Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.
“You should go to therapy.” What does it feel like to hear this statement? As a first-gen Latina who is the eldest daughter of immigrants, this statement elicits discomfort. Does this mean something is wrong with me? As a mental health professional, I recognize that these thoughts result from the stigma surrounding therapy and mental health. Even though I am a therapist, have benefitted from therapy, and am an advocate for therapy, I also battle stigmatizing thoughts. Let me be clear, I believe in the benefits of therapy, but I was socialized to be wary of it.
In my work as a therapist, I am passionate about destigmatizing mental health and therapy, especially within my Latinx comunidad. However, telling people that “therapy is for everyone” and that “asking for help does not mean you are weak” is not enough. Challenging the stigma is a collective effort. It is about being intentional with how we approach mental health in daily conversations and interactions within our community. We have to understand that we may inadvertently perpetuate the stigma through our everyday interactions. In an effort to help us get started, I have created a list of common stigmatizing messages along with consejos to challenge them.
“Ponte a limpiar y se te pasa/ Just clean up and you will feel better”
Don’t tell your loved ones that there is no reason for them to feel the way they do. When you tell someone that they have no reason to feel the way they do, you are minimizing their distress and invalidating their experience. You may believe you are helping them, but you may make them feel worse. They may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with you in the future.
Consejo: Listen to them, give them time to share what is going on, and ask them how you can help. Sometimes people just need someone to acknowledge them and help them feel seen.
“No seas malagradecida, yo no tenía mucho y estoy bien/ Don’t be ungrateful, I didn’t have much and I am fine”
Being grateful for what you have will not resolve everything. Telling a loved one that they are experiencing emotional distress because they are ungrateful for what they have implies that there is something wrong with them. You are telling them that what they are feeling is not appropriate, given their circumstances. Although a gratitude practice is something that many mental health professionals may recommend as a strategy to cope with stress, it is not a solution.
Consejo: Instead of telling someone that their distress results from being ungrateful, let them confide in you. Show them you are a safe person they can come to when needed.
“Estás exagerando/ You are overreacting”
Everyone has a different threshold for emotional distress. Just because something was manageable for you does not mean it is for everyone. People have different tools and capacities to deal with emotional distress. It might feel like an overaction because of your own way of handling emotions, but to someone else it’s very raw and real.
Consejo: Instead of criticizing someone’s reaction, ask them what is distressing to them, listen, and if appropriate, share a resource that has helped you when you were feeling distressed.
“Que va a decir la gente?/ What will people say?”
Going to therapy does not mean that you are publicly airing your family’s dirty laundry. It is normal to want to make a good impression and worry about how others perceive our loved ones and us. However, making mental well-being a priority is not something to feel embarrassed by. Family members might not feel comfortable in certain settings when you bring up the fact that you’re going to therapy because of this concern. This issue stems from the stigma and part of doing away with it is talking about and removing the shame.
Consejo: Instead of worrying about what others will say, focus on what you need. Besides, therapy is confidential, and you can always talk about these worries with your therapist. You do not have to do it alone and you don’t have to share that you’re in therapy, but if you do, remember to let them know there’s no shame in it.
“La terapia es solo para locos/ Therapy is only for crazy people”
Going to therapy does not mean that you are crazy. This is one of the most common stigmatizing messages that people say. As a reminder, you can go to therapy to be proactive about a goal, to learn more about yourself, to develop healthier coping strategies, to receive support during a transition, to process trauma and so much more. If someone confides in you that they are thinking about going to therapy, it likely means that they are seeking support or want to learn more about themselves.
Consejo: Instead of discouraging them from seeking help, tell them that you support and respect their decision.
When in doubt about how to respond, focus on being curious but still courteous.