Growing up, I thought therapy was only for people who were mentally ill. And, if you went to therapy or counseling, you must’ve had problems. It’s a common misconception for many communities, especially in the black community.
Instead of dealing with mental health and racial concerns through counseling and therapy, many black and African Americans feel a stigma about mental health treatments and avoid seeking the proper treatment. Instead, they try to handle their ups and downs on their own or by leaning on friends and family. They work on ‘just getting through it’ because that’s what strong people are supposed to do.
Admittedly, I’ve tried this tactic countless times.
It wasn’t until later in life, as an adult, that I realized that therapy is beneficial for everyone, including those who would consider themselves mentally stable, happy, and successful. And when you think about it, therapy shouldn’t only be reserved for when your life’s upside down.
Imagine how great it would be to have a clear awareness about who you are, why you are, and what makes you tick before your life is in a high-stress situation. You’d be more equipped to spot a dicey situation early on and deal with it calmly rather than waiting for it to escalate into a dramatic explosion.
So, what if our culture didn’t wait until we were adults to peel back the layers of who we are, and instead started with a more proactive approach to mental health during childhood?
Why therapy is good for children
Learning communication skills, especially when it comes to feelings and emotions, is already a heavy task for children. It is for all people. And for some people, it takes until they’re adults to get the hang of it — and still, some never do.
When children go to therapy, even if there aren’t any foreseeable mental health problems, they learn the foundation of understanding and expressing themselves starting at a young age. Communicating emotion is exceptionally hard for kids, and the inability to do so usually results in frustration, tantrums, outbursts, and sometimes aggressive behavior.
Children also learn that mental health is just as important as physical health. Taking care of our bodies is as important as taking care of our minds. When kids are introduced to the normalcy of therapy and talking about life’s troubles early on, they establish a level of comfort with mental health, knowing they deserve to feel mentally well.
Being exposed to therapy as a child also helps them understand it’s ok not to be ok, and everyone has those feelings. Therapy helps them look for the next step — how to deal with those feelings so they can feel happy again versus letting the negative, sad feelings take over their day.
In counseling, children learn to recognize certain behaviors that, when either downplayed or fueled, can turn into unruly monsters that impact their day. They also gain a better understanding of how to feel calm and comfortable in social and family settings. At an early age, children gain a level of self-awareness that can help them deal with the many obstacles of the future.
How to know if your child would benefit from therapy
Children don’t have to be clinically diagnosed to benefit from therapy, although 17% of children ages 6-17 have a form of mental illness, and many go untreated.
Problems in children can easily go unnoticed because our upbringing may have taught us that kids will be kids, they’ll grow out of behavioral issues, or that they have to ‘figure it out’ on their own.
Therapy can help children deal with day-to-day and high-stress situations. It teaches them coping skills, which can be tough to learn. Therapy also helps children understand and work through emotions.
Therapy can help with things like:
- Issues at school
- Friendship problems
- Sibling interactions
- Dealing with physical differences
- Body changes and body dysmorphia
- Social anxiety
- Coping skills
- Processing emotions
All three of my children have been going to therapy for the last few months. None of them have any significant issues, in particular. Still, I’d been thinking about a few behaviors I witnessed from my son, like little spikes in anger over small things like misplacing a toy or losing a game. These were things that, as an adult, seemed minor, but to my son, were momentous. And even though I’d try to help him process the emotions and learn how to cope with them, I didn’t feel like I was making much impact.
Watching my son grapple with normal childhood emotions, the ones all kids feel, made me realize that I could help my children be the best version of themselves by starting training early. I decided to introduce all three kids to therapy to help them better understand their minds and how they feel.
Therapy helps kids and parents
In our family (with three kids), I realize that each child needs to be raised or “managed” differently to accommodate their personality. But even though I know this fact, that doesn’t mean I know how to handle it. That’s the whole “there’s no parenting handbook” thing. Us parents, we’re human, and so many times we just have to learn as we go. It can be easy to overlook that each personality understands and responds to situations differently. Some kids bottle things up, and others cry, while others manifest anger or fear into jealousy and meanness.
When your kids go to therapy, you can ask the therapist how to deal with particular behavioral concerns. With your child’s confidentiality in mind, the therapist can give you pointers on how to approach or respond to problems. You can help your child practice the new skills they learned at home — things like coping, problem-solving, and more.
Through therapy, parents can learn how to approach their child’s development with patience and compassion. When you understand the mechanics of why someone is acting the way they are, it’s easier to shape your reaction with care and intention. For instance, I learned that instead of dismissing or downplaying my son’s dramatic response to his video game disconnecting from the internet, I could help him practice a more calming way of responding and troubleshoot the problem.
Why everyone benefits from therapy
Therapy helps you understand yourself better. We all know the benefit of talking through things with friends and family — volleying ideas and sorting through emotions. But the difference between a family member or friend and a therapist is the unbiased opinion. Sometimes the guidance we get from our ‘loved’ ones is misguided or judgy (you know, the haterade you get from some people who you thought were your supporters). Or, the advice based on how they would handle specific situations might not be exactly the way you roll.
Therapy can help you be more positive and productive. Even successful people who seem like they’ve made it have problems and distractions. Therapy helps people uncover and deal with emotions that crowd their thinking, making them feel distracted or disconnected.
Therapy can help you understand your relationship with food, money, social settings, and more. If you want a better handle on your life, therapy can help you see more clearly what it is that influences your decisions. If you aim to have more patience with your children, talking to someone to understand your triggers can help you think before you respond, in turn making the whole situation feel calmer.
Therapy is a form of self-care. When you spend time tending to yourself, you feel happier and more peaceful. Just as you care for your family and friends to show your love, we need to do the same for ourselves. So many times, we give until we have nothing left for ourselves, be it time, energy or compassion. Talking to someone about how you feel, events in your life, or things you want to do better brings clarity to problems that need solving.
Mental health plays a significant role in physical health when it comes to leading a long, comfortable, healthy life. 1 out of 5 adults suffers from some form of mental illness. It’s more common than we think, and the treatment is available.