Discussions About Our Struggles
I get a lot of people in my personal life asking me about coping skills or tips for what they’re going through.
I’ll provide people with some coping skills that have been known to work, maybe even do a little training on breathing to help ease anxiety. However, I’ll always come around to suggest counseling.
An Unfavorable Response
You might be surprised to hear that the response to this suggestion is usually not the happiest of responses. What isn’t surprising about this though is that people don’t want to spend money on something that won’t necessarily make them feel good.
Talking about the pain in our lives is difficult, takes courage, and doesn’t feel good. So to me, it’s perfectly understandable that people would roll their eyes or sigh deeply when I suggest they seek counseling.
I often help people reframe these common hesitations. Counseling, first off, is a direct investment in yourself and personal well-being as well as your future. We often get emotionally stuck in our past if we don’t process the events healthily.
Now, keep in mind that during difficult time periods, we need support from helping professionals. Research has shown that emotion expression and processing is only helpful after we’ve stabilized from our tumultuous events. Yet, once the time for support and stabilization has passed, processing needs to occur.
Being emotionally stuck is a very normal, common experience. I would actually argue that everyone is stuck in some way as everyone goes through emotional difficulties. Thus, it is very normal and very much okay.
The other reframe is that while it may be intuitive to simply not talk about painful subjects, if you are getting to a point in your life where you are beginning to notice that you’re needing coping skills and seeking out advice from a trained professional, it might just be time to make it official. You’re ready. Your body is telling you you’re ready by making your anxiety unmistakable.
There are legitimate psychological states called stages of change and only when we’re ready to enter the action stage does it really make sense to seek help. However, counseling can still be highly effective during the earlier stages of change as well and is very common. Moreover, we enter the stages of change cyclically on different issues in our lives as well.
Why the Shameless Plug?
You may think that of course I’ll advocate for counseling because I’m a counselor! It’s just good business, right?
Well. Yeah. I’ll admit to that. But the other reason is that there is no shortcut to mental health. If I’m in the process of giving advice, I’m going to at least make sure that I’m giving good advice.
A bit of Gardening
Healing for struggles like trauma, depression, anxiety, marital unhappiness, sexual dissatisfaction, anger, etc. takes time. It is the good, hard, long-term work of growing a garden.
While we can transfer some mature plants into our gardens fully grown, others we must plant from a seed. We can put down fertilizer to help enrich the soil, which for the purposes of this analogy would be psychotropic medications, but ultimately, we must wait for the plant to grow patiently. We provide it the appropriate amounts of water, sunlight, and nutrients and wait with anticipation. Any good gardener will tell you, there are no shortcuts to gardening. There are no ways to make a plant grow any faster than it will.
It is the same with many things in mental health. It takes hard work, dedication, knowledge, and most of all, patience and self-compassion (which many of us learn along the way).
Also, I am a therapist who has undergone therapy herself and still do when I need it. So, while I am writing this from the perspective of a professional, I am also writing from the perspective of someone who has been through it.
I cannot tell you how many times I have gone through the same issue numerous times. It doesn’t mean I’m not making progress or backsliding, it means it’s just taking a while to process that particular issue. I view my clients’ processes very similarly.
Fancy Therapy Modalities
I also want to suggest that while many therapists may use the different therapy modalities that they are trained in to advertise quicker processing, this is not always the case. I set goals with each of my clients to make sure that we’re seeing success. But the pacing of that success is different for every single person even if they’re working on the same issue.
So keep in mind, even if you’re looking into EMDR or DBT to work towards healing, be patient. Therapy takes time. Different types of therapy are helpful for people’s specific issues, but it does not guarantee speedy healing.
Why are there no Shortcuts?
This of it this way. Most of us go our whole lives without getting counseling. So by the time we get to a counselor, we’ve already lived a lot of life. Unlike traditional medicine which can correct many medical problems through a single intervention or medications, you are processing your entire life when working with the mind.
Furthermore, as much as professionals try, mental health interventions are not concrete and must often be adapted to fit the needs of each individual.
Then Why Go At All?
What we do know is, no matter the type of therapy being used, speaking with someone in a confidential, non-judgmental setting results in healing. There are a few specific factors that I can break down but ultimately science around counseling and therapy has shown that while we cannot control for counselor and client differences, we do know that counseling and therapy work.
While I will not tell you counseling is easy, I will tell you that it works especially if you find a counselor that is a good fit with you. Gird your loins! This is going to be a bumpy ride!