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  • 9 Filipino Misconceptions About Therapy & Counseling

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    Filipinos perceive therapy as a platform for the weak.

    You don’t have to lift a finger to invite Filipinos in social gatherings. Fiestas, birthdays, bingo nights, casinos and a baby’s you- don’t- even- know -the -name baptism are filled with Filipinos looking for an excuse to celebrate.

    But, try gatherings that elicit conversations around parenting or mental health, and there you would find empty seats and gymnasiums that echo as the keynote speaker speaks.

    “Yung masaya na lang,” a friend will say when a conversation starts going too deep for her comfort.

    It’s more fun in the Philippines slogan is true but it’s also reality that life in the Philippines can be hard unless you belong to the clan of the rich and the super rich.

    When you have little control over the law of the land, and you have to take a second look to distinguish politics and soap opera,

    You resolve to “masaya na lang,” when you can because- why not.  It eases the stresses of the day and gives you permission to laugh out loud your miseries away.

    The Impractical Side of Seeking Out Mental Health

    Recently the Mental Health Law Act,  Republic Act 11036 was signed in the Philippines. This law will “set the path for the government’s policy in integrating mental healthcare in the country’s public healthcare system, “ according to an article from The Rappler.

    I am hopeful about this law and yet understand that any cultural paradigm shift takes time. So, I will continue to speak in the present tense about our mental health pulse in the Philippines as if it’s non-existent,  since the process of integration is still in its infancy.

    I belong to the middle class in the  Philippines; its technically my parents but you know what I mean. My father was from a humble, poor family in Marinduque and my mother from a Chinese-Irish background from Manila. Both my parents started business ala grassroot and work themselves up to be successful business owners. Despite, my privilege and education, I didn’t grow up being taken to the doc on a regular, scheduled visit, as they would in the States & other Western  countries. In fact, I had a car accident when I was 5 (read more on this post: Redefining Resiliency- Allowing our Children to Say Aray When It Hurts), and other than vicks-vaporub rubbing and TLC from my mother, not once did a stethoscope touch my body due to this incident.

    I don’t fault my parents though, they did what they knew.

    This does not mean though that your children do not deserve more from you.

    If you go to the Philippines, the middle class to the rich are educated enough NOW  to know how to set-up an appointment and follow through with well-child/adult exams. Many other clinics are still on a first-come-first-serve basis, and almost all do not operate on an insurance basis payment rather rely on an out of pocket payment system.

    Even with your understanding that prevention and early detection to any disease is key,  I wonder how many times you’d successfully get yourself to the doc if you knew cash needs to spill out of your pocket so that treatment can be received. . My guess is, not likely.   It’s not only expensive; it can also be time-consuming.

    In the States, you could have a few things on your checklist and get most of them done if not all because processes are more seamless in the industrialized world. You can guestimate your travel time to the post office, to get groceries and then round trip back home.

    In the islands, you have to give way to traffic, so if you had 5 things on your to-do-list, checking off 2 is a stellar day. If none at all because you were just stuck in  traffic for 3 hours, oh well, better luck next time (as many Pinoys like to say).

    Informal Mental Health Support for Filipinos

    The access to receiving support whether physical or mental brings about many practical hurdles that leaves no room for its consideration. They must be relieved first or concurrently,  before outreach on the mind-set can be lured to.

    If you grew up in the Philippines, you understand that the term barkada especially if you belong to one, is a term of endearment, connection and camaraderie. You immediately establish connection by stating, “Ay si ganito, barkada ko yan!” (this person is a close friend of mine).

    When I was growing up , I relied on my barkada for solace, for comfort and  when my heart got broken, I sought the most beautiful, unbiased advice like, it’s his loss not yours, hmmmp!”

    In a way, barkadas become your lifeline, the counselor or therapist whose listening ears don’t cost you per hour. They’re free. No first come first serve basis policy and better than the 24/7 crisis hotline who can even do home visits if need be.

