The idea of attending graduate school to become a therapist seems impossible to some and a necessity to others. In a world where the hushed whispers of mental health struggles still echo through society, my journey from a curious grad school student to a dedicated mental health counselor has been a transformative odyssey.
As a part of this journey, I have learned that advocacy is an essential part of my clinical practice. Allow me to share with you how and why I have come to include advocacy as a part of my clinical work and ways you can become an advocate if you choose to as well.
While the mental health field has experienced an increased demand for services, the ongoing stigma regarding mental illness and treatment, especially in Communities of Color (CoC), continues to have a negative impact on mental health services. Negative stereotypes such as mental health therapists being “shrinks”, or social workers “taking children”, perpetuates myths and disregards the rich and complex competencies, skills and preparation that an individual goes though to commit to this healing profession.
To become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and individual must, minimally,:
Complete a Bachelor’s degree,
Complete a Master’s degree in counseling, social work, or marriage and family counseling from an Accredited College or University program,
Complete 1,500 - 2,000 hours of clinical practice under direct supervision, and
Pass a national licensing exam in their area of specialization (i.e. LMHC, LCSW, LMFT)
The time investment averages 8-10 years and the financial investment can range from $40,000 - $150,000. The personal life investment isn’t remotely quantifiable.
Needless to say, for many, the decision to have a career as a licensed therapist is not one that is entered into easily or lightly.
Throughout my journey, I’ve heard the negative comments about mental health and mental health providers, and I do what I can to destigmatize and advocate for my profession; however, the impact of stigma vibrates far and wide.
The Impact of Stigma on Mental Health
To better understand the impact of stigma on mental health, we must examine the ongoing barriers that are being formed by stigma. They include:
Social Isolation: Stigma often leads to social exclusion and discrimination. Individuals with mental health challenges may find themselves ostracized by friends, family, or coworkers, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Self-Stigma: The internalization of negative stereotypes can cause individuals to blame themselves for their mental health struggles, further preventing them from seeking help or accepting their conditions.
Limited Access to Treatment: Stigma can deter individuals from accessing mental health services, as they may fear judgment or discrimination from healthcare providers.
Inequity in Service Coverage: Stigma has played a role in insurance companies and other payors in devaluing the impact that poor mental health can have on the quality of one’s life. Many insurers pay mental health providers much less than medical providers, resulting in individuals having limited access to therapists who accept insurance.
Delayed Treatment: Many people delay seeking help for mental health issues due to the fear of being labeled or stigmatized, which can worsen their conditions and make treatment less effective.
Underreporting: Stigma may lead to underreporting of mental health concerns in surveys, studies, and public discussions, creating a distorted picture of the true extent of mental health challenges in society.
Lack of Understanding: Stigma can perpetuate misconceptions and misunderstandings about mental health, hindering empathy and support from the community.
Employment Discrimination: Individuals with mental health challenges often face discrimination in the workplace, making it difficult to maintain or secure employment.
Barriers to Education: Stigma can affect students' access to education and their ability to thrive academically due to discrimination and misunderstanding.
Diminished Quality of Life:The cumulative effects of stigma can lead to a diminished quality of life, limiting opportunities for personal growth and happiness.
I chose the path of becoming a mental health counselor to help those who are having difficulty navigating life stressors. Little did I know that in order to help them, I first had to become an advocate - speaking out against the stigma that keeps so many away from receiving the services they deserve.
Life as a Therapist AND Advocate
As a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern, I am committed to my journey of becoming an LMHC. For me, that means more than listening to the clients in front of me. It means I am also responsible for speaking up and out again mental health stigma whenever possible, and to create space for more open conversations about mental health. My work - our work - in mental health is driven by our commitment to voice our concerns, even when we fear backlash - because we know at the end that we need to make our voices heard for change to occur.
And so, I invite you to join me in making your voice heard and making a difference in mental health care! You can do so by getting involved with organizations like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Visit NAMI's website (www.nami.org) to discover available programs in thousands of communities across the United States and learn more about how you can lend your support and be a catalyst for a more understanding and inclusive world. You never know, maybe we will cross paths in our advocacy :-)
And while you are advocating, if you or someone you know is facing the storm of mental health challenges, please remember that help is just a call, text, or email away. Reach out to a crisis line, where caring professionals are ready to listen and support you. You don't have to weather the storms alone. Visit https://988lifeline.org 24/7 for support.
If you are in Florida and not experiencing a mental health emergency, contact us here at Hope & Serenity Health Services. We would be happy to assist you with a no-cost consultation to find the therapist that would be best for you. Outside of Florida, there are many resources, including PsychologyToday and Open Path Collective. Wherever you turn, there is support. Embrace it - you deserve it.
And for my kindred spirit healers out there…hang in there! We’ve got this!