Could COVID-19 Break the Therapy Stigma for Good?

The pandemic may cause a permanent change in societal views of therapy.

Originally published on my Psychology Today Blog, Mindful Relationships

As a therapist, the phone has been ringing off the hook lately.

Although I practice in Colorado, therapists across the nation are experiencing the same thing. COVID-19 cases are continuing to increase in many parts of the U.S., and with an increase in cases comes a surge in those contacting our therapy offices to take care of their mental health.

Every person who decides to see a therapist is fighting against a silent stigma. There is a damaging fallacy that a strong person solves their problems on their own, that only “broken” people need therapy. But COVID-19 could create a permanent change in the way that our society views therapy. Here is why COVID-19 may be changing the way we see therapy, forever.

1. First of all, therapy is just becoming more “the norm.”

COVID-19 brings with it a myriad of stressors including worries about becoming ill, employment issues, increased childcare responsibilities, social isolation, and loss of usual sources of enjoyment. Of course, more people are seeking mental health services at this time! There is an increased need for therapy with the climb in life stress, existential anxiety, and other mental health problems.

If you are seeing a therapist right now, you are helping break the stigma around therapy simply by growing the population of therapy-consumers, making therapy more commonplace. And, when you tell others that you know that you are taking care of your mental health, you are letting them know that therapy need not be viewed in a negative light; you are sending the message that “it’s ok to talk to someone. I do.”

2. We are more vulnerable with each other.

Pre-COVID-19: “How are you?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

Post-COVID-19: “How are you?”

“Honestly, I’ve been feeling so lonely and overwhelmed. You too?”

It’s hard to escape the news that COVID-19 has been hard on everyone. We are all experiencing tremendous fear, loss, and uncertainty right now, and you can be sure that your stories will be related to and met with support if you tell others about what you are going through.

Because we are more aware of the fact that many people are struggling right now, there is an unprecedented level of acceptance surrounding disclosure about our emotions and life struggles. We are more emotionally open and understanding of hardship in others’ lives, thus making it safe to be more vulnerable with each other about our deeper feelings. With breaking the stigma around vulnerability comes a greater societal acknowledgment that you can expose your deeper feelings to a therapist without being “weak” or being judged for seeking help.

3. We are realizing the reality — that life is hard, for all of us.

Because vulnerability is being de-stigmatized, people are opening up more. As people are quicker to talk about their real feelings, we are finally given the truth that we all struggle in life. It is easy to feel isolated in your suffering (whether that be experiencing worries, symptoms of depression, etc.) when everyone is afraid to let you into their inner world and show you that they struggle too. Nowadays, we are more in touch with a sense of common humanity; the truth is, life is hard for all of us. As the Buddha said, “life is suffering.” It just took us a pandemic to realize that it’s ok not to be in denial with ourselves and others about the fact that life is hard and we’re not always “fine.”

COVID-19 has brought with it lots of bad news. The good news is that therapy can help, and some research suggests that online therapy, the norm in the time of COVID-19, is even more effective than therapy in-person. More good news is that because of our growing vulnerability and greater awareness surrounding mental health and therapy, we are learning that it really is ok to not be ok and that it’s ok to get help. This pandemic is causing a mental shift that may change the way we see therapy forever. Take care of your mental health and you are advocating for a support system that can change other’s lives as well.