    The Filipino Counselors- Fast, Quick and in a Flash

    It’s not true though that we evade all kinds of counselor in our Filipino culture. Many islanders are aware of school career counselors, the priest counselor and even annulment counselors. We also prefer the manghhilot (one who uses the art of touch to relieve someone’s pain or ailment) and the mangtatawas over our therapist/Mental Health Clinicians as we know them in the West.

    All of these Counselors promise a quicker, more tangible solution to many Filipinos’ problems. The school career counselor, the promise to find your career match. The priest counselor, the spiritual guidance to change things you can or accept the things you cannot change with grace. The annulment counselor, the promise to help you sort out your marital strife or  complete your court required paperwork to proceed with the annulment process in the nick of time. The manghihilot or mangtatawas both have the promise to cure, to relieve pain or to drive those bad omens away.

    It’s no surprise that seeking counseling/therapy seems to be a distance-away option to manage Filipino mental health. The physical barriers that come into play is no joke and our cultural conditioning of shame (more about this on another post, stay tuned) is thick in our blood stream. But, shame doesn’t t have to stay thick in our blood stream, it can be diluted with knowledge and education, along with new found experiences.

    Filipino Mental Health Misconception

    Many of Filipinos’ Misconception about Mental Health lies in stories we have been told, once or over and over again. The fortunate thing about stories is they can be untold and be re-scripted. To unscript them, you must be aware of some of your misconceptions about mental health. Here are some of them:

    1. I must be crazy.

    If have diabetes and needs insulin shots, it’s quite crazy to skip the doc  and concoct your own insulin remedy. In the Philippines, hospital & government institutions for the  mentally challenged are burnt out with minimal funding and overworked staff, and those who get help usually have to be in the brink of their mental health condition. Therefore, the term “crazy” is true to the traditional Filipino; the viewpoint that someone should be talking & spitting at the wall before they can get help. This story though is not always the true story.  Many individuals who seek therapy/counseling are normal people having mental health challenges like overwhelming stress or depression. They look just like you and me.

           2. Nakakahiya. I will  embarrass myself and my family.

     Those who truly love you might be in initial shock when you tell them that you have anxiety attack problems and is seeing a therapist. Those who stay long enough in this state, do so in the act of self-protection rather than from pure love. So, this one is a good test on whose company you should keep. Be kind though and give enough space for their curiosity and answer their questions if this feels good to you. In addition, the earlier you seek therapy, the better off you are. If you’re so fixated on how others will perceive you, then all the more reason you should see therapist before your symptoms get worse.

            3. If I continue to be patient and endure my pain (tiis), it will go away.

    The truth is, time does not heal all wounds; it’s what you do with time that helps you cope. Some problems may go away but if they keep showing up again whether in different forms or in different relationships please, seek help.

    4. All I need is to pray about all my pains and problems and it will go away.

    Prayers and meditation can work wonders but sometimes, they’re not enough. Many priests, and religious lay workers (not all) have the compassion and the spiritual resiliency to support you in your spiritual conflict but not necessarily the training that comes with the complexity of treating a mental health condition. Therapists are trained to work with the whole person especially relieving you with your stress and overwhelm.

           5. There is a reason why this is happening to me. It’s meant to me, otherwise, I won’t     be going through this.

    Many times, there is value in finding reason on what we are going through. This is a not a bad thing. However, to embrace this thought process without reflection, trial and error and finding out

    What could work or not, is a way to short-cut the discomfort you may feel from discovering yourself along the way. You didn’t  do anything to deserve your mental health challenge, allow me to reassure you on this.. Therapy supports you in the process of self-discovery and doesn’t prove to be pain-free It proves to be helpful in finding you, helping you break free from the bondage that you (or perceived others) have on you.

