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Why People Stay Away From Therapy

Stigma keeps people out of therapy – lots of people.

I went to great lengths to keep my mental illness a secret.  It was 1994 and I was an executive, and no way would anyone understand or give me a second chance.

I thought that by covering things up and keeping psychiatry and therapy out of my records things could work out in my favor.

Actually, hiding the illness made things much worse.

Unfortunately, today, twenty-five years later, many people still feel the way I did, act the way I did, and suffer needlessly the way I did.  The stigma that falls on people with mental illness is so bad that 23% of people in a survey who wish they had attended therapy said they didn’t because they didn’t want anyone to find out.

Three-quarters of the 2,000 people surveyed think there is a terrible stigma surrounding mental health and therapy.  This stigma keeps people from seeking help.

In my case I let things go because, in the time before HIPAA laws, I knew my employer would find out about my seeing a psychiatrist and entering psychotherapy.  When things continued to deteriorate and I began hallucinating and plotting suicide, I went to a neurologist instead.

Anything to keep any hint of mental illness out of my insurance records.

When the doctor prescribed Prozac, I paid for it out of pocket so it wouldn’t show up as a claim. However, I am bipolar 1 and that drug only made things worse.  A psychiatrist may not have made that mistake.

As for therapy, I didn’t even begin that until I ended up in a psych hospital for a long time.  By then my career was over and my life was a wreck.

It took years to recover.

If I had ignored the stigma and gotten help earlier, things surely would have turned out different.

The survey from OnePoll and BetterHelp that I wrote about in my last post revealed that 1 in 4 people have no one to confide in.  These people, and many more, could benefit from therapy.  In fact, 36% of survey respondents would like to attend regular therapy now, and 54% said they wish they had gone to see a therapist at some point in their life.

But too many of them stay away from psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.  Stigma and the related excuse that people feel too embarrassed to see a therapist keep many trying, often poorly, to deal with their problems on their own.

Other things that keep people from seeking help are not having the time, having no idea how to find a therapist and thinking their problems aren’t serious enough to enter therapy.

Many want to go to therapy.  Still, they don’t

New online/mobile app therapy platforms may bring more people into therapy.  They hold some promise, but, after benefiting from an established deep relationship with a therapist face-to-face, I find the idea of undergoing therapy by phone or text cold and anonymous.

Yet that may be the allure of this new category of therapy to people who previously stayed away.

There are more therapy options today than were available when I made my mistake and didn’t seek treatment.  If the stigma bothers you that much, there are ways to keep therapy between you and your therapist only.  HIPPA helps, and so does the development of more distant and quiet therapy relationships such as those found in apps, by phone or on-line.

If you need help, please seek it and enter therapy.  See a psychiatrist if you’re dealing with a mental illness.

Refusing help cost me many years, lots of money and several long-standing relationships.  Don’t make the mistake I made.  Get help.

Why People Stay Away From Therapy

George Hofmann

George is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, from Changemakers Books. Visit George's site or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2019). Why People Stay Away From Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Sep 2019
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