips in getting the help you need on your path to healthy.
Therapists are no different than the rest of the population. They are different cultures, religions, races, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. They have differing beliefs that may even guide their treatment. What you as the consumer must understand, is that those differences are also what help us to help you. You must also understand that this also means if one doesn’t work for you, then don’t count us all out, find the one who does work for you. Don’t be afraid to search for exactly who it is you feel would help you best. If you want to work with a man, then search for a man. If you want to work with someone younger, then find someone younger. If you want someone more experienced, then look for that. If you want a specific race, gender, or sexual orientation, then that’s what you look for. If you want someone who specializes in a specific technique, area, or clientele, then that’s what you look for. Don’t feel like you have to choose a specific person.
As a person of faith, I whole heartedly believe in the power of prayer. However, I also believe that prayer alone will not work. For example, if you developed lung cancer after years of smoking, would you simply pray about it while continuing to smoke, or would you make the attempt to stop smoking while continuing to pray? If you lost your job, would you just pray about it while sitting back on your couch with your feet up, or would you pray on it while putting in applications and going on interviews? With that said, I absolutely hate it, when people say, “you don’t need to go to a therapist, just pray about it”. Yes, pray…and then do the work. Stop listening to people who don’t want to get their own issues worked through. Another pet peeve of mine is when someone says that therapy is for a certain race, age, or gender. That’s ludicrous! Therapy is for any and everyone who needs and wants the help. If therapists come from all different backgrounds, then it stands to reason that our clients are also from all different backgrounds. Stop listening to friends and family who are encouraging you NOT to get help.
If you’re in session and are feeling uncomfortable about something, then speak about it with your therapist. With that said, there are some things that will be uncomfortable because that can sometimes be the nature of therapy. We’re looking into concerns and there is a natural vulnerability in that. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at some other reasons you may feel something isn’t right. If you’re feeling judged, or worse, are being judged, then it may be time to find another therapist. If you’re feeling as though your culture, race, religion, or sexual orientation is not being considered when it should be, then speak up about it. It is okay to question things. Therapists aren’t all knowing. If you have a question about an approach, skill level, knowledge of a certain topic, experience treating a certain background, then ask the therapist. Don’t sit in sessions uncomfortable because you’re afraid to ask a question. We won’t get mad or upset with you. We are here to help you, so if something doesn’t feel right, speak up and ask questions.
Your culture is definitely important. Every culture is unique, and it is important to understand that your culture impacts your experiences, your responses, your perception, and your treatment. While it may not be the reasoning that you sought treatment, it does play a role in your treatment in terms of approaches, interventions, and effectiveness. Don’t feel as though you need to be someone else or suppress who you are to be a certain person in therapy. Be you! We as therapists need to know you. We may ask questions about who you are or attempt to understand your culture more, but this is in attempt to help you and be sure we’re being effective. That being said, every therapist will not understand your culture. It is okay to find someone who will or is willing to understand you and who you are. If you’re feeling a disconnect due to cultural differences, then it may be wise to first discuss to see if things will change, and if that doesn’t work, find another therapist who may be a better fit.
So for all the consumers I’ve worked with, so many of them have a tendency to state to me, “I don’t need therapy because I’m not crazy”. Let me help you with that dear old FALSEHOOD. Struggling with mental health concerns don’t make you “crazy”, it makes you human. If you ask me, everyone needs to see a therapist at least once in their lives because we all have something we could use a little help with navigating. Understand that mental illness is a disease. When you’re sick, you see a doctor. It always amazes me that in every other aspect, people seek the services they need. If you’re child has a speech impediment, you seek speech therapy. If your child is having concerns with fine or gross motor skills, you seek an occupational therapist. If your muscles are far too tense, you seek a massage therapist. If you’re recovering from an injury, you seek a physical therapist. However, if you’re struggling with a mental health concern, you don’t seek the help you need because you fear being labeled as “crazy”. You aren’t! You are struggling with symptoms related to a concern that can be improved with the appropriate help and intervention.
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Dr. Krystle Dandridge