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The Therapy Taboo Deconstructed

The Therapy Taboo Deconstructed

Lily Winters

Okay, guys. I have something to tell you. I’m … [looks to both sides] … [covers mouth with hand] [whispers] … seeing a therapist again.

Sigh. I need to get over this idea that therapy should be a secret. As with most everything else, I blame my mother. I should probably see someone about this issue.

Many kids define their childhood with a hero. Wonder Woman, Wolverine, He-Man… I always look back and think of mine with images of an iconic villain: Two-Face. Not because my childhood was full of evil people or coin-flipping, but because the parents of my generation mastered the language of speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

There were so many things our progressive, forward-thinking parents were ‘okay’ with—by which I mean it was only okay for other people to do or be—but GOD FORBID you acknowledge out loud that you are doing or being them.  Because while it was ‘okay’ to do or be certain things, you will still be judged.

Mother Judger!

At the top of the category of things that were okay for other people to do yet not okay to talk about was therapy. In the perfect, hand-blown glass worlds our parents tried to build for us, NO ONE, especially not children, had problems.

It seems odd now in an age when getting your head shrunk is as common as getting your haircut. There are movies about therapists, shows and podcasts by therapists, even books about the therapists that our therapists see. There are therapists out there to help our dogs. There are therapists who are dogs. Our kids are learning CBT alongside the ABCs.

My mom was a touchy-feely-talk-about-your-feelings-it’s-okay-to-cry-hug-it-out new age thinker, and even she would struggle to keep her two-faces from showing up in a conversation if one of her friends admitted to seeing a therapist.

Out of one side of her mouth was: “You’re seeing a therapist? Good for you. If you can find someone who can help ease your journey and it makes you feel better, then more power to you. Have you considered trying yoga, too?” Yet the other side was clearly saying:“I can’t believe you can’t solve your own problems! Poor thing, your little feelings are hurt so you have to run and pay someone to listen to you talk all about it. I bet you take yoga, too.”

And part of it was a money thing. Our parents came from parents of the Depression. While not quite as thrifty, therapy was definitely boxed into unnecessary luxury. They didn’t understand why you would pay to talk to someone, when priests and friends were around and free. Giving someone your hard earned $60 once a week for an hour of lip service was seen by them as exactly what I’m writing it to sound like – you’re basically visiting a prostitute. So, you can understand why so many of us still whisper when we’ve made an appointment.

Ladies First

In a previous article around how the parents of the 80s laid the foundation for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (what? You thought the military thought of that? As if.), I noted that masturbation was a topic where our parents felt progressive in saying, “Well, it’s just something all boys do, but we don’t discuss.”

Therapy is a situation where being a girl was favorable. By the time I hit middle school, most of the moms I knew were (pseudo-secretly) in therapy, primarily because most of the moms I knew were in some stage of divorce. It was the 80s, after all. Everyone was divorcing.

Women, being the more emotionally fragile beings that we are, could not certainly not handle being left on their own, so the proverbial fainting couch transformed into the complaining couch, Prozac became the reason for the liaison, and suddenly, seeing a therapist was trendy. But only for the women.

See Also

The girls I knew and I were frequently dragged to the same therapist our moms saw to make sure we were okay losing our father figure. But after years of raised eyebrows at the mention of talk-therapy, our distrust of therapists ran so deep that we viewed this with great cynicism. Probably this was another way of mom to pass notes to dad using us. Pile on the guilt or beef up the child support payments by claiming were going to suffer abandonment issues. But whether we discussed our potential long-term daddy-issues or the momentary drama-de jour of a typical teenage girl, these sessions helped us come to realize that therapy can actually be super-useful.

Bring in the Boys

Meanwhile, my brothers never had to see the therapists. Or school counselors. Or social workers. It seemed like none of the boys did – at least not about personal things like dealing with a family break up. Men were still supposed to suppress, repress, and digest their feelings. If we saw a boy in the waiting room at the therapist, we avoided eye contact. It usually meant he was “special” (80s-speak for he was on the spectrum) or he was troubled and acting out in a way that made them concerned about the potential of a school shooting (or whatever administrators were concerned about pre-Columbine).

It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 90s, when it was decided that every boy who preferred playing outside to sitting in a classroom must have ADD or ADHD, that moms started throwing their sons into the therapist’s chair. While many of those moms were using therapy to secure a diagnosis that would explain away bad grades, it also gave these fine young fellows a chance to experience the benefits of therapy as well.  

Most importantly, those girls and boys of the 80s are now raising kids who feel like therapy is helpful, useful, and normal.

Much like masturbating, being LGBTQ, and a host of other “progressive” ideas, therapy has been totally normalized for Gen Z. I hear my daughter talking to her friends about it, exchanging ideas their therapists told them to try, and leaving school early for appointments without hiding which doctor they are seeing. Kids sit in the waiting room for a therapist, making eye contact with each other, no shame in sight. They assume the other kids there are normal, regular kids just like them—and, as we all know, EVERYONE has problems.

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