In 2004, a study showed that nearly half of American households included someone who received mental health treatment—a number that has most certainly risen in the last 13 years. While many believe the stigma around mental health and psychotherapy is in a steady decline, there's no denying that the mainstream media has never really been kind to therapists. From the neurotic Frasier Crane to Betty Draper's two-faced shrink, from the delusional never-nude Tobias Funke to that whole Tony Soprano-Dr. Melfi-Dr. Kupferberg situation, television execs seem particularly determined to set therapy back a few decades. (Thanks, Dr. Phil.)
"There is no image out there of a therapist being presented as a safe, uplifting being, rather than someone who is toxic and going to take advantage of you," says Los Angeles-based therapist Siri Sat Nam Singh.
As the star and guiding light of VICELAND's The Therapist, Singh is hoping to offer a new view of the profession through a series of candid sessions with a varied group of high-profile musicians. Over the course of the series, Singh sits down with everyone from Slipknot's Corey Taylor and Wavves' Nathan Williams to Remy Ma and Waka Flocka Flame to discuss issues ranging from coping with family trauma to dealing with public scrutiny to finding harmony and balance within ourselves. Singh's practice is a holistic one, rooted in Eastern medicine and grounded in compassionate listening, and it's providing a game-changing look at how and why therapy exists.
"[The show] is an affirmation that empathy works," Singh says. "In my practice, I'm trying to being empathetic to everybody who is sitting in front of me, and it's given me this understanding that everybody is doing the best they can in every moment of the day. Sometimes we do things or make decisions or say things that don't get the effect that we want, but that lets us know that we've got more work to do. Still, empathy is what is connecting me to this diverse population, and it's very empowering to see the power of it."
With the recent, likely anti-depressant-related death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, now seems like an especially fitting time to recontextualize how the media—and the music industry in particular—discuss mental health treatment. Here, we speak to Singh about the pitfalls of celebrity, the darkness of creativity, and his advice for maintaining a successful spiritual practice.
Noisey: Your sessions tend to unpack a lot of emotional baggage. Would you mind talking a bit about how you approach a new client?
Siri Sat Nam Singh: With a client I'm in all three arenas: heart, soul, and spirit. I go down to the soulful—to the dark moods, the secrets, the dark feelings, the things you push into the shadows. I also go into the heart: can you feel yourself? Do you know your passions? What makes you happy? Then I go up into spirit and light: how we can lift beyond this and begin to see the good in life?
Why do you think creative people in particular tend to suffer from mental health issues?
I think creativity is a very spiritual thing. You're going out there into those high arenas that put you in direct connection with creative consciousness. Higher consciousness, creativity, uniting with the creator is very spiritual, very uplifting, and very beyond. If you haven't worked on your personal self, there could be a certain amount of unbalance when you come back from that realm. It's so interesting. Artists are so out there, and they get some fame and they're in the public eye. They're living their lives large—on screen, in the media—and we hear about their challenges and their dysfunctions all the time. They don't have the time and space to hide because we get it all, and because people live vicariously through stars. Their dysfunction is our dysfunction.
Do you think artists are more prone to mental health issues, or is it the culture of celebrity that exacerbates them?
I don't know if they're more prone to mental health problems. I think fame and money and attention could activate some symptoms within you. [Fame] creates a whole new way you have to be in the world, and you can only go to your peers to help you, because the average person just hasn't been through that. I've been working on myself for quite a few years, and the disconnect for me comes when people don't work on themselves. I don't understand it. [Our minds] are like our houses. If you don't clean your house it gets dusty and stinky and filthy. If you don't clean your mind—through reading books or calming exercises or meditation—you don't grow. In Western civilization it's all about matter: Everyone is trying to get rich, everyone is trying to buy the house and get the paper. Thus we lose consciousness in spite of the fact that we really are spirits as much as we are matter.
On and off the show, you deal with a number of celebrity clients. What have you taken away from treating people in the public eye?
In working with wealthy people I've come to understand deeply that money does not make you happy because it is outside of you. You have to find the wealth inside of you, the joy inside of you. If you come into a relationship with the richness inside of you, that will eventually manifest on the outside. But if you work towards richness on the outside and not the inside, there's a disconnect. We see these great entertainers killing themselves, and we go, 'How can that happen?' They have Tonys and Grammys and Oscars, but they haven't taken themselves along with their success.
There's an open dialogue about drugs, alcohol, and addiction on the show. How do you approach substance issues in people dealing with depression or anxiety?
[Drugs and alcohol] are a limited, ineffective way of dealing with your challenges, your concerns, your mental and emotional imbalances. It's a temporary escape and a form of medication, and I've seen so many artists get lost in it because it doesn't work. Because you have to keep doing it and keep doing it, and then you have to do more just to get the same effect. I believe [conquering addiction] is about finding techniques that uplift you without doing detriment to your body, so you can maintain that lifestyle and all the pressures that fame can bring. Most importantly, you have to be grounded in yourself.
How do you respond to artists that argue that sadness and depression aid in their creativity?
I think it's true. From my perspective, all art is dark. The dark feelings, the dark moods really are ripe for creativity. That's also why [creativity] is so therapeutic. To go into those dark moods and those dark feelings and express them is very therapeutic. Even with acting—to go through those dark moods that you personally go through and put them outside of yourself and into a character is very therapeutic. I would say they're correct.
You mentioned working on yourself. What does your mental health maintenance routine look like, and what do you suggest to others?
I practice yoga and meditation, and I've been doing that for over 30 years. I get up early, usually before the sun, and I mediate and do yoga and prayers for about two and a half hours a day. I also study the Akashic records. Then just in living, I'm always trying to be kind to others and be as conscious as I can in all of my interactions. I've tried to be very keen in my perceptions—what to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say. My word, which I hope is never taken out of the dictionary, is "effective." That's where I live; I just want to be effective, especially in my communication. I think that ties very much into being a therapist because we very much have to be word masters. I can use one wrong word and really trigger something negative in a client. It also requires a sensitivity, so throughout the day I'm honing my skills and working on myself, because every second of the day is a gift. Today, tomorrow, is promised to no one, so the time I have I try to live consciously. There's a spiritual principle that if you give a tenth of your money to the divine you will be protected on Earth, but if you give a tenth of your day to the divine, then you'll be protected by the divine.
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