If there is anything preventing you from or making you feel hesitant towards seeking counselling, more often than not, it is something that you have got wrong about the concept of it.
It is something that can be corrected and dispelled.
In my experience as a mental health professional and a student of psychology, I have seen one too many individuals holding grave misconceptions about the intervention of counselling. As a result, some of them show constant resistance while some others refuse to come on board as they deny its effectiveness altogether.
It is imperative that these false impressions are addressed and people are encouraged to feel more comfortable talking about mental health and seeking help for the same.
Here are 5 of the most common myths about counselling and what about them is incredibly inaccurate.
#5. “Seeking counselling means I am mentally weak.”
For many of us, wanting to seek counselling is an admission to the fact that we feel vulnerable and emotionally distressed. It is about admitting that we are not able to compose and regulate our mind at all times like we are presumably meant to do. How hard must it even be? To be able to “cheer” yourself up as effortlessly as flipping on a lightbulb. Seeking counselling in such situations seems like a testament to how we have failed to manage the one thing that is supposed to be in our control. Let’s clear this up.
Vulnerability and distress do not have to be synonymous with the negative connotation attached to the term “weakness”. These are simply states of mind similar to any other emotion that you might feel such as happiness or anger, and it is important to know that it’s OKAY to feel them. It is OKAY to acknowledge them.
Moreover, when you approach a counsellor at such a time, you are essentially getting help for yourself. Asking for help does not mean that you have failed or lost control – it simply means that you feel overwhelmed enough to not handle it all by yourself. Asking for help is immensely telling of your ability to take your health into your own hands and do something about it. It is a sign of self-care and indomitable strength. You do not have to be alone in your path to feeling better.
Think of it this way. When you have an illness, it is almost a natural instinct for you to visit the doctor. In doing so, you don’t perceive it as a weakness, but a necessity to help you regain your fitness. Similarly, visiting your counsellor is about helping you regain your mental fitness, and is as normal and acceptable as visiting your family doctor.
#4. “Counselling is only for people with mental disorders.”
People diagnosed with mental and behavioural disorders do seek counselling and it has the potential to help them greatly. But, so do people with basic adjustment problems.
These problems could be of a day-to-day nature such as frequent arguments with family, peer pressure, struggling with low self-confidence, relationship issues with your partner, and the like. On the other hand, these problems could be linked to a specific event such as death of a loved one, transitioning into a new job, loss of an old job, a marriage, a divorce, or a break-up.
If any event or a series of events leads you to feel distressed to such an extent that it hinders your ability to function at work, within your relationships, or in taking care of your own self – you can choose to seek counselling.
This does not, however, mean that counselling is only a crisis-specific intervention. Experiencing a problem is not a prerequisite to visiting a counsellor. Counselling can also be sought if you feel unfulfilled or stagnated in a certain area of life, if you would like to explore your potential for further growth, or build greater self-awareness. In essence, counselling can be both a pro-active and reactive step to taking care of your mental health.
#3. “I will become dependent on my counsellor.”
A great many people believe that counselling is a process where a professional hands out expert advice to you on how to instantaneously resolve your problems and “become happy” again. As a result, you may believe that you will have to run to your counsellor each time a crisis presents itself because only their solutions can work. This is a misconception and the true essence of counselling is far from it. A practice of purely offering advice to the client may have the potential to precariously foster dependence on one’s counsellor.
Counselling in its authentic form is not an advice-giving process. It is meant to be an empowering relationship. In my opinion, an effective counsellor is someone who can help the client find their own answers and solutions. Every individual already has the personal resources and strengths to effectively cope with their issues. The counsellor’s job is to mobilize these strengths and bring them to the fore since they seem out of reach to the client in the face of their suffering. The counsellor is meant to guide you to discover how you can manage your situation in a way that works best for you.
Along with this, counselling may also involve teaching of some skills and techniques, and imparting useful information that help you discover more about yourself and adopt healthier ways to deal with life’s overwhelming demands. The aim of counselling, counter-intuitively, is to eventually make the need of a counsellor unnecessary and to help you build your independence.
#2. “My counsellor will give me solutions to all my problems.”
Your counsellor is not meant to offer you quick fixes to your difficulties. In all honesty, offering a practical solution to your problem may seem like an easy and logical thing to do especially since counselling boasts about providing a space for problem solving. Here is where an oversight occurs.
The fact is that the problem itself is not entirely a practical one, it is also an emotional one. Offering a practical solution in such a case may work temporarily, but would be futile in the long run if the emotions associated with the situation are left unaddressed.
Counselling focuses on sifting through the feelings that disturb you the most about the problem, helping you make meaning out of them, and eventually lifting the emotional block that lies between you and your own ability to find your solutions.
#1. “Counselling will result in instant relief from my distress.”
Each individual’s journey of healing and working through their difficulties is a very unique one and specifically tailored to them. Some of you may require fewer sessions while others may need many more. It is difficult to assign a guaranteed time period for relief from distress in a generalized manner as it would not respectfully take individual differences into account.
I can, however, say that counselling is a process of self-care and self-care may take time. It takes practice and consistency. In the counselling setting, you are guided to explore yourself, understand yourself, unlearn negative ways of thinking and behaving, and replace them with healthier ones. Respecting the time it takes to engage in this process is respecting the process itself.
Let’s look at it this way. When you enrol into a weight management program, you don’t expect to reach your ideal weight within a day’s hard work. Similarly, allow yourself the same leeway when it comes to reaching your ideal state of mind as well.
It is important to cut yourself some slack and take all the time that you need to heal, however long or short that might be. Undergoing a 360 degree change overnight as a result of counselling is an unrealistic expectation and places a great deal of pressure on those involved. Try not to hold on to that. Be kinder to yourself.
Misconceptions have a way of sneaking into our collective conscience and making themselves at home quite easily. We often allow this to happen because of baseless hear-say, lack of awareness, social conditioning, and insufficient efforts made at providing clarifications and engaging in fruitful discussions. Today, this status quo in the mental health field is definitely changing and each of us can provide further momentum to it.
If you have any misgivings and doubts about the process of counselling or anything related to mental health, do not hesitate to clear them up with a mental health professional.
Talk about it with your friends and family members just as normally as you would discuss the news. The taboo attached to these concepts is a product of our own thought. Normalize the use of terms like “mental health” and “counselling” in your everyday lexicon.
Reach out, ask, clarify, discuss. Debunk the stigma. Change the narrative. It is absolutely possible.
Nothing should stop you from prioritizing your or your loved one’s health. A clarification is just a conversation away.
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