The Ego as a Barrier to Mental Health Treatment

A Close Look at the Clinical Stages of Change

The ego, the psychological concept of one’s self-esteem and self-importance, can often serve as a significant obstacle in seeking and receiving mental health treatment. The clinical stages of change is a well-established model in psychotherapy that outlines the process individuals undergo when attempting to modify their behavior. By understanding how the ego can impede progress in each stage, mental health professionals and individuals can work together to overcome this barrier and facilitate better outcomes in mental health treatment.


The first stage, precontemplation, is marked by denial and a lack of awareness that a problem exists. In this stage, the ego often prevents individuals from acknowledging the need for change. The ego may fuel self-deception and rationalization, enabling individuals to justify their behaviors or circumstances. This defense mechanism can hinder the process of recognizing the necessity of seeking mental health treatment.


In the contemplation stage, individuals begin to acknowledge their problems and consider the possibility of change. However, the ego can still be a barrier as it might manifest in feelings of shame or embarrassment. Fear of judgment or stigma surrounding mental health can lead individuals to dismiss or downplay their issues. The ego may also reinforce a false sense of self-reliance, convincing them that they can handle their problems without professional help.


During the preparation stage, individuals may start to research mental health treatment options and take initial steps towards change. The ego can interfere in this stage by fostering a fear of vulnerability or the belief that opening up to a mental health professional is a sign of weakness. This fear can lead individuals to postpone or avoid seeking help, as they might perceive that admitting to needing support is an admission of failure or defeat. Additionally, the ego may prompt individuals to focus on the potential risks or negative aspects of therapy, causing them to feel overwhelmed and hesitant to pursue treatment.


In the action stage, individuals begin to engage in mental health treatment. The ego can manifest in resistance to the therapy process, reluctance to be vulnerable, and difficulty accepting feedback or insights from mental health professionals. An inflated sense of self-importance can also hinder individuals from fully committing to the therapeutic process, leading to inconsistent attendance or engagement in therapy sessions.


The maintenance stage involves sustaining the changes made during therapy and integrating them into daily life. The ego can be an obstacle in this stage by fostering complacency or overconfidence, leading individuals to believe they no longer need ongoing support or therapy. This mindset can increase the risk of relapse or regression in mental health progress.

The ego can serve as a significant barrier to entering and engaging in mental health treatment, impacting each stage of the clinical stages of change. By recognizing and addressing the ego’s influence throughout the process, both mental health professionals and individuals seeking help can facilitate more effective treatment outcomes. Encouraging open communication, promoting self-awareness, and fostering an environment that supports vulnerability can help to mitigate the ego’s negative impact and empower individuals to take control of their mental health journey.

If you have questions about our recovery model or how to finance our services to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and similar mental illnesses, call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.