If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, if there are things from your past or present you’re not sure how to cope with, or you’re feeling helpless or hopeless, visiting a mental health counselor could be a good idea to help you deal with your struggles and circumstances.
But for as many good reasons there are for seeking therapy, there are as many doubts people have about visiting a mental health counselor.
Let’s look at a few…
Stigma: People will think I’m weak… or crazy.
Okay, this might not make you feel better in the moment, but the truth is, we can’t control what others think. There are many misconceptions about mental health counseling and mental illness. We’ve all heard news reports classifying people who have committed crimes as mentally ill. I don’t want to be lumped in with people who go on shooting rampages, or Hollywood-stereotypes wandering the streets mumbling, accosting people, trying to escape whatever isn’t actually pursuing them.
The vast majority of people struggling with mental illness, which includes me, aren’t anything like that. You see people every day who are both “mentally ill” and “normal.” When we’re honest with our struggles, we bust stereotypes and stigma.
Maybe you’re not ready to be a stigma-buster, but be honest with your loved ones.
Don’t be afraid to get the help you need.
The worst thing you can do if you’re afraid of “mentally ill” is denying you have a problem and refusing to admit you may need help.
Truth is, everyone needs help sometimes.
Vulnerability: Talking about hard stuff hurts.
Many of us were raised in families with secrets, where certain things weren’t discussed, or displays of emotion were discouraged. The choice to talk to someone paid to listen to our secrets and feelings can feel the same as choosing to stop in a railroad crossing in front of a freight train. Dangerous. And foolish.
But a mental health counselor isn’t out to destroy you, no matter how the process may feel. Therapy can help you tear down the things that hold you back, clean out wounds you’ve allowed to scab over and even fester, and help you move on down the road of recovery with healthier coping mechanisms and ability to process current circumstances.
Judgment: A mental health counselor might think I’m a bad person or label me.
If we’re ashamed of something we’ve done, or how we feel, or of something done to us, it’s likely we fear what others would think of us if they knew. What if the mental health counselor thinks we’re as bad as that thing we can’t stand about ourselves?
When I was a child, our school psychologist made me very uncomfortable. He was tall, and, to me, kind of creepy. He made me incredibly anxious. I don’t remember what I believed about his role in my school, but I was afraid that when he looked at me he thought there was something wrong with me. I thought he could see inside my mind, maybe my heart and soul, and whatever he saw wasn’t what was supposed to be there. He made me feel hollow, like a fraud. I was just a kid, but he made me feel like I wasn’t doing it right, that even when I seemed to fit in, it was just a show, that I wasn’t really real.
It’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable at the thought of someone delving into our psyche. As an adult, there are things in there I don’t really want to look at, let alone dig up and expose to someone else’s view.
But often, those things we don’t want to look at about ourselves and our experiences are the things we need to not keep buried, but expose to the light and examine until we can see them clearly to move on with better understanding and less fear. Burying things may get us through in the short-term, but keeping things buried isn’t healthy. We just wanted them to go away, but, instead, we carry them with us and let them keep stealing our peace and health.
A mental health counselor isn’t there to tell you you’re good or bad, but to help you be whole.
If a mental health counselor thinks that what you’re experiencing can be classified as a mental health disorder, don’t look at that as a bad thing. Naming something difficult isn’t the same as accepting a label. Knowing what you’re dealing with empowers you to take it on.
Misunderstanding: I don’t want to lie on a couch and talk about my feelings.
I don’t know which I fear more, being misunderstood or too-well understood. These are both doubts I’ve had about visiting a mental health counselor. Unlike my misconceptions about my school psychologist, a mental health counselor won’t just look at you when you walk in the door and know your deepest, darkest secrets.
The first couple of times you meet with a mental counselor, he or she will take time to get to know you and establish rapport and trust. There may be counselors who use a couch, but I don’t know any. A counselor will want you to feel comfortable, not fear they’re about to smash you open like an overripe melon.
Talking about feelings is part of counseling, as is helping you gain an understanding of why you feel like you feel, and how you can cope with difficult emotions, memories, experiences, situations, and circumstances. Both numbness and uncomfortable emotions can point out areas we need healing.
Fear: I can’t do this!
Each of these doubts can lead to fear of visiting a mental health counselor. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to admit we have a problem and need help. If we mistake that for weakness, it takes real courage to take the step of visiting a mental health counselor.
Maybe we’re even afraid of the change counseling might bring in our life. Sometimes there are things we just don’t want to let go of even though we’d be better off without them. Who among us doesn’t have an unhealthy habit? We may not want to hear it, but sometimes we need to be told something is doing us more harm than good. It can be hard, but it’s good to look at why we hold onto the things we do, even when we know they’re harming us.
Maybe it’s not a bad habit in the typical sense, but anger, shame, fear, self-blame, regret, or bitterness.
Sometimes known suffering feels safer than unknown freedom.
Whatever doubts you have visiting a mental health counselor, don’t let them hold you back from seeking the help you need to be the healthiest you can be.
It’s worth it. And so are you.