Tag Archives: stigma

A time to make dreams come true

By Caitlin C. Regan April 21, 2021

So many people dream of fame, fortune, fast cars and fancy homes. For so long now, I have dreamed of freedom — freedom to be my full true self without judgment, shame or ridicule.

So, who am I, do you ask? I am a 33-year-old female mental health counselor (and former teacher) who also has a mental health condition. I have bipolar II, and for as long as I can remember, I have had to hide part of myself because so much of society stigmatizes, judges and condemns those who have mental health conditions.

It is not that I need to wear a sign around my neck reading “Bipolar II right here,” announcing it to every stranger I meet, but do I want to live in a world where, if that was my choosing, I could do so without being judged or shamed into the darkness. I imagine that many discriminated parties understand where I am coming from and might even be saying, “At least you do get to hide it.” But that is just it — I am tired of hiding. I have spent my life living in the shadows and playing a part the world can accept.

Many people in my life are aware of my condition and accept me — for all of me. I am greatly appreciative of all the support I have received, but it is no longer enough. I want, I demand, more! I want to be able to go to work and say I have bipolar II and not have the room go silent in fear or lack of understanding. I do not want a bad day, simply because I am human and have bad days, to turn into whispers of “Is she manic?” or “Is she depressed?”

For my entire working life, I have kept my condition to myself out of fear of persecution, out of fear of my judgment being called into question because of my condition. In all those years, never once have I put a student in jeopardy (as a counselor, I am placed in a school as well) because I am fully self-aware and manage my condition as I would any other medical condition. On days when I am in a depressive episode or manic episode and am not feeling well enough to do my job, I take a sick day, just as anyone with any other medical condition would need to do.

Those with mental health conditions can thrive if they receive proper care and treatment management. In fact, there are many who have thrived throughout the ages despite having less availability to treatment than is available in the 21st century. Beethoven, Michelangelo and Abraham Lincoln (to mention only a few) all reportedly had mental health conditions, and they accomplished amazing, history-altering feats. Why then is there still such stigma surrounding mental health disorders?

Admittedly, things are better today. In the 1800s, people who were even suspected of hysterics (mostly women) were locked away. In the 21st century, we have many people who openly speak about having mental health disorders and various organizations (the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, county mental health boards, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, etc.) that work tirelessly to support those with mental health conditions and their loved ones. Even what I do, serving as an intervention therapist, was not heard of as recently as the 1990s and early 2000s when I was in school. 

My beginnings

When I began my journey, at 12 years old, no one knew how to help me. I was consistently described as a “freak” in my school, by students and adults alike. My parents tried to help, going to every medical doctor they could think of to discern why I was randomly fainting. It was not until years later that I was told I had conversion disorder (one’s system converts psychological symptoms to physical symptoms) and not until I was 23 that a psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II. And I was 29 before receiving proper treatment that truly turned my life around.

Ironically, it was not a professional who discovered my miracle treatment. It was me, as a counseling graduate student, doing a paper on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Now, coming up on my four-year anniversary of receiving ECT, I am at a new place in my treatment.

I am a mental health professional myself now and experiencing lengths of stability not previously known to me. Even when I do have an episode, they are far shorter and less severe than they ever were before. Most important, I love who I am and am damn proud of myself. It is at this juncture that I want more — not for myself, but for the world of mental health. I am using my newfound stability and happiness to ask, “How can I make a difference?”

I recognize how blessed I am to have found a treatment plan and team that have helped me become the best version of myself, but I want the same thing for all who have mental health conditions, and I want it without bias. As well as I am, I still cannot go into work, sit at the lunch table and talk about my week being difficult because of a medication change for my bipolar. Well, I could, but the ramifications would be costly. For those who doubt my claim and say there are laws against that, let’s be honest. Yes, on paper, there are laws against discrimination and bias. But that does not mean that cases of discrimination and bias no longer take place on a daily basis against every “protected” group.

The fact is, in America, if you are not the “norm,” there are many who look to remove your rights as a citizen, as a person, as a human being. This can no longer be the case, and mental health needs to join the movements rising up. Those of us living with mental health conditions need to demand our right not to be judged and not to be deemed anything less than ALL of who we are. It is true that we need help, but no one goes through life without needing help. With proper treatment and active participation in that treatment, there is no reason that we cannot thrive.

