As a lifelong student of mental health and wellness, I am amazed at how far the field has come in reducing stigma around mental illness. However, despite significant gains in research and the popularity of self-care, it remains apparent that we still have a long way to go before we can fully overcome the generally accepted ideas about mental health as it relates to the counseling process in general. I have listed 3 common reasons why many people will never see a mental health professional—weather they need to or not.
- Counseling is for crazy people and I’m not crazy
There is such a fear of someone having their “crazy” confirmed that even if a person needs help, he or she will often reason they don’t because they aren’t in fact crazy. Meanwhile, their “invisible” issue continues to plague them and those they love. Why would anyone rather suffer with a mental illness than get the help they need, you ask? I have found this is because they don’t understand the counseling process, nor do they have any frame of reference for it other than what is shown on television, which is not as accurate as it could be. These are the types of people who are determined to avoid a stigmatizing label (which is most of us).
Fortunately, most universities are aware of this and instruct their counseling students to help new clients understand the counseling process during intake to calm any preconceived notions that may stunt their progress during treatment. Not one class during my training instructed me to set out to figure out what is wrong with someone. To the contrary, all my classes taught me to carefully assess a client’s presenting concerns, symptoms, behavior, goals, general health, family history, culture, & well-being and then to make a generalized diagnosis for the purpose of getting to the best practices for treatment. Diagnosis is meant to determine treatment, not to put a value label on any client. I must also highlight here though that sometimes a diagnosis is not possible because there isn’t one present. It is entirely possible to suffer with the symptoms of a mental illness and not fulfill the requirements for a full diagnosis. However, the longer one suffers with the symptoms, the more likely he or she will eventually fulfill diagnostic requirements.
Secondly, counseling is NOT for crazy people! Crazy people don’t know they need help. I reason that if you find yourself in a counselor’s office of your own volition, chances are you’re pretty sane. It takes some sense of sanity to recognize when something isn’t right and to do something about it to make it right again.
- I don’t need anyone to tell me how I feel
Many people incorrectly assume that the counselor is the guru—the end-all-be-all of the counseling process, and that whatever the counselor assesses the client’s presentation to be, also comes with assigned feelings that are part of the norm for that particular issue. While counselors are equipped with a thorough knowledge of the symptoms associated with mental health diagnoses, they are not ever allowed to tell you how you feel or how to feel. This is neither taught nor encouraged in any university counseling courses. Feelings are an entirely subjective experience belonging only to the person feeling them and although it may be out of the ordinary to feel a certain way compared to most clients with the same mental health concerns, all of a person’s feelings are validated by their experience alone and not by the normalcy of their occurrence.
- I don’t want to be on medication
This is such a common fear. I cannot tell you how many times during my counseling training that I had to address this very issue. We were encouraged by professors to serve our clients’ needs by first approaching treatment through all other methods and then using medication as a last resort. It is also not well known that counselors cannot prescribe medication. They are not licensed to do so unless they are also a licensed psychiatrist. So either way, your first stop at a counselor’s office will not land you a brand new prescription for Zoloft, Prozac, Adivan, or any other medication for that matter.
If any of these describe fears you have had in considering seeing a counselor, it is time to come out of hiding. I guarantee that whatever your concern is, it’s not as invisible to others as you might like to think. It may even be a source of suffering for those you love through how it is affecting you. And it is not ok to hurt those you love because you refuse to take care of yourself, so if you can’t bring yourself to do it for you, do it for them.
Kudos to you if you have overcome these fears and have subjected yourself to the counseling process. Watch your triggers, work your coping skills, and keep doing what works. The more whole you are, the better able you are to contribute to relationships, be more creative, and branch out beyond survival into creating more significance in your life.
For more information about how you can determine if you should see a counselor, visit www.insideoutonpurpose.com