His name was Steve. He was tall, slim and had that thick, blonde hair that graces the heads of Abercrombie models. He wore slacks and stripped sweaters, and sunglasses that clung to his face as though they were stapled on. Rain or shine, he wore those sunglasses. Steve was my therapist. I was in fourth grade. I was a very exuberant, talkative and creative child. I loved to tell stories, and was willing to share them with anyone who would listen. Though I had many listeners, I didn’t have many friends. I liked to spend time by myself, writing or reading. During free period in class, or recess, I carried a paper and pen with me to write down whatever came to mind. I used to get in trouble a lot for talking in class. What was I supposed to do? I had a story that needed to be shared, and I didn’t know how to control it. When the stories came, they had to use the channel of my mouth before it was too late and they were lost forever. My teachers didn’t like it. They didn’t like that I had a different way of understanding things, that I was dramatic and told stories that didn’t make any sense. They didn’t like that I couldn’t make friends with my classmates, but somehow found a way into the hearts of the adults on campus. How could they change the fact that I didn’t resonate with children my age, but only with adults? They stuck me with Steve. They made it sound like it was normal, but the look in their eyes told me that something was wrong with me.
I had been to a counselor before, but not because there was something wrong with me. I went because I liked to talk, and she knew how to listen. I had ideas and fears and thoughts that needed to be expressed to someone that wasn’t a member of my family. She was there because I needed someone to help me piece together my creations, not because I had issues. I went to Steve once a week. Thursday afternoons for an hour a day, for a whole school year. He’d come to the classroom door and pull me out of class. My teacher used to give him an understanding nod and motion to me with his hand to exit the classroom. My classmates used to stare in wonder and amusement whenever I would leave with him, and when he would drop me off. Leigh has issues, that’s why she’s going to get help. I can only imagine that that’s what my teacher would tell them the minute I left the room. There was just too much about me that needed to be fixed. Steve didn’t help. He told me that I was there because I needed help to understand how to fit in, or because I was having trouble fitting in. He was right; I was having a hard time fitting in. I latched onto the idea that I was having a hard time because I was weird, or because there was something wrong. The bottom line was that I was different, and they didn’t know how to handle it. So, they put me in a box, hoping that I would come out just like everyone else. They used therapy as a negative way to get positive results. Using a negative method to get positive results doesn’t work. But that’s how people look at it. That’s the stigma that the world lives with: Therapy is only for people who need mental help. Therapy is for people who are suicidal and cut themselves. It’s for misfits, outcasts and weirdos. I think it’s about time we change that.
I’ve never lived with the stigma that therapy is only for people that need help, though that seems to be the general understanding in the world. I used therapy as a creative outlet. I would bounce ideas off my therapist, then go home and write them down. Talking to an adult that treated me like an adult was so much easier than speaking to people my age who looked at me like I had fallen from another planet. I never had most of the issues that people equate with people in therapy. Therapy was and continues to be a way to blossom my creativity. After spending a year with Steve, I realized that the school, and in a sense, the whole world, had the wrong idea about why we go to therapy. It isn’t like those cartoons you see, with a bewildered, depressed guy sitting on a couch talking about how his family and friends ruined his life. Therapy is not negative. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Therapy can be beautiful, creative and fun. It doesn’t have to be about obsessing about your issues over and over again, while a business suite clad woman with six degrees hanging on the wall behind her jots things down about instability and medication. Coming from a family full of mental health professionals, I can tell you that therapy is good. My parent’s recognized that we needed outlets to discuss anything and everything. Again, not because we were quacked, but because it’s healthy. The same way that a person exercises to keep their body in good shape, people go to therapy to work out their minds. Keeping everything pent up inside without an outlet or someone to talk to does more harm than good. Therapy does more good than harm. Take it from someone who knows.
“I go to therapy. Not because there is something wrong with me, but because it’s a helpful tool for continuous self improvement.”
That’s my tag line on the recently released website ihaveatherapist.com. You may remember an interview I did a few weeks ago with Elad Nehorai, the fantastic writer behind popchassid.com. Well, he also works for another super cool organization called Charidy. I’m constantly in awe of how much he has accomplished, and how he just keeps on going (like the enegizer bunny). Yesterday, he posted a call to action on his personal Facebook profile. The mission? To help him show the world that there’s nothing wrong with therapy. Post a picture, tell a story. Tell the world why therapy is good. ihaveatherapist.com has only been around for a few hours, and it’s already starting to make waves in the interweb. I am proud to say that I was one of the first people to send in a picture. It’s about time that people see the positive in this practice instead of the negative. Let’s show them how it’s done.
Break the stigma. Join the revolution.