Recognition and moving forward

I have rarely said this out loud. Only a chosen few have heard what I am now going to publish willingly. I think it is in part due to my bipolar that I am so creative. There is something that happens that I truly do believe stems from my condition that allows me to think at the speed I think and write while envisioning my final product (this certainly didn’t hurt during pursuit of the three master’s degrees and one bachelor’s I have earned). It also creates an empathy that allows me to place myself in the moment with people and feel with them, for them, as them.

It is true that this empathy, when I was young and did not understand what seemed an overwhelming amount of feelings, caused me a lot of pain. In return, I caused much pain to myself. But through the receipt of empathy from others and the receipt of caring treatment, I have learned how to hone those feelings and use them in my career as a counselor. I have turned my empathy into my very own “superpower” to help others who are in pain. I receive no greater joy than the work I perform as a counselor for adolescents. First as a teacher and now as a counselor to adolescents in a school, I am privileged to get to turn all I have been through into something truly meaningful.

Again though, it is not enough. Change needs to happen in this society, and I want — no, I need — to be a part of it. Not for political reasons but for humane reasons. I am a human being hurting because I do not have the ability to be my full true self. I have come to a place where I am now proud of who I am, but still I feel I cannot go into society and share my true self — and I want to.

No one should feel they have to hide a part of themselves because it does not fit the accepted “norm.” Now is the time to come together and demand change. Not just for the mental health world, but for all who feel they have to live in the shadows. Support change not because of your political party but because it is the right thing to do for all human beings.

 

Related reading: ACA Virtual Conference Experience keynote speaker Bassey Ikpi also shared her journey with bipolar II disorder. Read more in our coverage of her keynote address.

 

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Caitlin Regan is a 33-year-old living with bipolar II disorder. She was diagnosed in 2012 and has been living successfully in treatment. She receives electroconvulsive therapy and participates in cognitive behavior therapy as her treatment plan. She is a residential therapist in an adolescent addiction treatment facility. Contact her on her mental health support Instragram account: @caitlins_counseling_corner.

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Bassey Ikpi shares her gradual journey toward a healthy relationship with therapy

By Lindsey Phillips April 19, 2021

Bassey Ikpi, a spoken word poet, writer and mental health advocate, opened the third week of the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience by sharing details from her own mental health journey. She recalled that her first encounter with mental health awareness happened in elementary school. An avid reader, she consumed whatever she could get her hands on, including her mother’s psychology textbooks and subscription to Psychology Today.

In particular, Ikpi remembers how Psychology Today’s May 1986 cover story on Howard Hughes shaped her relationship to mental health. The article discussed Hughes’ struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, describing in detail how he locked himself naked in a hotel room, refused to brush his teeth or cut his hair and nails, and wore Kleenex boxes on his feet.

That image would be startling to most anyone, let alone a 9-year-old, but what stood out the most to Ikpi was how no one helped Hughes. “I told myself that if I ever needed help, I’d find a way to get it,” Ikpi related to the audience for her keynote. “I never wanted to get to the point where I was wearing Kleenex boxes on my feet.”

Finding help

Ikpi, author of the bestselling memoir I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying, first had serious bouts of depression during college. She said that she vacillated between being unable to sleep and unable to get out of bed, and she maxed out her credit card.

Even though Ikpi felt OK at the time, she was concerned enough to seek out the counseling services on campus. The counselor sat across from her and just scribbled in her notepad the entire session, Ikpi recalled, which left Ikpi feeling unheard and unseen. “I had walked in nervous but hopeful, and walked out discouraged and determined never to return,” she told the audience. “If this was counseling, I thought, ‘I’m good.’”

A few years later, however, Ikpi found herself in distress again when, during a hypomanic episode, she took a spontaneous trip to New York City and ended up dropping out of college and moving to Brooklyn. She hoped the move would keep her moods at bay, but it didn’t work. Ikpi sought help, but like her first experience, the therapist mainly wrote notes on a legal pad and asked clinical, nonpersonal questions. Once again, Ikpi left feeling that seeking therapy had been a waste of time.

