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The “Cheaper Than Therapy” Fashion Trend: Not a Joke


In the last few months, I’ve noticed that the women’s clothing departments in several mainstream clothing’s stores selling T-shirts with a slogan that decrees a certain activity is “cheaper than therapy”.  I’ve personally seen yoga, running, gardening and wine all being advertising as a therapy substitute. It’s not only in the stores; as I further researched this clothing trend, I discovered that there are many internet merchants that sell a plethora of shirts, novelty items and e-cards that proclaim something is cheaper than therapy.  This tongue-in-cheek marketing technique use these products to call attention to how fun, stress relieving and therapeutic this activity is while comparing it to something that our society has labeled as an expensive luxury. These slogans are meant to be humorous but the underlying message continues to add to the stigma of mental health issues. Examples of these types of products are displayed below:

While exercise like running, yoga and weight lifting do have many psychological benefits, they are no replacement for professional mental heath services.  If  these slogans claim that therapy can be so easily substituted with other more enjoyable activities than they are implying that therapy is an ineffective, unneeded and overpriced service. In other words, they are degrading a medically and psychologically valid practice to something that can be traded for a fun hobby or even food or drink.

This perpetuates the stereotype that people with mental health disorders need to “just get over it” or “get out of their own heads” thereby making the activity or product that the slogan is selling the anecdote a person with distressing mental health symptoms can just use to “pick themselves up”.  This ridicules those who are or have been in therapy, calling them weak in their inability to face their problems alone. The slogans seem to say “if those in therapy had more resolve they would be exercising and drinking their feelings away instead of having to ask for help”. It’s also very dangerous and irresponsible to tell the 18 million (one in every 12 people) in the United States with alcohol dependence that alcohol is better choice than therapy.

While some of these slogan T-shirts are sold to men, the majority are geared towards women. The shirt implies if the wearer doesn’t exercise, garden or part take in their vice of choice, they will become mentally unstable. This stems from the ancient stereotype that women are innately irrational and  overly emotional.  The wearer, a woman, will return to her “natural crazy” state if she stops the particular activity that is cheaper than therapy.

Pigeonholing therapy as only for the stressed-out is another area where these slogans go wrong. While exercise and unwinding with a glass of wine or guilty pleasure may be a great way to relieve stress at the end of a long day but stress management isn’t the only reason people go to therapy. There are thousands of reasons why people seek out the council of a therapist and they simply can’t be cured with a jog and a glass of pinot.

These slogans give fuel to the already widely-believed misconception that therapy is overpriced and the average person won’t be able to afford it.  While therapy does come at a cost, not treating a serious mental health disorder is a much bigger price to pay. Contrary to what these T-shirt slogans will have you believe, someone’s bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder is not going to be managed simply by adhering to the cheaper options of running, eating burritos or drinking wine. It is wishful thinking to believe or promote the idea that it would.

Throughout the month of May, www.rtor.org will release a daily Post
of the Day in observance of Mental Health Awareness Month

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3 thoughts on “The “Cheaper Than Therapy” Fashion Trend: Not a Joke

  1. Mary Mohr says:

    I know these shirts are meant to be humorous but they do de-value the importance of talk therapy. In an overmedicated society we need emphasize the need for therapy in conjunction with medications.

  2. Lisa Butler says:

    I appreciate your point, especially as someone with mental illness. It seems that as a society, we place mental health at two ends of a spectrum. On one end is the folly which you have described and on the other end, the fear, blame and shame. It’s so meaningful when harmful social norms are challenged. Thank you!

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