COVID-19 and the De-Stigmatization of Therapy By Tasha Seiter, MFTC on 12/11/20 - 12:55 PM

“This is my first time in therapy,” Sean tells me in our first virtual session. He is among the many who have come into therapy for the first time with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coming from parents who suffered from alcoholism and depression for his entire childhood, he is no stranger to mental illness. Growing up, however, therapy was looked down upon as something only “broken” people do—he was one of the many recipients of the damaging fallacy that strong people solve their problems on their own and seeking help means weakness. Fortunately, many of the clients with whom I work have made the decision to fight against the silent stigma against therapy. Clients like Sean are breaking the therapy stigma in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic for several reasons.

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The Normalization of Therapy

Sean is seeing me for help with depression, which he says began right around the onset of the pandemic. COVID-19 left him unemployed and unable to see his friends, not unlike many others who have found themselves out of work and isolated. I have seen a rise in those seeking mental health services at this time, especially among first-time therapy go-ers! As Sean takes the leap with me to finally start working on his mental health, he is helping break the stigma against therapy simply by growing the population of therapy-consumers, making therapy more commonplace. He has also encouraged his sister, who has battled depression for years, to see a therapist. By doing so, he sends the message to his sister, “It’s ok to talk to someone. I do.”

Acceptance of Vulnerability

Although Sean usually doesn’t tell others in his life about his painful emotions for fear that they will reject him or he will make others feel badly, he tells me that he has been able to open up to his roommate and father like never before. Because they have also been struggling with the emotional consequences of the pandemic, Sean and those close to him have been having deeper conversations about what's really going on with them emotionally and behaviorally.

With so many others facing similar struggles, Sean has gained confidence that he will be understood and heard when he reveals what he has been experiencing. Because others in his life are more aware of the fact that many people around them, both near and far, are struggling, he feels safer to disclose his emotions and life struggles and has received an unprecedented level of acceptance and support. Sean is more emotionally open and aware of hardship in others’ lives, thus allowing him to risk being more vulnerable with others about his deeper feelings. And because he is feeling safer in expressing this vulnerability, Sean was able to come to therapy, knowing that he could expose his deeper feelings to a therapist without feeling “weak” or being judged for seeking help.

Realization of a Common Humanity

Like others who have visited with me, Sean has come to accept that he is not isolated in his suffering. Because those in his life are beginning to express similar vulnerability, Sean is beginning to realize the reality that life is hard for everyone. Instead of feeling isolated in his suffering, Sean is more in touch with a sense of common humanity. Knowing that he is not the only one who is facing a hard time, Sean felt increasingly connected and was able to take the leap to book his first therapy appointment with me. He continues to fully express his emotions without feeling that he is the only one who struggles in life.

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Sean has learned that it is ok to not be ok and that it is ok to get help. In taking care of his mental health during this time, he, like others with whom I have worked, is becoming an advocate for therapy and breaking the stigma.  




File under: COVID-19 Blogs