All about us: acknowledging mental illness, psychotherapy, stigma, and shame

Sawyer, Annita

This article explores compromising effects of stigma regarding mental illness and, by association, psychotherapy. Using examples from her years as a young psychiatry patient decades earlier, the author describes her own attitude, which reflected that stigma. This self-prejudice – shame and fear of stigma – compelled her to hide her hospital history and ongoing psychotherapy for most of her life. Many respected mental health professionals confide similar fears and avoid disclosure to protect themselves and their reputations. The author posits that medical professionals’ high status in our society offers each of us an opportunity to modify that stigma, if we dare to acknowledge personal psychological struggles and involvement in psychotherapy. Framing the essay, a recent exchange from the author’s psychotherapy practice illustrates both the potential of disclosure to encourage participation, and the powerful stigma that ultimately overwhelmed her patient’s willingness to pursue treatment, underscoring our responsibility as professionals to act.


Also Published In

Columbia Medical Review

More About This Work

Academic Units
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University
Published Here
August 25, 2015