As a stereotypical Gen X’er, therapy was not a priority growing up, or even a possibility. My parents’ insurance didn’t cover much, so even things like the dentist were reserved for emergencies. Therapy is for everyone? Not in my world. Mental health was a luxury for the rich, and this mindset persisted. Even as I grew into adulthood and became more successful. Even while experiencing the anxiety and stress of divorce, anesthesia school, clinical practice, dating after divorce, and remarrying, I persisted that I didn’t have time.
When my wife and I blended our families, I was able to see even more closely the benefit that talk therapy can have. Not only had she gone to therapy after her divorce, but we also put our kids in therapy to help with the adjustment of becoming a family. Again, "therapy is for everyone", including my kids and my wife, but still not me. Possibly due to some lasting influences of a culture of toxic masculinity, I simply thought that being strong meant that I didn't need to talk about my feelings.
I don't think I'm alone in the medical mindset that everything can be explained, measured, and weighed. Just take a look at your average clinic's waiting room. It's likely as sterile as any doctor's office, without a shred of personality. And yet when we think about the type of work that mental health clinics provide, shouldn't it be a soft space that sets the tone for healing? Who said that a mental health clinic waiting room should be devoid of feelings? Actually, our waiting room was sometimes where our patients were the most honest about how they were feeling with our receptionists who were trained to ask and listen to how our patients were doing, and not just whether the patients owed money. As I was pondering this question, I was watching one of our beloved kids struggling with a difficult age, a new school, moving to Denver, and a new family dynamic. "Therapy is for everyone", said my wife, so we got her into therapy. God bless that therapist. If she could bring some peace back into the life of a struggling adolescent, surely, someone could help me.
What I did for my children in a heartbeat, took me 40+ years to do for myself. And I so badly needed the help. Opening our mental health clinic had me feeling anxious and depressed, and I saw my relationships start to suffer. For the first time, it finally dawned on me that "therapy is for everyone" might apply to me and something that I needed to prioritize. But even though I could say the words "therapy is for everyone", in the back of my mind, I couldn't process how I could ever get access to it. Could I afford it? Was there low-cost therapy near me? Thankfully, I work in a mental health clinic and I realized that not only was it covered by insurance, but I knew people who knew people. My psychiatrists had some good recommendations for therapists for me and my journey towards healing finally began.
At first, I sought therapy for stress relief. But as I looked for a therapist, I began noticing an interesting trend. As the founder of Cliffside Malibu, Richard Taite once said, “Not only do successful people not fear therapy, but they also embrace it. Psychotherapy is a tool to create success. It’s something that most everybody should probably try at least some point in their lives.”
The use of therapy as a tool for positive change become more and more apparent as I read about CEO’s, founders, business mavens, medical providers, and others who pointed to therapy as a key contributor to their happiness and success. There’s no such thing as an untraumatized adult. All of us have endured to varying degrees, childhood trauma, abuse, or emotional pain, and then suppressed our emotions, which can lead to the mental health issues that we’re seeing become so prevalent now. Worldwide, depression is the leading cause of disability and in the US is one of the costliest health conditions overall.
All too often, we treat the symptoms of depression with antidepressants, and not the root cause with therapy. Believe me, as an integrative psychiatry practice, we are not opposed to medication. In fact, we think it's one of the many things that need to be integrated into treatment for people to recover from the hardest-of-the-hard to treat depression cases we see every day. Marian Marguiles PhD perhaps says it best, “talk therapy addresses not only the symptoms but also the causes of one’s problems. Antidepressants, though essential for some people, don’t exactly get to the underlying source. “If you’re not getting to the cause of the pain,” says Margulies, “you’re essentially chained to the past. Psychotherapy gets to the root.”
For me, I realized that like many, I was masking the symptoms of my lifelong battle with depression, anxiety and ADHD with maladaptive coping mechanisms. Treating the symptoms and not the root cause didn’t harmonize with my mission when I founded Axis Integrated Mental Health to bring evidence-based methods to more people and help them live their best lives. While I cheerfully espoused the sentiment that therapy is for everyone, I seriously underestimated therapy as a treatment for myself. I suspect that many people (myself included) think that other forms of self-care or supportive friends can compensate for the type of healing that a qualified therapist can provide, but my experience, the scientific studies, and the many patients I've seen improve with therapy show that this belief is simply wasn’t true.
As we've grown as a mental health clinic over the last few years, we've not only brought in-house therapy to our clinic, but we've also expanded our therapy offerings by pioneering ketamine assisted psychotherapy in the in Denver area. Combining psychotherapy with ketamine therapy is helping people have the emotional breakthroughs they need to resolve past trauma and heal. It's been amazing to watch.
I realize that there will always be some people who cannot and will not go to therapy, and that's ok. But if you're on the fence about it, let me give you some reasons why you should go:
1. Psychotherapy can help to rewire the brain – as the use of brain imaging expands, researchers have been able to show that therapy can alter activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. These areas are involved in “me”-centered worry thoughts, executive control, emotion, and fear.
2. Psychotherapy’s effects last – Long lasting benefits occur because you’re working on the underlying reasons for the symptoms, as well as building new tools to deal with future challenges.
3. Psychotherapy will give you a whole new perspective on other people – The great thing about it is that you’ll not only learn to understand yourself better, but other people as well. We often assume we know what other people are thinking when they act and then respond based on what often is an incorrect assumption.
4. Therapy helps you find solutions and reframe them – As you talk about what is causing you anxiety, sadness, anger, or frustration you’re better able to get a better picture of it and find solutions to alleviate those feelings or reframe the problem to make it more manageable.
5. You will no longer need to self-medicate – once you’ve been able to work on the underlying cause of you suffering, you can escape the addictive cycles that many of us choose to help soothe that pain. Those addictive behaviors range from eating a half a bag of animal cookies every night, to using street drugs to numb the pain.
6. You can help the next generation learn a better way – One of the best things about engaging in therapy, is that you can help pass some of skills you learn on to your kids. Such as the vocabulary to share their feelings effectively. This helps make expressing themselves normalized and helps them not repress the feelings, feel resentful then lash out. Not to mention the direct benefit they’ll gain from we as parents learning to be better at, well parenting.
If we truly believe that therapy is for everyone, we need to practice what we preach. The example we set speaks louder than words.
As discussions about mental health are becoming more mainstream, it’s making it easier for people to prioritize their own self-care and find affordable counseling. That openness is helping to make therapy more available to a greater number of people, and for many, it's even covered by insurance. So don’t wait 40+ years like I did to live your best life. Therapy is for everyone, including YOU. Take the time to take care of yourself, and give yourself the gift of therapy today.
What is therapy?
There is science behind therapy