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Let’s be honest, we’re all a little bit “crazy.” Some of us even own up to being “a lot bit” crazy, but we mostly do so in jest. Mostly. The rest of us know this crazy person or that, this crazy situation or that, or this crazy story or that, and, with so much casual crazy hanging around, it’s no wonder that few of us look beyond the terminology to meaningfully question whether or not our “crazy” is actually something more.

Now, don’t run for the hills just yet. I’m not implying that “crazy” is equivalent to mentally ill. Frankly, I don’t think the quoted term should ever be used to describe mental illness (even if I’m as at fault as anyone for drawing parallels at times), but I’m not writing to expound on that point–at least not today! What I am thinking (and writing) about is someone I know who is on the fence about psychological therapy and how the correlation between therapy and crazy impedes many from seeking the help that they need.

This thought was highlighted for me when I recently watched a Sex and the City rerun, “The Games People Play,” in which the main character, Carrie, expresses her fears about seeing a “shrink.” Her excuses range from not needing one, because she has friends, to being worried about the “slippery slope” that will lead her to multiple weekly sessions and starting her sentences with “my shrink says”. While these are entertaining excuses, they are also relatively irrational defense mechanisms that are likely based on a fear of the unknown if not the fear of any/all labels (such as “crazy”) that are associated with seeking a therapist’s help.

On the one hand, Carrie’s right: Friends can be amazing sounding boards who provide exactly what we need precisely when we need it. On the other hand, unfortunately, they can also be poor listeners who provide exactly what they think we need precisely when they think we need it. The upshot is that friends can serve to help and hinder based on their own subjective interests. As for Carrie’s imagined slippery slope, well, you don’t lose your self-control when you choose to see a therapist–you actually are flexing your controlling ability and are likely (over time) to gain greater control of yourself and your life by seeing one. The gist of the previous sentence being that a “slippery slope” is both self-created and self-controllable (it will be created only if you allow it to be).

Unlike our friends, a professional therapist is trained to actively listen and to encourage greater levels of insight and discovery. He or she exists beyond friendship and is thus empowered to objectively question and consider what those who are close to us may overlook or avoid or _______. A therapist is also trained to recognize patterns of thought and behavior and to empower positive change as appropriate. Yes, depending on what challenges you, you may be asked to come once or several times per week, and you may thus be more likely to start a sentence with “my therapist says,” but you just as likely will not. Regardless, it’s up to you to decide the when, the how, and even the who of your therapy–after all you are paying for a service and it’s essential that you find the time(s), the approach(es), and the therapist(s) that are right for you.

Nonetheless, some may remain fearful because they truly believe they are that thing so many casually, if most often inappropriately, convey as “crazy.” Part of what makes it (our own crazy and the crazy of others) so easy to joke about and avoid is founded in our collective fear of the unknown and, sometimes (for those of us who’ve been appropriately and/or repetitively diagnosed), our fear of the known. Here’s the thing though: Mental illness is not to be feared and avoided. If it has found its way into your home–as challenging and as discomfiting as it may be–it’s to be accepted and embraced. Only by doing both of these things can we truly overcome the many complexities that mental illness creates in our lives.

Most of us think we know a great deal about mental illness and psychological therapy, but we really don’t. We only know what society tells us and frankly the most common messages aren’t necessarily clear or helpful. Oftentimes, as with the casual use of the term “crazy,” the messages are hurtful and wrong. Even if present challenges lead us to what could be considered unwelcome discoveries, there is great power in knowing. There is even greater power in using such knowledge to empower oneself or others to change for the better. 

So to my friend (and you if you’re considering psychological therapy) I say wholeheartedly, “embrace your fears and take the next step.” Therapists–and the ramifications of therapy–are only as scary as we make them out to be.

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