The dictionary definition for stigma states that stigma is ‘a symbol of disgrace or infamy’. It is a discriminatory verdict placed upon a person, place or thing. It is neither accurate nor correct in its supposition. Rather, the stigma is simply an accepted belief that exists regardless of the truth. It is this disregard for the truth which is the root of the problem concerning stigma surrounding the mental health profession.
An individual may feel branded by society because of the stigma placed upon anyone who “needs help”. Needing help may signify inferiority or weakness. If that individual admits to needing help or admits to having a problem the stigma attached to those admissions can and does prevent the individual from moving forward into a more healthy lifestyle. Many individuals unwisely choose as an option to self administer their own treatment or cure in an attempt to avoid the stigma. This often leads to deeper levels of the same sort of issue.
Even today the mental health professional is often considered a quack and only in dire situations will most individuals “try it” (therapy that is…) as a last-ditch-attempt to get better. This try it attitude I consider a part of the coping mechanisms that resistant clients employ to deflect the affects of stigma while reluctantly admitting there is a problem. As for the unhealthy and inaccurate perspective of the professional as quack is the individuals way of justifying the decision to not seek help and a way to maintain Homoeostasis by remaining fixed in their disorder. Too the profession is considered by many to be intrusive; prying into every facet of an individual’s life. The truth is that through progress in today’s psychology the treatments have become shorter, more focused, more efficient, and more humane in the approach to treating mental health issues (no more bedlam, casting out demons, or locking away individuals for lack of a better treatment). True the professional needs to discover certain information and thus has to ask questions. These questions however are more specifically tuned to discovery of root and treatment rather than to know everything unrelated to the issue as a means of developing the discipline and plotting symptoms. Asking questions certainly in every facet of the profession is not to pry into an individual’s life but rather probing is a tool to pry loose the information that keeps the client “stuck” in an issue. The probing of clients has often been misunderstood and skewed in a most unfortunate extreme.
To overcome the stigma you need to heighten your awareness about the nature of stigma. What are the biases and how do they prevent you from achieving freedom. Be aware that when something happens in your life that adversely affects other areas of functioning in a negative manner that something needs to be done to counteract the negative affects. Do not be afraid to confront that fact as a problem to which you may need outside assistance to overcome. Recognize the thought which is at the basis of the stigma and which prevents you from seeking or accepting help. Try to realize that truth usually lies outside the realm of the stigma.
This information concerning the stigma within the professional mental health field pinpoints an area of concern with which all counsellors have to deal. If we as professionals are aware of the stigma affecting us and our profession we can be better prepared to empathize and form remedial constructs on how to best help others overcome the stigma which stands between them and liberation. The focusing on the stigma and it’s affect will help inexperienced counsellors become more aware of this important reason as to why individuals do not seek therapy until the later stages of the identifying problem. As these inexperienced professionals build their knowledge, practice and repertoire of skills, they will repeatedly face the stigma and they will become adept at overcoming this resistance to change. For the individual reading this who may be contemplating seeking help but are feeling stymied by the stigma of the mental health profession perhaps this information will help leverage them to move forward with strength and confidence that help is available despite the rumours to the contrary. Know this, it takes more strength to admit then to deny. And remember that through admission and acceptance the road to a better life has already begun.
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