During my clinical practice this past week, one subject has come up several times with several different clients; that of the stigma of being labelled with a mental health condition and the unconscious fear of being seen in a different light by others because of such a pronouncement. Dr. Carl Rogers, the founder of the person-centred approach to psychotherapy, wasn’t an advocate of the use of labels. Some people can find labels try to put them in a box they don’t want to be in, which only tells half a story. I don’t find labels all that useful either – after all, each client is an individual, with differing reactions to what is happening in their lives now and to what has happened in their past.
Power To The Client
Some people can be reluctant to tell others that they have sought out counselling, and in my experience this is often because many don’t know what happens behind the closed door of the therapy room, whether that be in a physical location or in cyberspace. What I hear a lot in my job as a therapist is that “counselling isn’t at all what I thought it would be! I don’t know what I expected, but if I’d have known what’s involved I would have come years ago“. The confidentiality side of counselling is important, as it gives the power to the client over who they tell of their attendance in the therapy room. It also means that the client can disclose things that may be hurtful to or misunderstood by others in their life, without the fear of upsetting those they interact with on a daily basis or those they share a home with.
A Common Problem
With the diversity and equality training that takes place in many of the large multinational companies operating all over the world, it is clear that there is a need to remind people that although we may all be different in some way, we are all equal. According to research by the Office for National Statistics in the report Measuring National Well-being – Health, 2013, approximately 20% of adults here in the U.K. suffered with symptoms of problem anxiety and depression in 2011. With common mental health problems being so widespread, it is a wonder that they are not more universally accepted as a part of the varied tapestry of everyday life.
I sometimes think that the stigma present in some quarters is a throwback to the scary picture of ‘madness’ or ‘insanity’ associated with the harsh and inhumane treatment of people with mental health issues at certain stages in history. To be ‘crazy’ is a serious matter when it involves the taking away of your rights and your voice. Thankfully, services in many countries have advanced now to a point where a lot of societies are at least aiming for mental and physical health to be given equal priority and consideration. There is a long way to go, perhaps, but arguably the change is happening.
Individuals – and especially those who have been the recipient of a label – can be powerful advocates of just what mental ill health entails, and what it doesn’t. To challenge the stigma and incorrect perceptions that can surround mental wellbeing issues is important for the many who are suffering in silence, so that they may feel able to seek help with their troubles. A non-judgemental, private relationship with a professional counsellor can leave people feeling accepted for who they are. For some this is the first step towards accepting themselves, just as they are. If a friend told you they were struggling with mental health issues, what would be your reaction?
~ Rob Oglesby MBACP B.A. (Hons) BSc
[Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email. More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at www.ashwoodtherapy.com]