Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Seeing a Shrink

We’ve all seen the TV shows where someone goes to see a “shrink” right? They sit on a couch and proceed to tell the therapist how when they were five, their balloon floated up to the sky and now they’re forever scarred. Yeah, let me be the first to tell you that seeing these professionals is nothing like that. And I can almost guarantee that you won’t lie down on a couch.

Has anyone ever told you that you “need help,” you know, that kind of help. As a joke, this can be funny. But when you honestly have some things that you’re struggling with, someone telling you to go get help probably makes your blood boil. Even the thought of talking with some “professional” might make you bristle.

I’ve been tremendously helped by a therapist. Every time I see her, she puts things in a new light and helps me identify what I’m feeling, why I’m feeling it, and what positive actions I can take. I have gotten to the point where I can tell when I need to have a meeting with my therapist, and I will often be the one to initiate it. Because of all the work she’s done to  help me make good progress, I don’t need to see this therapist very often. To be honest, though, I still don’t like that I have to get this extra help.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. The idea of going to a therapist and even the therapists themselves are often seen in a negative light. There are several reasons for this.  There have been psychologists and psychiatrists that have said and done some questionable or downright wrong things. But at the same time, there are other medical doctors, besides psychiatrists, that have also done some wrong things. Still, I’ll bet that if you broke your arm, you wouldn’t hesitate to go and see a doctor. I think people also hate the idea of admitting that they need that kind of help. When you’re physically broken, you go to the doctor, but being mentally and emotionally broken is a much scarier thing to acknowledge.  There’s also no denying that people around us have a certain stigma about seeing a “shrink.”

That stigma infuriates me. It takes a lot to get me really, really mad, but when I hear people mocking or belittling mental therapy, I get steamed. I’m a Christian, and among Christian circles, I have heard a lot of bashing of psychologists and psychiatrists—even mocking the Christians in these professions. As Christians, this needs to stop. We need to be supporting people in their struggles—not undermining their problems or discouraging them from getting something that could potentially save their life. It’s embarrassing to admit, but there was a time when I viewed mental illness as something that was just in your head—something that you could just “get over” if you tried hard enough. Now, having battled through it, I can tell you that there is so much more to this than what we often hear.

Your brain is where your soul and physical body connect, and that results in some very unique characteristics. You can take drugs that affect you physically and mentally. You can feed on thoughts that affect you again physically and mentally. Your world contributes to the way your brain processes things. Genetics are also a key contributor to our emotional dispositions. We’re only just discovering new things about the way the brain works, and it is truly amazing. There are so many different factors that go into how your brain processes information and your personality, and trying to put everyone in a little box is ignorant and hurtful.

The wiring in your brain can present extra challenges, and you might have to work extra hard to respond properly in certain situations. Things that might be easy for other people may be a challenge for you. For me, I have to watch how my mood is. It’s really easy for me to slip into a low emotional state. Through therapy, I have been able to learn my triggers and warning signs and how to respond to these in order to stay positive.  Because your brain is where the physical and mental come together, there is even more potential for things to go wrong and present you with new challenges. Your brain functions not only on a complex series of chemical reactions that you have no control over, but also on what you tell it. Your thought patterns and environmental factors around you cause chemical reactions which help to shape your emotions, your personality, and how you respond to various situations. By the time you realize that something is not right, the wiring is already in place in your brain, and you can’t just “snap out of it.” I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with you. Your brain is responding to perceived stressors in the only way it knows to.

A mental health professional can help you sort through the scary world your mind. These struggles are not your fault, and you will not be judged or condemned. When darkness and confusion seem to be enveloping you, these professionals can help you to see why some of these patterns developed and then help you employ positive strategies to help you begin working through it. In many cases, these professionals could even prevent a suicide.

If you find yourself in a terrifying place, please don’t let your pride stand in the way of getting help. I know how hard and embarrassing it can be to have to see someone to get this help. But really, this life is too short to live in pain simply because you don’t want to admit that you need help. Do you really want to look back at the end of your life and regret not doing something about it?

If you know someone who might benefit from the help of a professional, do not tell them that they need to go and get professional help. Just don’t. Be there for this person. Remind them that there are professionals who can help them gain some clarity and enjoy life again. Tell them how much you care about them and how much you hate to see them hurting. Most importantly, remind them that they are never beyond help.
Earlier, I talked about the response of Christians to mental illness and the professionals in this area. Many, many Christians I know are realizing that this truly is a real problem and they are finding new ways to support the people who are in this struggle. This is awesome, because I believe that we as Christians should be the first people that people turn to when they are hurting. They shouldn’t run from us because we’ll judge them. The reality, though, is that we Christians are imperfect humans, and we don’t have all the answers.

I know that God does though. I believe that we are physical, mental, and spiritual beings, and God knows us better than anyone. He knows the number of hairs on our head, so He certainly knows the way our brain works. The way He provides those answers might not be in the way that we expect. He may provide them through a mental health professional, through medication, through a miraculous healing, or in an infinite number of other ways. No matter what you feel right now, know that God is the ultimate mental health professional, and He will always listen to your problems. He is only one cry away. Once you let Him, He will join you on your awesome journey. He’s not mad at you. He’s just waiting for you to let him in.

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