The job that I do places me in an interesting position. Essentially, as a mental health counselor I have the great honor of walking with folks through various types of pain, struggles and mental health issues. I watch with a combination of emotions as segments of our culture misunderstand, misconstrue or shame the need for help, especially in regards to mental health.
And so, I hope to lend perspective as to what a counselor may see as you or someone you love reaches out for help. (Please note, this may not be representative of every counselor, but I believe of many).
So please--lean in, stay awhile, and let me tell you a few things about therapists.
First, we realize that the path to therapy can be fraught with difficulty. Simply put, it takes A LOT of courage to meet with someone you don't know to discuss pain or struggles. This is a big deal. Therapists realize that it takes time, energy and resources to get yourself into counseling and to stay with it. We see you putting yourself in a vulnerable position to do this and we honor the risk you take.
The other barrier that often keeps folks from seeking help, as mentioned above, is fighting against cultural stigmas. Sometimes those stigmas come from your family, friends and unfortunately even from your church. But current statistics state that 1 in 4 people struggle with mental illness (NAMI, 2013). What that means is that mental illness is real, you are not the only one struggling and we would be fools not to address these issues.
So with these statistics, we realize that it can be especially confusing when folks tell you to just be strong, have a good attitude, try harder or pray harder in the face of significant mental health issues. We know that when a person has a chronic illness in which medical intervention will address or alleviate the symptoms/illness that they are usually not told to "try harder." We wish the same for you; that you would know some issues are more complex than you may realize and it is okay to get treatment.
Therapists also know that sometimes the same parties that were mentioned above are the reason you are here.
We're so glad that you have some of those people; each of us need folks who will lovingly tell us the truth.
Often times, these precious people may have helped you to understand that they no longer have the tools and resources to help you through your current struggles, and they bless you as you look to folks with more training. This is fabulously healthy; listen to those around you when they earnestly share with you their limits.
But some folks don't yet have those people.
In fact, their greatest wounds are from relationships and it is hugely scary to even begin to scale this hurt. You who carry this weight around are seen too. And yet, an old therapy adage is that we are mostly hurt in relationship and so our most effective healing occurs in relationship.
With this in mind, one of the things you will (hopefully) learn in therapy is that each of us need a team, we need a tribe. No other person, not even a therapist, can "fix" our issues, but living in isolation will eventually rob us of life. None of us thrive or even survive when we have no relationship, for connection is written into our very core. So then, our goal is to create safety in our therapeutic relationship, so that if you walk around with gaping relational wounds, you can begin to start small and learn ways to healthfully connect.
Building on this last point, our connection with you is what we value most about our work.
Sure, we love to teach you healthy coping skills, delve into family system issues or discuss strategic ways to help different problems. But at the end of the day, we know that the reason you are willing to do work is because you trust us. In fact, most therapeutic theories agree that positive rapport with your therapist is one of the most vital ingredients to success (Corey, 2005). And so, for this reason, we want you to know that picking a therapist you feel comfortable with, and you believe you can work with, is so very important. While we typically hope you'll pick us (!!), mostly we just want you to find the help you need, even if it's with a different professional. So, be freed up, and choose wisely.
Finally, no matter where you are in your process, may I encourage you to know that none of us are finished? Counseling is not appropriate for everyone in all seasons of their life, but it is often appropriate for some. If any of the reasons named above have kept you from seeking treatment, my hope for you is that you would breathe deeply, call on your courage and begin asking for help.
Corey, G. (2005). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole-Thomas Learning.
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults. Retrieved May 13th, 2015 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml