I wrote the majority of this post many months ago, but I didn’t post it, because I was afraid of what it could do to my reputation with mental health professionals, and as a person with a degree in clinical mental health counseling, I didn’t want to be looked down on by the field I was job searching in…but I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. And if a mental health professional will judge someone for pointing out what’s wrong with the profession, if they’ll judge me when part of the job is about nonjudgmentally listening to people, I’m sure not the problem. They are! I talk about wanting people to not be afraid to be who they are. But I myself have been afraid for a long time. I felt like I have to act much more straitlaced than I am to be taken seriously enough to get the kind of career I want. And you know what? Fuck it.
I swore. On the Internet that’s full of swearing. How dare I, right? Well, I’m done acting overly prim and proper, because I’ve come to the conclusion that if someone is offended by me swearing more than they’re offended by injustices I point out, I have little respect for that person, so their opinion matters little to me. That’s the kind of confidence mental health professionals should celebrate. They should instill it in people. But many of them, let’s face it, aren’t.
I sometimes chat with people online. This should be a normal thing to admit by now. I met my husband online, for God’s sake, like many people do these days, yet there are still people who will side-eye anybody who talks about having online friends. Sometimes I talk to people online about mental health, and, like about many topics, when these conversations happen online, people are often more honest than my “real life” friends tend to be. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend, though I understand it. I will often mention I have a mental health counseling degree in casual online conversations (I never claim to be offering any professional advice.), and often, people will naturally bring up their mental health issues. I can’t count the number of times I’ve talked about the helpfulness of therapy and someone has immediately come out with a story of a therapist or psychiatrist who was so bad they never want to get professional help again.
I’m not talking about their perception being bad. I’m talking about the person whose autism spectrum diagnosis has turned into more of a hindrance than a help, because “the professionals made my mom believe I suddenly couldn’t do all of the independent things I’d always done.” I’m talking about the people who identify as asexual being absolutely belittled by professionals who insist on focusing on “sexual disorders” despite the fact that these people often personally have no problem with their lack of interest in sex! I’m talking about the people of other sexualities with legitimate sexual problems whose distress is downplayed. I’m talking about the physically disabled people who want everyone to know their physical disability does not include a mental one, so stop talking down to them please. The intellectually disabled people who are completely capable of independence but held back by professionals who wrongfully insist they can’t do things on their own, while talking down to them in the process.
I’ve been on both sides. I’ve not only heard the horror stories of people who have felt un-helped by or even talked down to by mental health professionals, I’ve been there. I used to worry about disclosing it when I want to focus on being a mental health professional myself, but I have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. I won’t hide it anymore. If I talk about ending mental health stigma, it would be hypocritical of me to not admit to my own mental health issues. Yes, it’s a struggle at times, and getting my own therapy has helped immensely, so I know how useful therapy is. I’ve also had bad experiences with therapy. I’ve talked with therapists I did not feel truly understood me or even tried. I’ve had pills pushed on me by psychiatrists despite my insistence that wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve dealt with the frustration of side effects I was told to deal with. I’ve dealt with knowing my own body well enough to know for certain something was a side effect of a medication, and if I hadn’t had the guts to insist I stop the medication, because I was fed up, my psychiatrist would not have believed it was the medication. I’ve finally, after over a decade, started losing the 100 or more pounds I gained from one medication. I’ve been told “Why don’t you try a different medication?” much more than I was told to make actual improvements in my life, and the latter is what has helped me so much more.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t discount the helpfulness of medication, but for me personally, though at times it’s been helpful, it was often much more trouble than it was worth. To each their own. But that’s my point here. Mental health professionals are meant to help people. Helping people is NOT about shoving what WE think will be most helpful down their throats. I know how that felt. I can definitely see how it’s an attitude that drives people away from ever seeking help again.
I’m not the kind to give up. Not at all. I see so many problems with the mental health field, but that means there are so many things we need to change. Change the culture. Respect your clients. Respect that your client is an expert on his or her own life; his or her own body. If you were at your wit’s end, would you want someone condescendingly saying, “You should try the exact steps I tell you!” I don’t think so. You’d point out how unhelpful that is. If you’re as no-nonsense as I’ve become, you’d call that attitude what it is: bullshit.