Mental Health. Psychologist. Therapy. What comes to mind when you hear these terms can vary according to race, culture, education, socioeconomic status among other factors.
In general, the amount of misconception, stigma, and avoidance associated with mental health and how it affects our lives and the lives of those around us continues to soar – when it should be declining. From diagnosis to treatment – it has seemingly been difficult for people to be on the same page when it comes to mental health since the beginning of time.
The stigma associated with mental health has been prevalent, and we’ve only seen it worsen as time goes on. We must take a look at the historical context of it all to better understand why people respond the way they do. There was a time when if you were diagnosed with a mental illness, you were labeled “crazy.”
An image of someone in a white straight jacket was forever stamped in the minds of those who knew you suffered. In considering therapy, it’s hard to establish a relationship with a professional when you go into it thinking that they think you’re “crazy.”
It affects the nature of the relationship before the relationship even begins.
Because, who wants to talk to someone who thinks they’re mentally and emotionally superior?
A relationship with a psychologist needs to be based on more than a recommendation. It needs to be based on trust. It needs to be based on rapport. Dr. Michael Friedman is a clinical psychologist who has been studying how psychological processes impact us as individuals and as a society for over 25 years, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. And why should he?
We need mental health professionals who “get it.” And he gets it.
He’s the founder of Hardcore Humanism, a revolutionary approach to human development and change. He’s authored and co-authored several academic papers and book chapters and has presented his work at both national and international conferences.
He also writes a blog, “Brick by Brick: Your Path To Hardcore Humanism,” for Psychology Today, in which he interviews celebrities regarding their emotional, social, and physical health – so it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.
So what makes Dr. Friedman unique?
For starters, he’s found a way to combine formal education and experience with his own personal and humanistic approach to take talk therapy to another level.
When considering Dr. Friedman’s approach one thing is clear, establishing a relationship with a psychologist is just like any other relationship. Trust, rapport, and clarity are not just bonuses – they are essential. When it comes to working with mental health as a profession, it has to be a calling. When children are faced with the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up,” you’ll hardly ever hear them say a psychologist.
You’d think a profession dedicated to a human’s emotional and mental health would be just as desirable as one that tends to the physical body. If you consider that, you can agree that being a psychologist means you’re dedicated to addressing the core of people’s existence – it should be something you have a genuine concern and passion for.
One thing is for certain though, however, a psychologist finds themselves landing on that career path – they’re needed. Dr. Friedman didn’t always know he wanted to be a psychologist and serve people in the way he does now. In fact, throughout his studies, he bounced around between different paths including law, but it just didn’t resonate with him like his psychology courses did.
“Every time I took a psychology class it was just that feeling that I belonged there,” he says. Over time he began to realize psychology was his sweet spot.
And boy was it. Dr. Friedman’s approach is what makes him different. He’s dealt with addressing depression, anxiety, relationships, weight issues, medical illness, substance abuse and so much more.
He has no problem reminding us that Freud said people were evil, Skinner said people were empty, and Rogers said people were good, to show some of the contrasting perspectives when it comes to psychology. He relates best to Rogers, but takes his ideas a step further.
He focuses on figuring out how to clear the way for people to discover who they are and who they want to be. Purpose. We all have certain fears of things like boredom or death, but purpose can make us feel more connected. It’s the combination of it all.
He asks his clients the important questions. Who are you? What are you trying to do? How do you cope with things? What concerns you most? He’s focused on humans developing or discovering an authentic sense of purpose and self. He knows he has a certain level of expertise, but he still believes, “you’re the expert on you.”
He truly believes we’re our own lab. You can even say he promotes a great deal of self-reflection. One major topic as of recent when it comes to the conversation of mental health is relatability. Much of the apprehension when it comes to seeking out mental help comes from this underlying fear that you’re coming to someone about problems that they may or may not understand.
If someone is an African American woman should their psychologist mirror that? Dr. Friedman believes that if it doesn’t feel right then don’t do it. If it mirrors you, then it’s important.
“If it matters to you, then it matters.”
He believes when it comes to seeing a psychologist, we can feel when something is right – or vice versa. He also absolutely agrees that there should be more diversity in psychology, if for no other reason than representation. His priority is having understanding and humility for all sides, which allows him to relate to people from all walks of life, but he’s not blind to the fact that every psychologist isn’t that way.
It’s refreshing to know that when it comes to his clients, for him it starts with who they are. If you’re a musician, he leads with the art. That’s important to him. Although he remains a professional when it comes to things like assessment, experiments, testing, and referencing existing science as far as medication versus talk therapy, he maintains a balance where he considers that everyone is different, and each case is different.
What matters is that his clients are comfortable. Dr. Friedman is the psychologist that makes you want to make an appointment, even if you’ve never thought of making one before. He doesn’t shy away from debate or stating his opinion as many other psychologists do, and we could use someone like that. It’s important that we can relate. It’s important that we can trust. It’s important that we know who we sit down with is a real person, and that they have our best interests at heart – without judgment.
Be clear though, when it comes to your mental health you are still required to put in the work. It’s a team effort; it’s collaborative. But it makes it that much better when both you and someone who is dedicated to helping you fully show up.
Photos by Yasmine Anderson, Styling by Breona Moore