Last month, a new friend told me about his therapy experience over dinner. I'm used to people telling me about their therapy, but the next day, my friend sent me a text to remind me to keep our conversation confidential. That got me wondering about how people perceive therapy--is seeing a mental health professional still stigmatized, or is psychotherapy accepted as normal these days? To find out, I decided to take a poll to see how many of my peers had been to therapy (and were willing to admit it).
Method: I posted the following as my Facebook status two or three times in one week: "Informal research project: Have you ever been in family, group, or individual therapy? Send me an email to say yes or no." The response rate was low (n = 8) so I created a Facebook event and invited all of my Facebook friends (n = 154). I sent two reminder emails within the following month.
Participants: I received 48 responses, 60% from women (n = 29) and 40% from men (n = 19); participants ranged in age from 25 to 48 years. Sixty-three percent of respondents lived in Montreal at the time of the poll (although a few others were former Montrealers), and 83% were Anglophone. Seventy-nine percent of respondents were white and urban, with post-secondary education; the other 21% were two of those three things.
Results: Fifty-eight percent of respondents (n = 28) reported that they had been to therapy. Most of those in the affirmative camp responded with a simple yes, but some further confided that they had sought therapy subsequent to a break-up or other crisis, had gone to couples therapy with their partner or former partner, or had been sent to therapy as a child during their parents' divorce. Interestingly, more than a few respondents in the no camp added that they maybe should seek therapy, or that they would like to.
The gender statistics revealed little. Of the respondents who said yes, 58% were women and 42% were men. Of those who said no, 65% were women and 35% were men. These numbers reflect the overall gender ratio in the sample of respondents, and don't suggest that one gender is more likely than the other to have been to therapy. Of the female respondents, 55% said yes and 45% said no. Of male respondents, 63% said yes and 37% said no. These numbers reflect the overall proportion of yes and no responses, and don't seem to suggest anything about gender and psychotherapy.
Discussion: Nearly 60% of respondents acknowledged having gone to therapy at some point in their life. Although this seems like a pretty straightforward result, it's possible that the stats were falsely inflated by selection bias (i.e., I'm friends with the kind of people who go to therapy) and/or by self-selection bias (i.e., people with therapy experience were more likely to respond). Alternatively, it's possible that the actual statistics of therapy attendance are much higher, but that people who seek therapy don't want to admit to it, even anonymously (i.e., maybe every single one of the 106 non-respondents has been to therapy!). I also don't know whether or not the results indicate that it's common among my peers to seek therapy, because I don't know how many respondents independently sought psychotherapy in adulthood, and how many were sent to a therapist during their childhood. I wish I had been more specific with my question!
Conclusion: Even with the identified limitations to the research design, I feel comfortable concluding that psychotherapy is statistically normal among youngish white, urban, educated adults. I hope that this finding demonstrates that therapy is for normal people, and contributes to the destigmatization of psychotherapy.
What do you think? Are you surprised? Are you convinced?