         6. Seeing a therapist means I’m weak and I can’t deal with my own problems.

    In the Filipino culture, many stories have been passed on to curb a child’s tendency to cry out for help. We reward those who are most obedient and the squeaky wheel (contrary to the western culture) gets a bad look from dear mama (uy, makuha ka sa tingin!). We all feel weak on certains days; this is ok. The feeling weak doesn’t constitute a person who is weak. This story may seem true, but it’s not. In my practice as a Psychotherapist, I have met the strongest, most resilient women/families;  they have been my best teachers in my clinical practice. They are many things to me and those who know them described them as-survivor, resilient, compassionate, lively, abundant, and co-healers, none of which makes up the definition of being weak.

            7. Confidentiality? Ano yun?

    Filipinos rely on barkada, and their neighbor for support. This too can be a strength. But, relying solely on informal support system is hard to sustain and is not without strings attached. People close to us want to relieve us of pain, and our hurts can be a discomfort to them. Even the most level-headed barkada will have the tie of loyalty to you, and their recommendation can’t help but be tainted with that. In the Filipino culture, tsismis becomes the  support group because its a platform to let your steam out, back-stabbing style. It may initially make you feel good until it bites you in the back because no one is immune from being the main character in the tsismis saga. In America, I find that Filipinos still struggle with the concept of Confidentiality. It’s hard to believe that their “stuff” will not be exposed in the Philippine Inquirer (this is a newspaper). Confidentiality is a law that protects your information to being shared with others without your consent. In therapy, you are in control and your information is safe (there are 5 limits to confidentiality, read about it here).

    8. Mind over Matter lang Yan!

    You didn’t wake up one day inviting the  feelings of stress and depression. If you could talk yourself out of your misery, you probably did so a long time ago. Most of us know that you can verbally tell your mind that taking another bite of that newhey, yummy donut is not the best thing for your health, but does this stop you in our tracks? Perhaps sometimes but not always. Stress and negative talk takes more than just a pep talk with our minds to stay strong or look the other way. Therapy does not only provide you short-term relief but the long-lasting effect you’ve been longing for so that mornings don’t become a guessing game-How would I feel today? In therapy, you work hard now so that you don’t have to keep working hard to chase your joy for the rest of your life This one, my friend, is a waste of your time.

           9. Therapy is expensive.

    There are various  options now for therapy and many more insurance companies have authorized for its coverage.  Call your insurance company to be informed on your coverage, limits, and your share of costs. There are Mental Health Clinicians (licensed psychotherapist, psychologists & occasionally Psychiatrist) in your area than you probably realize. Research and asks questions. Most therapist offer  a free call consultation, take advantage of this. Therapy On-line is also a great option; this is therapy without having to leave your home through your phone, tablet or computer. Some private practice may not take insurance, and you may have to shoulder the session fee out of pocket. Treatment can range from $90-200. In my practice, I see people longer per session (usual therapy sessions are 50 minutes), 75 to 90 minutes are mine. I prefer to see clients longer per session and therefore a  shorter treatment duration overall, no more than 8 sessions if at all possible. I prefer to relieve clients of their mental health challenge the soonest possible. This means providing effective interventions and intensive collaborative work with my clients so that they can be released back to their normal lives, joyful, whole and equipped with the tools to maintain their self-care.

    Therapy can be a temporary cost but the expense of not receiving it,  is highly more costly than not taking advantage of it. Stressed out mamas, screaming parents, struggling marriages and children raised to feel not good enough is too much of a pricey cost to exchange.  With this lens, therapy is a cheap option to take.

    If your curious about therapy, try it out, do an experiment and see for yourself. My suggestion though is not to put all your eggs in one therapist. Meaning, if you don’t have a good connection with your first one, try a second and even a third one. Research shows that rather than the mode of treatment (this is important but secondary) , the patient-therapist relationship is most crucial to your healing.

    If you have any questions specific to therapy/counseling, send me a message in the comment section on your right. If you want a free 20-minute consultation, set up an appointment here.

    As always, thank you for lending me your ear. If you think this post can help out others, go ahead and click one of the social media icons below. Salamat!

    Sa Uulitin,


    About Roanne

    Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.

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