The recession has kept people who need care out of therapy.
That was the consensus of a small group of private practice therapists I met with Monday. We are a interesting and somewhat diverse group of folks: three licensed psychologists, three LMFTs and a social worker. Each of us has an individual private practice in the southwest Twin Cities, and we meet every month or so in each others' offices for support, case consultation and resource sharing.
As our meeting was coming to a close, one of us looked around and said, "I think people are coming to therapy less often, and when they do come, they are worse." All of us agreed. We are seeing that in our new clients: more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression; people who need medication taking themselves off and showing up in therapy; couples who might have been helped out of their patterns two years ago, making appointments like a "Hail Mary" touchdown attempt and often not even showing up to their first session.
Stereotypes of psychotherapy, widespread in the American culture, already do enough to keep people away from getting the care they need. The same kind of fear of the unknown (people avoiding their annual mammograms or other preventative exams) keeps them from seeing therapists. People fear that therapy is all about dredging up past pain, and they would rather avoid it. Or they believe that they should be able to "get over it," whatever it is, themselves. To be fair, therapy isn't all about the past, but it takes long looks back in order to understand the present, so the stereotype is partially accurate. What isn't true is that it's a waste of time, or it never works, or that its a huge money drain.
That last part, about the money, is what we've noticed about this recession as providers. People have lost their jobs, or are afraid they will. That anxiety alone makes us more conservative, and hunker down, and save money, and stop doing anything new. The added anxiety about what may happen to health care and insurance in the current political debate stops even more people from reaching out.
One thing I know for certain, though: nothing matters if you feel like you are losing your mind. The mind you count on to talk to others, to do your job, to care for your children, to connect with your family and friends. Actually, good overall health is dependent on mental health. If you are so afraid you can't leave your house, or so despondent you can't get your kids off to school in the morning, it matters little if you have low cholesterol.
Psychotherapists live with the fact that we are the lowest paid professionals in our health care system. We struggle to overcome the giant obstacles to care placed in our way by costs and stereotypes, by stigma and shame. What we wish for is for people to seek help before they are desperate, before they decide to leave their spouses, before they think often about suicide, before they start to think that they can't get any better. Life can be so much easier with good, quality care and a compassionate professional guiding you along.
If you need help, please reach out. And if you know someone who does, ask them to help themselves. Today.