If I Go To a Therapist, Does it Mean That I’m Crazy?
By Ann Petrila, L.C.S.W., M.P.A.
It seems like in the movies only the very rich or the very disturbed are in therapy. Like so many messages from Hollywood, this is one that is not particularly helpful. While it is true that some types of therapy are designed for those struggling with serious mental health issues, there are also many other reasons that people might find themselves in a position to benefit from counseling or therapy. One of those times is certainly the unexpected death of a baby.
A traumatic event like the death of a baby leads to a number of painful and seemingly unbearable feelings and emotions. Most of these feelings fall well within the range of a “normal” or “typical” reaction to this unthinkable event. Even though emotions or thoughts might be very typical, they also might feel unbearable to a parent or other family members. As we so often discuss, there is no right or wrong way to grieve a baby’s death—there are no “shoulds” or “should nots.” There are, however, some “red flags” to which we want to pay attention that signal a need to consider getting some outside help with the grieving process.
While the pain of a baby’s death always feels unbearable, there are times when the pain seems like it might destroy you. If the pain is too great or does not subside in a way that you can stand, it might be time to seek counseling. Even though it is a very individual decision about the pain being too great or being unmanageable, you will be the best judge of your own feelings.
What might contribute to this unbearable pain that does not cease? How might you know if you could benefit from counseling? The following is a list of situations and behaviors that may signal a need for further intervention. Please remember that all of these feelings and actions are typical when a baby dies. It is the degree and intensity of the feelings, and whether they feel manageable or tolerable that may cause concern.
If you find that you are experiencing:
- Extreme sleep disturbances
- Anxiety attacks
- Deep chronic sorrow that never changes
- Unable to get out of bed for days on end
- Extreme temper outbursts
- Severe, long lasting appetite changes
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Extreme, ongoing anger
- Use of prescription drugs in a way that feels uncomfortable
- Relationship difficulties
- Suicidal thoughts
- Uncontrollable sobbing
- Homicidal thoughts
- Many people that you trust are suggesting counseling (which is different than the “get over it” message)
As mentioned above, all of these behaviors and feelings (though very painful) are part of a typical grief response. Grieving parents frequently hear the message from well meaning friends and family that their grief is abnormal if it is too strong or has gone on for too long. That is not the message intended here. Even though everything on the list can be experienced by grieving parents, it is the strength of the feeling that must be addressed. If you, or those around you, feel like you are struggling in a way that you cannot manage alone, it is well worth considering talking to a therapist. When grieving people do consider counseling, oftentimes “self talk” or statements that are made in one’s head can get in the way. Statements like, “I shouldn’t need a crutch to get through this,” “I’ve always been so strong before and able to handle my own problems,” “Why should I have to pay someone to listen to me?” “Talking to a therapist will not bring my baby back so what’s the point,” or “If my faith was stronger I’d be better by now” are examples of negative self-talk. Doe any of those statements sound familiar?
It may be true that you are a very strong person and that you have always handled your own problems in the past , but it is also true that nothing has prepared any parent for their baby to die. Most parents struggle more with their baby’s death than they have ever struggled before. There is no comparing the grief brought on by the sudden, unexpected death of a baby to any other grief experience. Therefore, all those statements about functioning in the past or handling other difficult situations are in fact meaningless. There is no practice for this grief. If family members find themselves wanting or needing “extra” help coping with their grief, their relationships or anything else related to a baby’s death, it is very understandable, and actually to be expected.
So, the answer to the question, “If I go to a therapist does it mean that I’m, crazy”? is a resounding NO. It means that you want some help in handling a situation that is horrible and unthinkable. It means that you have decided to do something that will help you through dark days that seem to have no end.