This would be so much easier to write if I just rambled off a list of life events into a neat bullet-point format like one of those awful off-brand prescription medication infomercials at 3 AM. I'll be frank and say that's how my initial draft looked - just a bunch of bad things that could happen to people that would push them to a point of distress enough to call a stranger, set up an appointment, and pour their hearts out. I decided against that approach, though, namely because our problems are far more colorful and intricate than:
- Marital issues
- Children "acting out"
It doesn't make it false. Those five hand-picked examples are excellent reasons as to why a person, a couple, or a family should seek counseling. But just like our lives, our problems are also complex and demand complex solutions. Also, I feel as though we tend to read the list of possible problems and tell to ourselves "Yup! I have all of those things." That can unsurprisingly lead to lots of self-diagnosing and unnecessary anxiety.
I could imagine that if I would ask every single person I know and anyone who is reading this blog post to give me every reason why someone should get into counseling and compile that comprehensive list together, it would still not encapsulate the endless list of essential moments that would warrant someone to enter therapy.
Instead of presenting a handbag of common issues presented, I chose to provide some questions:
Is there a component of your life that you are significantly unsatisfied with? It could be associated with interpersonal, social, relational, physical, mental, emotional, academic, or professional struggles. If the answer is yes, then think of the ways in which you've tried to alleviate such dissatisfaction. What's worked? What made things worse? What haven't you tried? What are you willing to try? How long have you been suffering from this? Do you feel that this problem is solvable? Can you figure this out on your own? How much longer are you willing to deal with this? Do you have a plan to solve this problem? What will you need? How will you evaluate whether or not your plan is working? Can you hold yourself accountable to see that this plan turns to action?
People tend to enter therapy when they've tried everything else and nothing has worked. When things are critical and dire. And by this point, they usually don't even know where to start. I wouldn't recommend waiting that long. Answer these questions honestly. If you feel some uncertainty about any of your answers, then maybe you should see a counselor. Even if it's to just get some clarity on what it is that you really want and how you are going to make it happen.
Common Excuses Not to Seek Counseling
"I don't have the money or time."
I know first-hand that there are plenty of wonderful counseling agencies who provide excellent services with a flexible schedule for a sliding scale - sometimes even free. I would also like to ask - what price are you willing to put on your own wellness? Therapy is, more often than not, a life-altering experience that can cultivate opportunities for growth that can transcend relationships and punctuate our most difficult obstacles in a healthier manner. Whether it be time or money, it's important to invest in yourself. Even machines need maintenance sometimes.
"I went to a counselor one time and it was a terrible experience."
This one is particularly disheartening. People suffer for years before seeking proper help because of a bad therapist/client fit, a misunderstanding of the therapeutic process, or even a "bad counselor." Truth is, counselors are people too - some good, some bad. But giving up on mental health services because of one poor experience is like giving up on haircuts because your barber in sixth grade took some liberties with your sideburns. Unless if you plan on a ZZ Top cover band, you'd probably just find another barber. Share that perspective with counseling. Even before you schedule your first appointment - do some research. Ask about his or her therapeutic approach and see if he or she has a personality that would mesh well with yours. See if there is information readily available online. And recognize that this, like many things in life, takes time and work. Don't expect everything to be fixed in one session and embrace the process.
"I don't need to see why I would need to see a therapist. I can just get all this information from a book or website."
One of the misconceptions about therapy is that we're somehow these wise and masterful creatures that can somehow "fix" the problems of our clients. Though we may have advanced knowledge on particular issues such as marital distress or mental disorders and such, there is so much more to the process than simply providing information. Therapists empower, facilitate, and direct change through our experiences in session. We track progress, coordinate appropriate services, and provide a reservoir of strength and reassurance when needed so that our clients may become experts of their own lives.
"Therapy is for crazy people. I'm not crazy. I don't need a therapist."
"Crazy" is such a dismissive term. You shouldn't even begin entertain the idea of identifying therapy for just "crazy people." I've seen clients for quite some time, and I can say with confidence that none of them are crazy - because each one of them were strong enough, and fed up enough, to do something about it. Something brave and different. Didn't Albert Einstein famously say "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"?
"I don't want to trust a stranger with my personal information."
Understandable - but I must remind that, as mental health professionals, we are bound by ethical and legal standards to protect the confidentiality and privacy of our clients and will not share or use any information provided in the therapeutic process without the consent of the client unless if he or she is a harm to him/herself or someone else. Also, there's a benefit to the therapeutic experience in that it is shared with unbiased, seemingly anonymous figure. I like to think of it as sort of an experimental, nonjudgmental playground for your thoughts and emotions. We have a duty to protect the privacy of our clients in order to maintain the safe space that is talk therapy.
"I don't even know who to go to or where to start."
PsychologyToday is a great place to start. They can even filter options by insurance, specialty, location, etc. Do some digging. And ask around!
Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me if there are any other excuses you've heard of that were not mentioned or if you're considering counseling. And feel free to like and share!