Do you ever have days where you start to notice a thing popping up everywhere?

Last week I had a day of “cheaper than therapy” jokes.

I had just started reading ‘Take Joy’, a book about writing by Jane Yolen. I love her children’s books and while I have a strange love for writings about writing, I was really not feeling this one.

And then, there was this:

“Writing is much easier than spending time in a therapist’s chair. Cheaper, too. Authors get to parade their neuroses in public disguised as story. If we are lucky, we are getting paid to do it. And we get applause as well. As Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘Writers get to treat their mental illnesses every day.'” (‘Take Joy’, Jane Yolen, p 18)

Writing can be such a power tool for working on mental health. Most of the time I don’t know what I think about something until I work it through in writing. But still I was not happy with this comment.

Recently I have been very, very glad that I started seeing a therapist. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself. A lot of the emotional work I do outside of therapy does involve writing, but writing was by no means a substitute for finding that support.

Yes, starting to go to therapy is hard. It is so, so hard. That’s part of why I put it off for so long: there was so much I just didn’t want to get into, because I had to bury those things in order to make it through day to day life. But I found a therapist who is a good fit for me, and it has been entirely worth the effort.

Later that same day, I came across this graphic:

I would credit this, but who the hell knows where these online graphics come from. If you made this and you want to take credit for it, by all means let me know.
I would credit this, but who the hell knows where these online graphics come from. If you made this and you want to take credit for it, by all means let me know.

I find science genuinely fascinating, but sometimes I wonder if I pursued a degree in biology precisely because nature was practically the only source of stress relief available to me for most of my life.

Taking a walk in nature is great for you. It probably initiates innumerable physiochemical benefits that help you to reduce and manage stress. I have been going for walks for years. It helps to alleviate stress at those times. It was not enough long-term, however, to even begin finding and untangling the trauma that I’ve been accumulating since early childhood.

I repeat: writing and going for walks outside are not comprehensive treatments for mental health. Nor are running, cooking, gardening, playing the tuba, or shopping, no matter how many pretty graphics or cute tee shirts try to tell you otherwise. (If you Google image “cheaper than therapy”, you may be interested to find that most of the graphics are fitness-related. Healthy, right?)

There is an enormous difference between between cultivating helpful, stress-relieving activities and GETTING SUPPORTIVE HELP FROM A TRAINED PERSON.

So what is it with these “cheaper than therapy” jokes? I pay $15 to see my therapist for about an hour. Yes, I have the privilege of access to care and health insurance that not everyone has. But still- the people who make “cheaper than therapy” quips are not actually saying that they cannot financially afford to go to therapy. (I’m certain that most of them have much more money than I do. My income is well below poverty-level. Hell, my physical therapy co-pays are WAY higher than my mental health co-pays. I haven’t heard anything against going to physical therapy for bodily injuries.)

Everyone needs stress-relieving activities. It’s even better if we don’t have to pay for them. Writing and going for walks outside are productive activities that usually cost me less than a therapy appointment. That does not make up for the cost of the years I spent not getting the help I needed.

What these jokes say:

  • Going to therapy is laughable.
  • People who go to therapy must be really crazy (ableism! oh joy!) and I definitely don’t know anyone like that.
  • If you’re thinking about getting help, don’t bother. You should just cope better on your own. Like me!

What I say to people who make these jokes:

  • Getting help is really, really hard. Please don’t make it harder. Even if you think your joke is the funniest thing you’ve ever come up with.

As my friend told me when I first started looking for therapists, finding a therapist/counselor can be very stabilizing even for people who are not going through major life issues. I agree. I’d recommend it to absolutely anyone, even people who are brilliantly happy most of the time.

CARROTS: They are cheaper than going to to see your primary care physician.

Hysterical, right?

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