top of page
  • Writer's pictureChristian Sarran

Unstigmatizing Brain Health

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Mental Health Stigma

I recently moved to the Dallas metroplex area this summer from East Texas and after a few months of exploring, I think I'm finally getting familiar with finding my way. I am that individual though who uses the navigation system for literally every trip, short or long, and often wonder, how did I ever survive the days of printing off MapQuest directions or to date even a paper map? As I have been exploring the city, I've noticed that a lot of external needs/wants places like gyms, spas, restaurants, retail shopping, and even hospitals are so easy to find! In contrast, when trying to find my office or other brain health*(mental health as most refer to) centers, they are often hidden in the back of buildings or areas that even your Google Maps system has difficulty trying to find. It is no secret that in the United States, physical health is at an all time decline with heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and other dis-eases(not at ease) ever so prevalent. At the same time, brain health challenges such as anxiety, depression, suicide, and divorce are at an all-time high with children and adults of all backgrounds. We have no shame in checking in on Facebook or posting the selfie while in the waiting room of a doctors office, but we stay off the social grid regarding our emotional needs because we feel shameful or vulnerable when sharing that with others. We've all seen the sign person in a costume doing cool tricks with the sign, trying to get us to come in for the pizza or phone repair special. It makes me wonder, what if there was a brain or heart costume person dancing in the street, flipping a sign that said, "Healing Available, Walk-Ins Welcome!", what would the response be? What if we could actually be ok with others seeing us drive into a counseling center the same way we drive into the gym to join a yoga class, workout, or get a massage (all helpful for brain health by the way) instead of scurrying through the door of a back alley building, hoping to not be seen when our emotional state is in dire need of healing.

Recognizing Shame

In order to work through the stigma of therapy, we have to address some underlying root distortions related to shame. When I work with clients, whether an athlete who missed an easy catch to win the game or an individual who just got out of an abusive relationship, shame often rises to the top. We hear of shame all the time, but it's mostly used in the wrong context. Let's start with guilt. Guilt is based on "what I do". A child who gets in trouble at school for hitting another student on the playground, causing injury, may feel guilty for hitting that student. However, too often, that child will shift from the thought of, "what I did was bad"(guilt) to a perception of "I am a bad kid"(shame). Shame is not solely based on what I do from a single incident, but rather an internal perception of who I am. The athlete who dropped the pass has gone from "I missed an opportunity"(guilt) to "I'm a failure to my team"(shame). In doing this, I encourage clients, especially parents to their children, to be careful with the language they use involving the often used labels "good" and "bad" and replacing it with "helpful" and "unhelpful". I believe the language we say to ourselves creates a shift in our nervous system and assists in being able to separate shame and guilt, giving us a new perception of ourself.

Taking Care of Our Emotional Vehicle

Sometimes we feel shame and guilt, but do not know why. It may or may not involve an incident that we can consciously remember. It is similar to our car's check engine light that sometimes comes on and is beyond something we can see with our own eyes. We trust the technicians to look inside the hood and scan for areas that need adjustments so the vehicle can get back on the road. We also have to look at our vehicle in the form of routine maintenance. I speak for myself and hopefully others in that we get our vehicle's oil changed to keep it efficiently running on the road and to address any blind spot areas such as needing fluids added, a filter replaced, or the tires inflated. Coming to therapy can be viewed like an oil change, it's not always because something is wrong with the car, but for routine maintenance to keep our emotional vehicle driving at it's best!

Moving Forward

While we may not see counseling centers front and center on main street in the near future, our culture is indeed moving the needle forward to prioritize brain health. Athletes and entertainers are stepping out in public, admitting the effects of stress or unresolved conflict in their life. Television ads are becoming more prevalent every year during prime time television hours, encouraging individuals to pay attention to family members, friends, and co-workers that don't seem to be themselves. The future of brain health therapy is very encouraging with the research and technology that we have today. Therapists are able to provide healing on a much deeper level than just traditional talk therapy through neuroexperiential modalities such as Brainspotting, EMDR(Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Internal Family Systems, as well other integrative research we now have with nutrition, somatic work, and sleep. We'll talk about this topic more in another post, but imagine being told you could work through past trauma without having to talk about it! Talk about reducing shame! The diversity of modalities and new research of brain health with technology is opening the door for unstigmatizing brain health and allowing us to keep our vehicle running at it's best!

* I use the term brain health instead of mental health due to the science showing that we must look at the brain as a whole, not just with changing thoughts, in relation to stress as well as it's connection to the heart. Stay tuned for more on that topic!

Christian Sarran

Licensed Professional Counselor and Peak Performance Coach

Sarran Counseling PLLC in Dallas, Texas

Christian Sarran/Counseling/Dallas, Texas

58 views1 comment

1 Comment

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Dec 08, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Congratulations Christian on a very well stated piece on Brain Health. I’m so happy and proud for you to share your immense talents and wisdom to help those in need.

Best of luck to you and your family.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Randy Stuart

bottom of page