After joining the Tony Award-winning Broadway show Def Poetry Jam, Ikpi found that her previous coping methods no longer worked, and she started to deteriorate quickly. She was losing weight, not sleeping and withdrawing. After having a breakdown backstage, the stage manager told her, “If you don’t get help, Bassey, you’re going to die.”

Ikpi left the tour the next day with a list of doctors, determined to get help. “Because of my past experiences with counseling, I walked in with an agenda. I wanted to be helped, but only as far as I would be able to accept,” she said. Her goal was to get enough help that she could return to her job.

After receiving several misdiagnoses, Ikpi walked into the office of the last doctor on her list. This therapist didn’t have a notepad. She instead had a conversation with Ikpi, and for the first time, Ikpi felt heard.

“That meeting was what began my journey toward a healthy relationship with therapy. It taught me the kind of therapy that works best for me,” she told the audience. This therapist also introduced her to another psychiatrist who gave a name to what Ikpi was experiencing — bipolar II disorder.

Overcoming the shame of mental health

Ikpi admitted that her first instinct was to keep quiet about her diagnosis out of a fear that it would change the way others perceived her. But she noticed that the shame also meant she wasn’t able to fully take care of herself.

Shortly after being diagnosed, Ikpi was watching an episode of the TV series Girlfriends in which one of the characters finds out her biological mother had bipolar disorder. Ikpi remembers thinking, “They’re going to have a conversation about bipolar disorder. That’s going to make it so much easier for me to have this conversation when I need to have it.” But the series dropped the ball, Ikpi said, because when the character asks a friend if she has inherited the disorder, the friend quickly dismisses the possibility, saying that the character is amazing, not “crazy.”

“The juxtaposition between ‘crazy’ and ‘amazing’ was trying to dispel all these things that I knew to be true about myself and my experience and my diagnosis,” Ikpi said.

Frustrated by this experience, she wrote about her diagnosis on her blog. She acknowledged to the keynote audience that this was in part a selfish act because she didn’t want to feel alone anymore and hoped to find someone else living with a bipolar disorder.

That blog post was the beginning of Ikpi finding ways to create “space for other people to name what they were experiencing, get encouragement from people and then do something about it.” Ikpi, founder of the Siwe Project, a nonprofit aimed at promoting mental health awareness in the Black community, started the global movement #NoShameDay to encourage people of African descent to share stories about mental health issues without shame and to seek help if needed.

She credits the success of #NoShameDay with the fact that “people are given permission to deal with this out loud as opposed to quietly where you can talk yourself out of it or … where you can ‘other’ yourself in a way that makes it uncomfortable to live in your own brain.”

Ikpi also told the audience it’s no coincidence that #NoShameDay falls on the second Monday in July, which is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. While #NoShameDay day exists for everyone, it’s especially for the Black community because they are the ones who are consistently penalized for their mental health, she noted. “Our mental health is criminalized; our mental health is legislated in ways that others aren’t so [this movement] … bring[s] attention to that,” she said. The movement humanizes mental health by making “it about people’s lived experiences and their stories and not a collection of texts or a list of diagnoses.”

Growing through therapy

Ikpi compared living with an untreated mental health diagnosis with “living in a run-down house in a bad neighborhood,” where she learned how to survive and cope with what she was given. Continuing this analogy, she said that medicine allowed her to move to a better neighborhood, and therapy taught her how to traverse this new neighborhood.

“Your instinct … is to fall back on the habits that worked before. Therapy teaches me a new way to navigate when the old ways are no longer working or no longer serving my needs,” she explained.

Ikpi also shared that some people have aligned her diagnosis with her artistic ability, telling her that if she didn’t have bipolar disorder, she wouldn’t be the writer that she is. To which she responds, “I would rather not be a writer. I would give it all up. I don’t write because of bipolar disorder. I write despite it.”

“Having bipolar disorder isn’t who I am; it is what I have,” she told the audience. “It doesn’t define me anymore than being short or wearing glasses. It’s just a part of what … I have to navigate the world with.”

Ikpi concluded by reminding mental health professionals of how important their job is. “It’s a service that I don’t think is rewarded enough,” she stressed. “I would not be here — literally would not exist — if it wasn’t for the people who have made it their job to care about people like me.”

