I thought I was OK with mental illness and the need for therapy. I’ve been open about my own struggles with an eating disorder and postpartum anxiety. I’ve encouraged other women to seek counseling, and I openly acknowledged the fact that I would have benefited immensely from therapy myself. I minored in Psychology in college, and have a master’s degree in marriage and family studies. I thought I was very pro-therapy.
Then my son’s pediatrician suggested he see a psychologist, and I realized I wasn’t as pro-therapy as I thought.
My own education and experience told me my son was displaying OCD-like behavior. I knew his actions were problematic. They were getting in the way of his life. They were getting in the way of our life. We were all struggling, and I knew we needed help. My husband and I spent a night talking about having a child who potentially had OCD, and to say that we were overwhelmed would be an understatement.
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When my son’s pediatrician suggested that he see a psychologist, I was shocked. Even though I expected it. Even though my husband and I had discussed it.
You just can’t be fully prepared to hear that your sweet 4-year-old son needs therapy.
But his pediatrician thought it would be a good idea for him to see a psychologist along with a neurologist to treat his disease, and I couldn’t disagree with her. I saw the wisdom in her suggestion. But it was still hard to swallow.
I’ve always been pro-therapy, but when it was my own kid needing therapy, things changed. I knew I should have gone to therapy when I felt broken beneath my own struggles. I suggested therapy to other people when they felt broken. But the possibility that my son might be broken? Preposterous. He couldn’t be broken. He was perfect. How could my sweet boy be broken? How could my perfect child need therapy?
After we left the pediatrician’s office, I spent the 15-minute drive home thinking about my son in therapy. And then I kept thinking about it. Did I have a son who needed therapy? As we shared our traditional post-pediatrician donut, I realized that having a son who needed therapy was not the end of the world. He was still my sweet boy. He hadn’t changed. He was still the same boy he’d been before we heard that recommendation. That meant he was still perfect. He was as perfect now as he’d been before we went to the pediatrician, before he had his diagnosis, before he had his first OCD episode. Nothing had really changed.
My son had not changed.
I thought he was perfect before his first OCD episode, and I still thought he was perfect after it was over. I thought he was perfect when I brought him to the pediatrician. His diagnosis hadn’t changed how I felt about him, so why should a recommendation that he see a psychologist? A psychologist would hopefully make him better after all. He’d be even more perfect because he would be happier and healthier.
My son needed therapy. As our pediatrician and neurologist both pointed out, he would benefit from the techniques he would be taught if his medications ever failed to treat his disease effectively. It was better to be proactive than reactive. Therapy would help him. And more than anything, I wanted to help my son.
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My son had his first appointment with a therapist today. It didn’t take place in an office or on a couch. It happened in our house, at the kitchen table. But it was still a milestone for us. Our friends knew what we were doing. Our family knew what we were doing. We had been open and honest about our son’s situation. He had psychological symptoms that could be helped with counseling.
I’ve always known there was a stigma against therapy.
My verbal support had always been an attempt to overcome that stigma. I wanted to be pro-therapy. I wanted people to realize that seeing a psychologist was good. Seeing a therapist could be a person’s first step toward recovery, toward healing. I wanted my son to heal. I wanted him to recover.
But that involved swallowing my pride and abandoning my unrecognized prejudice. I wasn’t quite as pro-therapy as I thought I was, but I’m a bit more so now. It’s bringing us all a certain degree of healing, and that makes therapy a wonderful thing.