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Stigma attached to seeing a psychologist

There is a stigma attached to seeing a psychologist. It’s warped and it’s inaccurate. My clients say this after they’ve met with me once. And many say they would say so after we’ve worked together for a while if there wasn’t a stigma attached to doing so. 

The sign on my office door indicates just my first and last name. It doesn’t state “Dr”, and it certainly doesn’t state “Psychologist.” This signage provides just enough information to help my clients find my office on their first visit.

My original motivation to keep my signage minimal sprang from the fact that I didn’t want to have break-ins. My professional designation is “R.Psych.,” which stands for Registered Psychologist, but most people who break into a “doctor’s office” don’t know this. Break-ins occur because desperate people are looking for narcotics, and I figured that keeping the “Dr.” off my door would minimize the likelihood of this happening to me.

But as time passed, I discovered that my clients really like that I don’t post my credentials on my door. Physicians post theirs. Lawyers post theirs. Accountants post theirs. A lot of psychologists post theirs, too. But my clients tell me they like that they can slip into my reception area without anyone knowing the business of their appointment.

I am sensitive to the notion that no one wants to be seen entering their psychologist’s office, especially by someone they know. For lots of people, seeing a psychologist for the first time is an act that takes a lot of courage. Being able to “slip in” without being noticed helps take the courage required down a notch, and I respect that.

But why is this? I don’t believe anyone would break out in a cold sweat if someone saw them entering their physician’s office. Or their lawyer’s. Or their accountant’s. I expect most of us would stop and chat to the person who saw us in these places if we saw them, too. They might even comment on why they were there, saying it was time for their yearly physical, or they had to update their will, or were being audited by Revenue Canada.

So why all the secrecy around seeing a psychologist? In truth, most of my clients see me for reasons that aren’t terribly embarrassing. Or do I have that wrong? Maybe it’s embarrassing to say that you’re dealing with burnout because your job is demanding, or you’re getting support because your parent has dementia, or you’re struggling with an issue like chronic pain.

I realize the list I just gave isn’t highly personal, but I did this on purpose. God forbid you see a psychologist for help with depression, which affects 20% of people during their lives.

I wish that society saw “seeing a psychologist” as an act of mental health. Kind of like seeing a physician. I wish they said “But of course,” “Good for you,” and maybe even “Would you recommend her?”

I also wish that people didn’t have to summon courage to see a psychologist for the first time. Wouldn’t it be nice if people could get the help they need on a psychological and emotional level that they can get on a physical level, a legal level, and a financial level without having to experience shame?

— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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