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This keynote address is part of a month of virtual events, including hundreds of educational sessions and three additional keynotes, that lasts through April 30.

Find out more about the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience at counseling.org/conference/conference-2021

Registration is open until April 30; participants will have access to all conference content until May 31.

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Lindsey Phillips is the senior editor for Counseling Today. Contact her at lphillips@counseling.org.

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

First lady speaks up for mental health

By Bethany Bray March 6, 2015

Imagine if people reacted to a friend or neighbor’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder or depression no differently than if they just learned that person has breast cancer or heart disease.

“Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness. It shouldn’t be

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the launch of the Campaign to Change Direction, March 4 in Washington, D.C.

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the launch of the Campaign to Change Direction, March 4 in Washington, D.C.

treated differently,” said First Lady Michelle Obama at a mental health summit in Washington, D.C. this week. “There should be absolutely no stigma around mental health. None. Zero.”

Normalizing mental illness in the United States will take a cultural shift, a shift that will hopefully begin as more and more people talk about it and share their stories. This was the message at Wednesday’s launch of the Campaign to Change Direction, a joint project between numerous mental health, business, nonprofit and government agencies that aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. First Lady Michelle Obama was the event’s keynote speaker.

The campaign asks people to pledge to learn and spread awareness of the five signs of emotional suffering that may indicate a person needs help: withdrawal, agitation, hopelessness, decline in personal care and change in personality (see sidebar, below).

We want these five signs of suffering to be as well-known as the warning signs for a stroke or heart attack, said Todd Mahr, a regional partner of the campaign in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, a physician and director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Gundersen Health Systems.

“We’re undertaking a marathon, not a sprint,” said Mahr. “With this launch, I have hope.”

The campaign’s ultimate goal is to change the landscape in America so that mental health has the

Bruce Cohen, producer of the 2012 movie "Silver Linings Playbook" speaks at the launch of the Campaign to Change DIrection.

Bruce Cohen, producer of the 2012 movie “Silver Linings Playbook” speaks at the launch of the Campaign to Change DIrection.

same importance and value as physical health. Campaign partners, from Aetna to Easter Seals and Volunteers of America, have pledged to host programs and distribute materials over the next five years to further the campaign’s mission of “changing the national conversation about mental health.”

“It is really time to flip the script on mental health in this country. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength,” said Obama. “(Those who suffer from mental illness) should be able to get the help you need. End of story.”

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 42.5 million Americans – about one in every five adults – experience a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

“We want to create a new normal, where asking for help (for mental illness) is not a sign of weakness,” said Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association for Social Workers. “We want people to be able to raise their hands and say ‘I need help’.”

At Wednesday’s event, the first lady urged people to listen, connect and offer compassion to those with mental illness so they can get the help they need.

“Reach out and have those tough conversations with a friend,” she said.FLOTUS

Obama’s keynote speech concluded a morning of discussion and talks on mental health issues. Video of the event was streamed live on the Internet and is posted at changedirection.org.

“We will save lives in the year ahead,” Obama concluded. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and keep getting stuff done.”

 

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Take five

 

The Campaign to Change Direction’s five signs that may mean someone is in emotional pain and needs help:

  • Personality change: Sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves. He or she may behave in ways that don’t seem to fit the person’s values, or the person may just seem different.
  • Agitation: More frequent problems controlling temper, irritability or an inability to calm down. Symptoms may also include insomnia or explosive displays of anger in response to minor problems.
  • Withdrawal: Pulling away from family and friends, not taking part in activities the person used to enjoy. In more severe cases he or she may start missing school or work. These symptoms should not to be confused with the behavior of someone who is more introverted, but a marked change in someone’s typical sociability.
  • Poor self-care: A deterioration of personal hygiene, which may include things like not bathing or wearing unclean clothes. Lack of self-care can also include abuse of alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other risky behaviors.
  • Hopelessness: An inability to hope or look forward to anything. Symptoms may also include feelings of worthlessness or guilt. May also include statements such as “The world would be better off without me,” which may be a sign of suicidality.

