How Do Clinical Psychologists Address Mental Health Stigma?


    How Do Clinical Psychologists Address Mental Health Stigma?

    In a field where stigma can significantly impact patient care, we've gathered insights from four mental health professionals on addressing this critical issue. From a Clinical Psychologist's perspective on validating beliefs and explaining diagnoses to a Nurse Practitioner's approach to promoting person-first language in treatment, discover the strategies these experts employ to combat mental health stigma in their practice.

    • Validate Beliefs and Explain Diagnoses
    • Foster Collaboration and Measure Progress
    • Normalize Mental Health Conversations
    • Promote Person-First Language in Treatment

    Validate Beliefs and Explain Diagnoses

    As a psychologist who performs formal evaluations, explaining various disorders to those who may not be open to certain diagnoses can be challenging. In addition, fighting misinformation that is so readily available on social media only adds to this challenge. I approach my clients in a way that is validating to someone's belief system while also explaining diagnoses and how these help to guide treatment. Typically, people want relief from their symptoms, and having an authentic conversation can help them better understand their or their child's mental health.

    Lisa Schultz
    Lisa SchultzClinical Psychologist, Schultz Behavioral Consultants

    Foster Collaboration and Measure Progress

    In our Austin-based practice with 50 therapists, we tackle mental health stigma by creating a welcoming environment in our offices and using person-centered language, referring to those we work with as 'clients' instead of 'patients.' This approach fosters a collaborative atmosphere that emphasizes individual strengths and holistic care, rather than focusing solely on mental health issues. By utilizing evidence-based treatments like EMDR and CBT, we underscore the scientific basis of therapy, helping to dispel misconceptions about mental health care—and clients get better faster.

    We regularly measure our clients' progress towards their goals, demonstrating the tangible results of therapy, further challenging the stigma that therapy lacks objective outcomes. We encourage our clients to recognize the value of their own actions, insights, and coping mechanisms in improving their mental health, empowering them and shifting the focus away from medication as the sole solution. Through these strategies, we not only reduce stigma but also promote a more nuanced understanding of mental health care.

    William Schroeder
    William SchroederCo-Owner, Just Mind

    Normalize Mental Health Conversations

    Mental health is at the heart of our discussions with the team and patients alike. Due to where our focus is, it is no surprise that we can often be dealing with discussions around trauma, pain, abuse, and heartbreak. In our spaces, there is no room for stigma, and we approach the subject as we would any other, normalizing the fact that it is a necessary part of what we do while taking care to be appropriate and gentle around it.

    While this is an expected part of the caring process for all the people who come to us, it is also a part of the consistent conversation we must have among the team, and it's important that all medical organizations take this just as seriously. It isn’t just the people who are being cared for, but also the carers who deserve the best level of support when dealing with consistently difficult conversations.

    Dr Lea Mcmahon
    Dr Lea McmahonChief Clinical Officer, Symetria Recovery

    Promote Person-First Language in Treatment

    As an addiction recovery expert, I understand that stigma is a major barrier to overcoming the challenges of addiction and overdose in the community I serve. Stigma can be cultivated by various sources, but one of the most powerful and pervasive is language. Language can create labels, stereotypes, and discrimination that affect the health and well-being of people with substance use disorder and interfere with the quality of care they receive in clinical settings.

    One of the ways I address the stigma of mental health in my practice is by using words that can reduce addiction stigma and promote person-first language. This means focusing on the person and not his or her condition, and avoiding disparaging or judgmental terms that imply moral failing or lack of willpower. For example, instead of calling someone an 'addict' or a 'junkie,' I refer to them as a 'person with substance use disorder' or a 'person in recovery.' Instead of saying someone is 'clean' or 'dirty,' I say they are 'in remission' or 'experiencing a relapse.' Instead of saying someone is 'on methadone' or 'on buprenorphine,' I say they are 'receiving medication treatment' or 'using medication-assisted therapy.' These subtle changes in language can make a big difference in how people perceive themselves and others, and how they access and engage in treatment.

    An example of how I have done this with a patient is when I met with a young woman who had been struggling with heroin use for several years. She had been referred to me by her primary care provider, who had prescribed her buprenorphine to help her manage her withdrawal symptoms and cravings. She told me that she felt ashamed and guilty for being 'on buprenorphine,' and that she worried about what her family and friends would think of her. She said she wanted to be 'clean' and 'normal' like everyone else. I explained to her that buprenorphine is a safe and effective medication that can help her recover from her substance use disorder, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of for using it. I told her that she is not 'on buprenorphine,' but rather she is 'receiving medication treatment' as part of her recovery plan. I also told her that she is not 'dirty' or 'abnormal,' but rather she is a 'person with substance use disorder' who is taking steps to improve her health and well-being. I encouraged her to use these terms when talking to herself and others, and to seek out support groups and resources that can help her cope with the stigma.

    Trent Carter
    Trent CarterNurse Practitioner, Founder, Curednation