At MyWellbeing, we're all about access to mental health care. While there are potentially a number of things standing between you and getting the mental health support you need, one of the most pervasive thoughts or feelings that can keep people from seeking out mental health care at all is the feeling that we don’t “deserve” it.
Studies have actually shown that self-stigma can be more prevalent than public-stigma, suggesting that individuals might be more affected by their internal perceptions of what it means to seek mental health services as opposed to negative societal perceptions about mental health.
What does this mean? That if we're hesitant to start therapy, we have to overcome or reframe our own ideas about therapy and mental health care before we can move forward. So what are some reasons we might feel like we don’t deserve therapy and how can we start to reframe those thoughts?
Mental health impostor syndrome, the feeling that you’re not suffering enough to deserve mental health treatment or seek the support of a therapist, is real—and it can stop us from seeking support, because every time we might be considering therapy, our brains tell us that whatever we're thinking, feeling, or experiencing isn't serious enough to deserve attention and care.
Often, therapy is a powerful preventative tool that can help you gain greater self-awareness and develop coping strategies for the future. Just because you’re not in pain at the moment (or you are, but you don’t think it’s “bad” enough), doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to work on preventative care.
We can’t stress this enough: you do not have to have hit rock bottom in order to “deserve” therapy. If you are struggling to get through your days, you definitely deserve to get the support you need as soon as possible. But in terms of mental health care, we want to reframe it as a preventative or supportive treatment rather than just a curative one. In other words, you don’t have to wait until something feels wrong to seek mental health support.
As you can see, these are all completely normal, day-to-day areas of our lives in which therapy can support us—no suffering required.
Like our CEO Alyssa Petersel says, “Whenever you hear ‘should’ in a reaction that you’re having, for example in response to external pressure or in terms of something you’re trying to decide to do, be mindful of that, question that, and practice a little bit of curiosity around that. Where is the ‘should’ coming from?”
If you think you “should” be able to handle whatever it is that you’re feeling or experiencing on your own, what does that really mean? And why do we expect this of ourselves?
From a very young age, a lot of us are encouraged to think that we should handle life’s struggles on our own. We see it in superheroes on TV and in movies, in profiles of successful people, on social media, and in gender and age stereotypes that reinforce certain societal norms. The message is often that others like us are significantly more ahead of us, more put-together than us, more successful than us, and more independent than us. But more often than not, that is just a fraction of the whole story.
You are exactly where you’re supposed to be right now, even when it’s hard and challenging—the only person you can be is you. What we want to do is lean away from comparisons and lean into getting the support we need to thrive as we are.
While it’s incredibly important to have social support from friends and family, it’s not the same as the support you get from a therapist. How can we be expected to create the nuanced, individualized support we need that encompasses our identities, backgrounds, and life experiences from generalized advice?
When the word “should” pops up again, step back and approach it with curiosity: Where does that should come from? Why might you be feeling it right now? How could you look at your situation from a different angle, one that might give you a little more space and grace?
This is an incredibly common mindset and one that we can either have ourselves or hear from others like friends and family once we start our own therapy journey or share that we’re considering therapy.
Whether this is a belief you have on your own or one you hear from others, the first thing you can do is find out more about where it’s coming from. What has happened to make you think or feel that? Where have you heard that message and what has made you internalize it? Maybe a parent or trusted friend has voiced that opinion. Maybe it came from social media or a book. Just step back and consider the source. This doesn’t mean that we’re invalidating the opinion, we’re just practicing curiosity around where the idea comes from and what its source might be.
If you’re trying to reframe this belief for yourself or you’re trying to meet someone else where they are and are ready to share with them why therapy is not indulgent, it can be helpful to frame mental health as a very meaningful and important part of our physical health. Would going to an annual checkup for your physical health be indulgent? If you discovered at your annual checkup that you had something like high blood pressure, would it be indulgent to see a specialist or seek treatment? If you injured yourself, such as a sprained ankle, would you get care for that, take medication, or go to physical therapy? Would that be indulgent?
In most cases, many individuals would not consider physical health treatments as an “indulgence”—so why should mental health care be any different? This isn’t just a thought exercise; your mind is part of your body! Your mental health and physical health are not separate, but intertwined parts of you. It’s not indulgent to treat your physical body just as it’s not indulgent to support your mental health.
Because of societal conditioning or social pressures and our own self-talk, we can convince ourselves that we should handle our hardships or growth on our own or that therapy is indulgent or only something we need when we’re really struggling.
It can be tough to know if the time is right or if you would even benefit from therapy and taking the first step to find a therapist can be daunting. Practitioners specialize in different areas, we don’t know what to ask or how much personal information to share, and we have to figure out ways to afford therapy. Hurdles to accessing care and stigma attached to mental health means that nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental health condition never seek help from a health professional.
But the best way to know if you're ready to start therapy is if there is any part of you that thinks you would benefit. If you're not sure where to start, check out our ultimate guide or use our matching form for personalized matches just for you.
What therapy really does is give you personalized care to support your wellbeing. It’s a privilege to be able to access that care, dedicate the time needed for our growth, and lean into getting support. Reframing therapy as a resource like any other resource we benefit from in our lives can help move away from the idea that it’s indulgent, we only need it when we’re feeling unwell, or we should be “strong enough” to handle everything on our own. In therapy, you’ll learn the tools and get the support you deserve to thrive.
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.