 

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Be the change

 

For more information or to get involved with the Campaign to Change direction, visit changedirection.org

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

 

 

The stigma of mental illness and the noble savage myth

By Jonathan Schildbach and Jeffrey T. Guterman May 29, 2014

Branding-AvatarDespite the seemingly widespread understanding that mental illness is a disease that can be effectively treated, prejudice toward individuals with mental health issues still pervades our society. People with such conditions are often depicted as undesirable and incapable of maintaining meaningful personal relationships or holding positions of authority. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health have led efforts to overcome the stigma of mental illness. In addition, anti-stigma campaigns have been developed to end discrimination surrounding mental illness. The American Counseling Association has also encouraged its membership to play an active role in the fight against mental health stigma. It is clear that the stigma surrounding mental illness is both a social justice issue and a public health issue.

Stigma compounds the already challenging problem of mental illness. Just as oppressive as its symptoms is the effect of the dominant story in our culture about mental illness that tends to marginalize, subjugate and pathologize individuals with such conditions. Actress and activist Glenn Close, who co-created the anti-stigma campaign Bring Change 2 Mind, suggests that the stigma is worse than the mental illness itself. Stigma affects all sectors of society. For example, the U.S. military has developed programs to combat stigma associated with mental illness and improve quality of care for soldiers who are increasingly dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

An international study by researchers at Indiana University in 2013 found that stereotyping is a main source of stigma surrounding mental illness. Although notable efforts have taken place to create accurate portrayals of mental illness in the entertainment industry and media, many depictions continue to disseminate stereotypes and other information that is just plain wrong. But rejection of negative stigma may also lead to positive stigmatization: attaching stigmas that are intended to grant a kind of protected or special status to clients with mental illness. The problem with stereotyping of any kind — even if there are positive intentions behind such views — is that it categorizes the objects of the stereotyping as people who are somehow “other.”

In this article, we present the concept of the “noble savage” as a metaphor for understanding how the general public and, in particular, counselors may stigmatize people with mental illness. The noble savage is a fictional archetype based on a common social stereotype. The noble savage describes an idealized indigenous person, outsider or “other” who has not been corrupted by modern civilization, therefore symbolizing the innate goodness of humanity. The noble savage concept suggests that indigenous, native people are somehow closer to nature and therefore possess a heightened spirituality compared with “civilized” people who do little more than corrupt or destroy the natural world.

The phrase noble savage first appeared in the 1672 play The Conquest of Granada by John Dryden. In his play, Dryden differentiates between a world of laws, which includes civilized people, and a world of nature before such laws were brought to bear. The former consists of controlled, debased humans separated from God by modern societal constructs; the latter is a free, natural, wild world populated by noble savages — humans in their pure state.

Examples of the noble savage are replete in contemporary films, including Avatar, Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans and The Last Samurai, tales in which invaders, corrupted by their desire for wealth and conquest, are contrasted with more primitive cultures. Most of these narratives involve a member of the invading culture turning against one’s own kind to champion the cause of the noble savage. For example, Avatar is about tall, striped blue beings living in trees — the noble savage Na’vi — who are rescued by a white male who comes from a technologically advanced planet that is attempting to plunder Na’vi resources.

Films based on actual events have also depicted the noble savage concept. Mississippi Burning casts the struggle of African Americans in terms of how members of the dominant white culture become involved with resolving the other’s situation. Those who are not part of the dominant culture take a back seat in their own struggle to be recognized as equals and treated with dignity.

Viewing clients as noble savages

It is easy for counselors to metaphorically transform clients into noble savages. From this perspective, mental illness provides some measure of immunity from the modern world and the maladies that make those who do not struggle with such conditions somehow more corrupt. It follows that mental illness takes a person out of the normal flow and function of modern life; it comes to be seen as a purifying agent, something that makes people with mental illness “good.” Yet such a view contributes to the belief that those with mental illness are ultimately uncivilized and less than human. Hence, viewing people with mental illness as “noble savages” creates and perpetuates stigma.

