Therapy can be a scary word with many negative connotations around it and the thought of trying it for the first time can be daunting. Yet, it’s been life-changing for millions of people.
Psychology professor Jim Johnson said, “A good therapist [helps a person grow] for what they need,” whether that be confronting a personal issue or taking a next step in life. So, why are many of us so afraid of therapy?
“It takes courage to deal with the messiness of [therapy],” psychology professor Tim Hall said. “It’s a lot easier said than done.”
The PLNU Wellness Center offers 6-8 free counseling sessions for students. Note that the Wellness Center is only equipped to address college transitional concerns, academic motivation, identity development and self-esteem. Serious issues such as long-standing or significant depression or anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and students who need more than one meeting per week should refer to off-campus mental health professionals. Local hospitals such as Scripps, SHARP and UCSD provide behavioral and mental health services.
A few factors that hold students back from seeking therapy, however, are myths. These are just a few of them, along with Hall and Johnson’s perspectives as to why they are myths and shouldn’t stop students from seeking help.
Myth: Going to therapy means something’s wrong with me.
Johnson disagrees with how we often believe we can work through our own problems.
“You’ve grown up in a culture that believes, as a young, emerging adult, you know how to solve everything in your life,” Johnson said. “No. You don’t. That’s why college is helpful, because it will help you manage your life in a structured setting.” You’re not supposed to know what you’re doing. Asking for guidance is not a bad thing.
“The basic mental health issue that all of us face is identity, which is self-image, self-perception, and the reality of ‘who am I,’” he says. Asking someone to come alongside in that self-discovery journey is healthy, Johnson says.
Myth: Therapy is always the answer.
There are times when talking with a therapist simply isn’t what’s best for a situation. However, Hall says, it’s crucial that you build an “inner circle” of relationships with people who will work through situations with you.
“If you get close enough to somebody behind the scenes and you start to see something that’s a little off, then you’re going to sit them down and say, let’s talk,” he says. Being held accountable is what’s most important, whether that’s by a licensed therapist or a friend who cares for you. He advocates for the hard conversations, the ones that let the speaker get rid of a weight on their chest before it turns into something dangerous.
“People are never able to handle life alone,” Johnson says.
Myth: When life is good, therapy has no purpose.
Johnson says we need to find what we are passionate about and harness that.
“Passion leads to purpose, which leads to vision and dreams, which leads to our calling,” he says. In this context, therapy becomes less about digging into a problem and more about discovering what you’re made of.
“Growth is hard if you don’t have the right understanding of why you’re doing it,” Johnson says. “Therapy can sort out who you are.”
Myth: Therapy wouldn’t help my situation.
“That’s like being sick and saying, you know, I could go to a doctor, but that won’t help,” Hall says. “If I have mental issues, I need the care that that entails.” Putting a band-aid on mental health is not a plausible situation, Hall says. If you’ve already decided therapy isn’t going to work, you’re stuck, because mental health struggles are not going away on their own.
Hall acknowledges that it isn’t an easy task to admit you need help. “It takes a lot of heart to do that,” he says. “But, if somebody really needs it, it’s time to push them a little harder, not off the edge, but just nudge.” Hall also says that you aren’t stuck with the first therapist you meet.
“You don’t have to go in and dive in 100% with the first person. You can try it out,” he says. “It’s hard to go expose what’s in your heart to somebody you don’t know.”
Hall encourages students to “get on the path of being vulnerable enough with somebody you trust.”
Written By: Jaden Goldfain