Written by Sasha Landis
Psychotherapist and Counsellor (https://www.sashalandistherapy.com/)
When a person walks through my door for the first time and sits opposite me in their chair, I’ll often ask them, “Have you been to therapy before?” I ask this question for two reasons, the first, to gauge how unfamiliar the process is, and how much explaining I need to do. The second and far more compelling reason – it is important for me to understand the conditions under which they stopped seeing their previous therapist. Occasionally, the reason is practical; geographic, financial, style or modality. More often, it’s a personality clash. The most common reason I hear however is something far more sinister, far more heartbreaking…invalidation.
“I don’t think you’re depressed; you’re just feeling sad.”
“Don’t worry about it, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
“You’ll be fine, just stop thinking about it.”
“Does that really affect your job performance though?”
“Are you sure you’re just not being lazy?”
Thankfully, for the clients I see, this invalidation prevents them from seeking therapy only temporarily. Sometimes it takes people years to rebuild their conviction, and sometimes they will never seek professional help again. It troubles me to think of how many individuals live in a daily struggle with their mental health because they don’t believe their experiences of mental and emotional health are ‘bad enough’. In my mind, many of these invalidating comments are so impactful because they hit a nerve around the myths associated with productivity. Many of us hold in the back of our minds a sense that we should be better, stronger, more resilient. We think others have it worse than us and a sign of good character and good work ethic is to ‘power through’ and not ask for help.
This invalidation is so deeply rooted in our culture that we fail to recognise it for what it is: inhumane. Invalidation is ignoring the lived experience of another human being. Invalidation leaves us alone in our internal experience, unable to bridge the gap and connect with one another. And it is not just mental health professionals that offer invalidation, it is our families, our workplaces and even us. We find ourselves so saturated in the denial surrounding us about the state of our own mental health, that it becomes almost impossible to recognise how deeply worthy we are of feeling differently.
This is incredibly true of clients that seek to launch a personal injury claim on the basis of psychiatric injury. Many clients will power on for months or years, unaware that the mental trauma they are dealing with may entitle them to compensation. Compensation that can radically improve their lives and offer a solution to tangible financial issues they might be facing. There are however a number of situations in NSW in which mental harm may give rise to a legal cause of action.
If you are suffering from mental harm and are stuck in a cycle of invalidating your own experience, there are two things you can do. One, find a licensed therapist who you connect with and who can help you process and heal from your experience. Two, seek the advice of a lawyer who can give you more specific advice as to the likelihood of your claim’s success.
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