When people are struggling, they are often advised to seek counselling. If you have never done so before, it can be scary to think of opening up to a stranger. This essay explains why it will help you to do so.
When you feel yourself struggling mentally, people often suggest some form of counselling might help ease the burden. For a lot of mentally unwell people, especially those who are experiencing mental distress for the first time, this can be a daunting prospect. The thought of walking into a strange building, sitting down with a stranger and opening up about the thoughts going through their heads can be so overwhelming, creating a fear that can be so difficult to overcome. Because of this fear, they often turn down the suggestion of counselling, preferring to try to tackle their troubles alone. I wanted to write something to offer those people some reassurance and to, hopefully, take away some of those fears. Here are five reasons why counselling is nothing to be scared of.
Reason One: You’re in control
This is, perhaps, the most important reason. One of the scariest things about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses is the feeling that you are losing control over your life, and the more you try to regain that control, the less control it feels like you have. This is why going to counselling can be so helpful. For that hour or so, you are in complete control of the situation. You control whether you go to counselling. You control when you leave. And, for that hour, you control the conversation. There’s this idea that counselling is all talking about childhood, but it isn’t. Sometimes childhood issues may be discussed, but if you don’t want to explore them, you don’t have to. You’re in control and, while your counsellor may ask questions, it’s entirely up to you whether you answer them, or talk about something completely different.
What you talk about is up to you. If you go to your counselling session stressed about a situation at work, or about problems in a friendship or relationship, and that’s all you want to talk about, then that’s what you’ll talk about. Counselling is about talking to someone about the things that are bothering you on the day, a place to vent about your frustrations with the world, an opportunity to rant about the things pissing you off or a place to talk through stresses and anxieties you are facing, with someone that is there to support you. Sometimes, it may help to talk about childhood, or past traumas, but it usually helps to have a conversation about the things troubling you on the day, and it always helps to feel in control of something in your life.
Reason Two: It’s a safe environment
A lot of people are, understandably, scared of being perceived mentally ill. They feel judged by others, they feel hindered by the perception of the mentally ill, they are worried about being prejudiced because of their struggles, and they are scared of the change towards them from the people around them. This is why counselling is can be so helpful, because, whatever happens in the outside world, the one place you know you won’t be judged, prejudiced against or treated differently is in your counselling session.
One of the main reasons people become counsellors is because they have some sort of experience of the darker side of life; either they’ve experienced it personally, or someone they know has suffered from it. People who take up counsellor roles do so because they care, because they want to support people through the darkest times in their life, and they are trained specifically to do just that. If you need time, they will give you that. If you need some water, they will get you that. They won’t look at you with preconceived notions, they will see you, and they will believe you.
Also, while you may be scared about someone seeing you stressed and upset, please know that everyone they see is scared, stressed and upset. It isn’t like the rest of the world, where these emotions can be turned against you and you can be made to feel weird or wrong. In the counselling room, these emotions are normal, these feelings are understood, and the people experiencing them are supported.
Reason Three: You can talk as much, or as little, as you want
This goes back to the first reason, about being in control. In a counselling session, you normally have between 45 and 90 minutes, with most being an hour. That doesn’t mean you have to stay for that time, and it doesn’t mean you can’t take a break. It just means that, for that 45 to 90 minutes, there is someone to talk to if you want to talk. If you wish to leave after half-an-hour, you can. If you want ten minutes to compose yourself and have a glass of water, your counsellor will give you that. All counselling is, essentially, is a chat about whatever you want to talk about, for as long or as little as you want to talk within your appointment time. You don’t even have to go back the next week if you don’t want to, but if you do, then you will be able to.
Maybe, in the first session, you can only manage twenty minutes of your hour. That’s not only perfectly fine, but it’s a major step forward – talking to a counsellor for twenty minutes, hell, even for a few minutes, is a great achievement and a big step forward. Maybe, in the next session, you manage to talk ten minutes longer than the first time. Maybe, you find that, once you start talking, you lose all track of time and you talk far more than you ever imagined you could. Whatever happens, it will be fine, and a big step forward. Remember, this is your time, and you are in control of it.
Reason Four: Whatever happens is a positive outcome
If you finish your session and you decide that it didn’t make any difference, then you’ve only lost an hour of your life. If you decide you don’t want to go back, then that’s fine, you don’t have to go back. You never have to think of counselling again. The thing is, you’ll have lost nothing, except an hour of your life. We all waste more than an hour every day, looking through social media, browsing memes, watching crap TV, through all sorts of different ways. At least with this hour, you’ll have taken a positive step forward. You’ll have tried something new, that could help, and that’s a massive accomplishment when you’re struggling with your mental health.
But maybe, just maybe, that positive choice you make might make your life a little easier. Maybe, just maybe, you might feel a little better afterwards.
Even if you don’t want to continue with counselling, the achievement of going to the session, of trying something different, of taking a chance and being so brave, they may help you realise that you won’t be stuck in the same cycles forever. Just breaking the cycle once can change your outlook a little, and, when you’re in a dark place, just a little glimmer of light can make such a difference. You can do something new, things can be different. Maybe counselling wasn’t what you needed, but maybe the next thing you try might be. Maybe it does help a little, and you decide to give it a go the next week. Maybe the next week, it might help a little again. That’s two little helps that you didn’t have before. After a few more weeks, those little helps start adding up. If that first hour leaves you feeling counselling isn’t for you, then you’ve lost nothing, but if it goes well, it could have a profound positive impact on your life. That’s worth an hour of anyone’s time.
Reason Five: It will help you. It just will
Whether it’s the counselling itself, the sense of accomplishment for doing something brave, feeling in control of a situation for an hour or even making the choice not to go back, all of these outcomes will help you in some way. Even if all you do is rule out counselling in the future, at least you will have freed yourself from the pressure of deciding whether to go for it or not, and the next time someone suggests it, you will be able to say that you’ve tried it already. Maybe the help is marginal, but it will help, one way or the other. If nothing else, having a counsellor to talk to about your stresses, fears and anxieties can ease the pressure on those around you to be a counsellor, giving you a chance to focus on other, more fun, more positive aspects of your friendships and relationships, which always makes life a little easier. Plus, when we talk to a counsellor, it helps us order the thoughts in our head, especially when they’re racing away with us. We think four times faster than we talk, so we literally can’t say everything we think. We have to filter our thoughts to the most important ones to verbalise, and doing so helps us to realise what the thoughts that matter the most to us are. Once we talk about those, it becomes so much easier to work through the other issues.
After a few weeks, the routine of counselling affects you in a different way, too. Instead of trying to deal with the thoughts swirling around your head in the moment, you learn to think, “Instead of thinking about this now, I’ll talk it through at counselling”, and that makes negative emotions so much easier to manage. Having a set time to discuss these things means you can spend the rest of your time thinking about and doing other things, which helps so much.
The thought of going to counselling can be so scary if you’ve never done it before. I hope this essay helps to allay some of those fears, and I hope you find the courage to take that first step. If you can, it will help you in some way, and it will make this difficult world a little easier to manage. And maybe, just maybe, it will be the start of the process that leads to you living the sort of life you can only dream of right now. You deserve that life, and you deserve the support you need to get to it.
"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
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