The concept of heroism associated with entering into the world of the noble savage is particularly relevant for counselors. Perhaps some counselors see themselves as “champions” for clients, not only because counselors have the means to bring about positive change, but also as a result of assigning clients a special status as people incapable of helping themselves. Effective counseling requires an ability to guide clients to identify their own strengths and problem-solving skills. If a counselor falls into the trap of viewing clients as noble savages, then he or she may see clients as “good” but also ultimately incapable of making their way in the same world that so-called “normal” people occupy. In such cases, the counselor becomes primary, a member of the dominant culture, while the client becomes secondary, a representative of the “other.” The counselor becomes the hero, the client someone to be saved.

It is important for counselors to recognize the precise meanings of their descriptions of clients. Although counselors may use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, such diagnoses should serve as limited guidelines for treatment, not labels that confine clients to roles as limited persons. Any label connected to mental illness must be approached with clear self-reflection. If counselors place themselves in the role of hero, then clients may not be afforded an opportunity to be empowered during the change process. Therefore, it is critical for counselors to consider if they are viewing clients with mental illness as essentially different from themselves.

Challenging the noble savage myth

Viewing clients with mental illness through the noble savage lens amounts to a fundamental denial of human nature and, in turn, contributes to stigma. Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker has suggested that humans are not born as blank slates but, rather, have predetermined faculties for various traits, including language, memory and perception. Similar to the blank slate, the noble savage continues to be an influential concept in modern society. It has contributed to the development of ecological movements that distrust all things man-made and synthetic. The noble savage has also occasioned the emergence of the recent utopian view of bullying as a phenomenon to be eliminated rather than a fact of life that has always been and which is inevitably tied to aggressive and competitive tendencies in humans.

Research in various disciplines suggests that mental illness is deeply rooted biologically and can be explained in terms of evolutionary development. Advances in genetics have shown that personality traits are heritable. Neuroscience has identified brain mechanisms associated with aggression. And evolutionary psychology has taught us that the pervasiveness of human violence is related to Darwinian processes. Although there are cross-cultural differences between people, human universals suggest we are more alike than different. It is a misconception then to think of human beings in terms of “us” who are free from mental illness versus “them” who are uniquely plagued by such conditions.

Viewing clients as noble savages in need of rescue and counselors as their saviors ignores the ubiquitous nature of mental illness and the complex ways that mental illness can arise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of U.S. adults have a mental illness. Mental illness is a complex phenomenon related to genetic, psychological and social factors. We are all prone to mental illness. For counselors to reduce themselves and their clients to archetypes is to deny that each of us encompasses a wide range of assets and deficits. We do not exist as simplified characterizations of virtue and vice.

What now?

Counselors serve an important function in combating stigma because of their relevant education, training and experience, as well as their direct contact with clients, educators, health care providers and policymakers. A major part of the effort to address stigma involves calling attention to the underlying attitudes that reinforce stigma and then working to change those attitudes. Like the culture at large, counselors often view people with mental illness in terms of established cultural narratives, such as that of the noble savage, which casts individuals in terms of stereotypes. Counselors need to examine their own beliefs and practices to ensure they do not perpetuate such stigmas.

Sometimes counselors buy into stereotypes about mental illness using the same inaccurate language and biases as social institutions, the media and the general public. For example, some counselors may refer to a client as “a borderline” rather than a client who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Becoming aware of expressions of stigma is an important role for counselors, and learning how to challenge these expressions is a critical skill. Counselors can reinforce their own anti-stigmatizing efforts by helping colleagues, friends and family members identify instances when they use diagnostic terms as insults or pejoratives. In addition, counselors can involve themselves in the efforts of organizations to fight stigma and call attention to inaccurate portrayals of people with mental illness in the media.

Perhaps most important, counselors have unique opportunities to help fight stigma in their clinical relationships with clients. Counselors can promote social justice in the fight against stigma one case at a time. This can be achieved by viewing clients as individuals with their own resources, strengths and skills. Clients must not be confined to roles as noble savages — good, but incapable. Instead they should be viewed as complete human beings who have struggles that we all share as part of the human family.

 

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Jonathan Schildbach is a licensed mental health counselor in Seattle. Follow his blog at respecttheblankie.com, and contact him at jcschildbach@gmail.com.

 

Jeffrey T. Guterman is a licensed mental health counselor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Visit his website at JeffreyGuterman.com, and contact him at jguterman@gmail.com.

 

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org