Mental Health Therapy and Luxury

Therapy for mental health is and is not a luxury.

On the one hand, such therapy can be expensive and is often not readily available. Some therapists aren’t covered by insurances plans. Some offer sliding scale fees, and some do not (based on their needs for keeping their practices going/themselves fed/etc.). Too many people consider therapy to be something for ‘privileged’ people, something that is frou-frou or extra. Many terrible stereotypes about therapy, therapists, and those of us who avail ourselves of mental health services exist and are perpetuated. These things all work to make therapy a luxury for many people, in the sense that it is not easily affordable/accessible for these people.

Personally, this cost keeps me up at night. I guilt myself for using resources to take care of myself when I’m not financially contributing to our living situation. And yet, taking the steps to take care of my mental health has been life-saving.

On the other hand, therapy is not the same thing as a luxury good such as an expensive car, watch, set of cook ware, mansion, TV, or any other thing. While these things are also not affordable/accessible for many people, they do not provide a healing service.

I’ve heard, far too often for my liking, pairings of “I can’t afford therapy” and “I’m buying an (or more than one) expensive item,” from people who are experiencing mental health issues. People get to choose how they spend their money and manage their mental health–but those two statements don’t logically fit together.

As well, as someone for whom mental health services are a need, such statements sound to me like the speaker does not believe the issues I’m (or any one else dealing with mental illness) working with/through are real. It sounds dangerously close to saying, “Why go to therapy when you could just do XYZ other thing?” or “Oh, you should just get over it.” That may not be the intent, but it is the impact.

I cannot buy my way to mental health. I am not positive that anyone can. Even in my fundamental Christian upbringing, I got that message:

Of course, the Titanic did sink–which makes this song a bit odd once I really stop to think about it–but that repetition of not being able to buy my way to happiness? of not being able to get myself to mental wellness via money? I was gifted that even in my super-Christian, super-fundamental background, courtesy of Amy Grant.

Even though I prick myself about the costs associated with therapy, I am grateful to know that I can’t buy my way to wellness. I wish I had better words to express this, in the moment, to the people in my life who have implied that therapy and luxury goods are of a kind.

Being a ‘Fixer’

I’ve been in therapy for a few weeks now. I think it’s going well, though of course it’s early. I really like my therapist, which is good.

Early on, she said that along with fight-or-flight, psychologists and sociologists now recognize freeze and fix as immediate responses to various stimuli (like fear stimuli).

I went home thinking about that and realized that yes, that probably does fit me pretty well. My first response any time anything goes awry in my world (or the worlds of my loved ones) is usually to try to fix it, whatever that may look like. Sometimes that’s listening, sometimes that’s doing or saying something, sometimes that’s writing, sometimes that’s protesting, etc.

And it can be healthy, to a point, just as can fight, or flight, or freeze. It’s a self-care response just as the others are.

But it can also be destructive (as I imagine the other can be, too).

I’ve talked about this ‘being a fixer’ bit with a few friends, and the general response is, “Oh, but you’re fixing things, so that’s good. That’s a good way to be.” Which–sure, it’s a good way to be if I’m actually helping the situation. But the ‘fix’ may not actually help.

The thing is, ‘fixing’ can also be toxic. I have to ask myself, when I have that inclination to jump in and ‘fix’ a thing–why? Why am I doing this? Why do I feel this urge? What is it that I want? What motivates me here?

I can’t ‘fix’ things like racism and sexism and misogyny and cisnormativity and heteronorativity on my own. I can’t fix rape culture by myself. And I can’t ‘fix’ them because I’m seeking approval and validation, pats on the back, to feel good about myself because others feel good about me.

I have to be able to separate out the wounding of people I love by other people from the wounding caused by systems of oppression. I have to be able to make sure I’m not slinging arrows at the wrong targets–because misfires and friendly fire still hurt, still wound, and sometimes make everything much much worse.

And if I’m centering myself instead of the people who need the care in XYZ situation, then I’m taking away from their care (given situations in which I am not one of the ones in need of care). I’m then furthering oppression by ‘fixing,’ and often I’m silencing at the same time.

I must watch myself. I must recognize my ‘fixer’ instinct, recognize and accept it, and be sure to query it as much as I query everything else. Only then can I move forward.