As kids we were always encouraged to reach out to career counsellors and as we grew older we were familiarized with a more recently accepted concept of marriage counsellors. Perhaps between growing up and growing old, what we missed out on was the importance of mental health counsellors! Counselling focuses on specific issues and is designed to help a person address a particular problem, such as addiction or stress management. When people think of therapy, they often associate it with extreme mental illness, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or severe depression. While psychotherapy does exist, it is just a subset of counselling. Reaching out to a specialist for more frequent issues, such as relationship traumas, interpersonal conflicts, job stress, depression, financial crisis wreaked upon by daily struggles etc. is highly underrated. Counseling is for everyone, not just people with an extreme mental illness.
OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY
Mental health in general shouldn’t be stigmatized and should be freely talked about. In today’s fast paced world, as we are all getting closer with the massive emergence of social media, almost every person finds himself / herself unhappy at some level. I have barely met a person who isn’t dealing with personal issues at multiple levels, whether it’s a bad childhood, dysfunctional family, lack of self-esteem, heartbreaks or professional barriers, anxiety or OCD. Yet, it seems as if therapy and counseling are almost sneered at and looked down upon by stereotypical responses to someone’s admission of seeking counselling in our society – “Oh! you want therapy, there must be something seriously wrong with you!” or “You must be out of your mind to go to such an extent” or “Just chill, it’s not that big a deal, you’re overreacting” and the most common one “You think you’re the only one with problems?” We need to normalize the concept of counselling and start understanding the fact that IT IS OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.
Usually, the main reason people don’t ask for help is that they think it makes them weak. It makes you feel vulnerable because you fear losing control over the situation. You’re putting your trust into someone else’s hands. Then there’s also the worry about being dependent or a burden to someone. We may need the help, but that need gets shut down with all of these apprehensions. We keep procrastinating till one day it snowballs into something bigger. Individualism is praised in our culture. Beliefs such as ‘Strong Men don’t cry’, or ‘Women are supposed to endure their pains’, have been disseminated in our society since decades. Struggling on your own takes away from the support you could feel and the understanding that comes from a helping hand. For some, it is not always easy to ask for help no matter how big or small the task is. It is OK to admit you’re struggling. On the contrary, counselling may help people retain their individuality. All the pressures of “making it” as an individual should be set aside because, in reality, we can only go so far with our strengths all alone. Counselling is nothing but acknowledging what parts of you need healing. It’s about finding your true self and embracing the beauty of being your own person.
PROFESSIONAL COUNSELLOR vis-à-vis FAMILY & FRIENDS
As much as we love our friends and family, it can be incredibly difficult to talk to them about personal issues. Many people fear being vulnerable because in today’s world, being vulnerable means exposing your weakness. Often, our relationships with people are built in a certain way. Our equation with our siblings from childhood, our relation with each parent and our friends are based on a certain foundation. Reaching out to them for issues that aren’t making us feel good about ourselves is challenging, and even looked upon as “out of character”. That is perhaps why trivializing the matter is a common response to admissions of many about their mental health. Counsellor on the other hand is your friend with the sole purpose of healing you from this pain. Once you enter into that space, every word that is spoken remains within those 4 walls. Just like a secret rendezvous! You aren’t judged for what you feel or what you’ve done. Asking for professional help is probably one of the hardest life skills to practice. One of the tricks is to cancel the negatives with the positives of therapy, and the result will lead you to their doorstep. Since they are sitting in front of you with one single agenda, helping you is a chance for them to shine too. Counsellors also come with a plethora of experience, which may be similar on the lines of what you’re encountering. They are also specifically trained and equipped with the knowledge and resources on how to handle your situation. Their advices are pragmatic and usually work long term.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
At your first office visit, the professional will want to talk with you about why you think you need to come for counselling. He or she will want to know about what your symptoms are, how long you’ve had them and what, if anything, you’ve done about them in the past. Your counsellor may ask personal questions about your family, your work, your hobbies and daily routine. This initial conversation is important to break the walls, and to decipher an appropriate approach to treatment. The two of you need to work together as a team in order to get the most out of your treatment. The approach to counselling changes in each case and situation and it is usually tailor made to your needs. Speaking aloud and admitting your thoughts and emotions lets you see them from a new perspective, instead of just in the interior of your own mind. Saying them to another person also makes you consider what their view is, meaning you can gain new ways of thinking about your problems, simply by letting them out. If it’s just a feeling of melancholy and you can’t identify a particular problem, then simple conversation with your counsellor may even land up working as catharsis. Letting things out that you’ve been keeping inside can be a cathartic experience, purging you of pent up emotions, as many people find they are relieved of thoughts or feelings that they’ve been bottling up. Finally, examining your emotions with a professional allows you to see yourself from the outside, resulting in a heightened sense of self-awareness. This can have huge impact in making people feel more at peace with themselves. Counselling is a really good way to track your progress and practicing healthy habits can be addicting. I believe every person could benefit from counselling. Although it may be hard to initiate, once started, it can be life changing!
“To the believers it is guidance, and a healing.” (Sura 41, Verse 44) – From Quran