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Mental Health Awareness Month: Therapy Edition

May is mental health awareness month. Accepting, addressing, and taking care of our own mental health widely carries a negative stigma. Dedicating the month of May to this topic creates the space continue breaking down the stigma. A beneficial method for treating and taking care of our mental health is therapy. Now, to expand on the subject of therapy and connect it with our youth serving mission here at PATH, let’s look at a case example of a teen who we will call Mary.

Mary is a functioning student, she is on the honor roll, in varsity sports, has no trouble making friends, and is generally likable to teachers and staff. Despite her general high functionality in her day-to-day activities and interests, Mary would like to talk to a psychotherapist. However, she is afraid she will look weak by asking for help and that her parents may be upset.

Psychotherapy can benefit almost anyone, even those that do not believe they warrant it. Psychotherapy is effectively used to help those that have disorders and trauma visible on the surface. It also can be used to identify and resolve long suppressed, deep-rooted trauma that impedes performance to any degree. The truth of the matter is that psychotherapy is not just a remedy for wounds caused by trauma or ongoing chronic conditions. It is also a tool that can help improve the livelihood of those that may be viewed as or considered to be functioning. 

On the surface, Mary is a model student, athlete, and friend. However, she happens to react poorly to criticism. So much as a B- on a test or a missed practice can shatter her mood for the day or longer. While this may not be a problem in her presently appearing functional lifestyle, this issue may manifest into a larger problem over time.

The therapeutic process of psychotherapy will help Mary discover the source of this behavior and mitigate its effects early on. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, notable symptom relief occurs in 75% of patients that seek psychotherapeutic assistance (source). Specifically for teenagers, psychotherapy can help teens learn many things such as emotional regulation, empathy, appropriate assertiveness, self-awareness, confidence, healthy coping skills, communication skills, and that their mental health is worth taking care of. As adolescents often experience emotions more intensely than adults, growth and learning in these areas can help them function and feel better.

Although still lingering, the stigma associated with seeking therapy is quickly diminishing. In fact, it is viewed as responsible and mature to seek help. Prioritizing mental health by participating in therapy promotes a healthy mind-body relationship (source). Think of it as scheduling an appointment to go to the dentist for a toothache; an individual might be seen as immature, unhealthy, or irresponsible for refusing to go to a dentist when they could increase the quality of their life with professional support. You are not a dentist (and if you are, you get the point), so when your teeth hurt you talk to one. You are not a psychotherapist, so when you have a psychological need, go speak to one.

There is an ever-expanding list of reasons that people can and have sought out support from mental health professionals. The following is a list of lesser-known reasons one should seek counseling, published by Pennsylvania West University Clarion:

  • Adjusting to college
  • Stress, anxiety
  • Test anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Life transitions (e.g., leaving home, graduation, marriage, having children)
  • Relationship concerns (e.g., romantic relationships, roommates, friends, parents)
  • Gay, lesbian, and bisexual concerns
  • Discrimination
  • Loss and grieving
  • Sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
  • Indecision about an academic major
  • Dissatisfaction with current major
  • Interest in graduate education
  • Frequently missed classes
  • Eating disturbances, such as appetite loss or compulsive eating
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unexplained crying or emotional outbursts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Significant behavior changes
  • Change in academic performance
  • Confusion or thinking disturbance

This list includes traumatic reasons, of course. As you can see, it also includes the less-than-obvious reasons to seek counseling (source).

Therapy can be beneficial to almost everyone. It can be recommended that everyone ought to consult a therapist. At the very least, it will reveal that one does NOT need therapy after all, or that different forms of mental health treatment should be explored. If you feel like you need to talk to a therapist, nothing is more recommendable at that moment. 

The stigma of psychotherapy is rapidly dissipating. Normalizing professional mental health treatment can be accomplished by more people continuing to prioritize their mental health the way they do their physical health. There is no shame in getting help, no matter who you are; children, teens, students, parents, veterans—the list goes on. Everyone can benefit, grow, and hopefully increase their quality of life through psychotherapy. 

Clayton Lembcke