“You don’t need therapy, you’re not sick.”
“Oh, so you’re not strong enough to solve your problems on your own? Do you need someone to come and solve them for you?”
“If you were closer to God, you wouldn’t need therapy.”
Many of us suffer or struggle for quite a long time before we can take the step of seeking professional help. For the most part, this can be because of the stigma that exists around mental health, and the dangerous misconceptions that people adopt around therapy, asking for help, or needing mental healthcare. The fear of being judged, or labelled as weak, incapable, or unstable by others can be tremendously scary and can serve as a barrier for someone from reaching out and receiving the care that they desperately need.
Stigma in the Middle East and other barriers
Here is something that we don’t hear often, especially in Egypt or in the Middle East: Admitting that you need therapy is not only just OK - it’s great! How would we find an answer to our suffering if we are unable to even admit to ourselves that there is a problem, to begin with? The first step in healing or solving an issue is acknowledging the fact that there is something that needs to be worked on in the first place. Admitting that you might need therapy is an incredible step in your recovery. It can be noted that therapy is especially neglected and stigmatized in the MENA region because people assume that it goes against faith or religion given that the predominant religions in the region, being Islam and Christianity, both emphasize that God has the power to heal and revive. It can be hard for a religious person to reconcile both having strong faith, and still requiring therapy to introduce healing into their lives. It can be hard to recognize that engaging in therapeutic practices that are non-faith-based does not compromise their faith. They are not mutually exclusive. Arguing that you cannot seek professional help when you are suffering mentally because then you would be doubting in God’s power to heal, would be like saying that a person who has cancer does not need to go to the doctor, or seek treatment if they have enough faith in God. We must be honest with ourselves and as a community, and we need to start opening up to the idea that mental well-being is not a luxury or something that can be taken lightly anymore, it is a right! Admitting that you need therapy is, as opposed to common belief, being aware of your weaknesses and being strong enough to seek the necessary steps to work on them. Another reason why it can take a while for a person to feel ready to take the step of going to therapy is that it is hard for us to realize that there are things that we are incapable of doing on our own. It is easier for us to point fingers at other people and talk about what they need and what could help them grow, rather than looking at ourselves and seeing what we need to get better, especially if what we need is the help of someone else. It’s also not easy for us to accept that sometimes someone else might be able to understand what is best for us more than we personally do.
Why should we seek therapy in the first place?
Mental illness is extremely common and, in many cases, goes untreated. People can end up damaging or harming their physical health either intentionally or unintentionally because of their mental health issues, and we have lost too many lives to suicide. It is evident that today, we can no longer stay silent and we can’t keep choosing to ignore the importance of treating mental health as being a major and crucial part of our overall well-being.
In therapy, if a person is not willing to admit to themselves that they need support from a professional and they are not open to listening to their therapist and trying out the exercises that they recommend them to do, then therapy will not be efficient or fruitful, and there will be no real change or progress. This is why therapists find it important to stress that they cannot and will not “fix” their clients, and they cannot solve or deal with their problems for them. The role of the therapist is to provide guidance, understanding, and perspective, and to provide people with the tools that they need to go on their journey of healing and live a life of wellness. If you think that you need to seek professional help, whatever the reason may be, please know that you are not alone. There are small steps you can take to start feeling better.
We are here to support your journey.