Should I seek counselling or is it a sign of weakness?
Before you decide to enter therapy it’s quite normal to struggle with anxious feelings about whether you will be understood or accepted by the counsellor. If you’re already vulnerable and suffering from emotional distress, you may long to put your faith in someone professional who can help you change, but still be afraid of discovering things about yourself you didn’t want to know. You may fear being labelled with mental illness; or feel nervous about putting yourself into the hands of a professional who can take advantage of their position. Some people express fear of dependency or being seen as weak and unable to cope.
There are so many reasons to avoid picking up the phone and making that first call. You may feel you don’t qualify for counselling, because your issues are too trivial, or that counselling cannot fix your problems and you don’t deserve help. Before you come into counselling, you may swing between wanting to understand yourself better and having a sense of failure.
It is quite normal for you to feel apprehensive, but these anxieties rarely reflect the truth. Counselling is not a sign of failure; it is a sign that you have acknowledged the problem and have taken responsibility to change things for the better. It takes honesty and courage to reach out and ask for help. After all, you only want to understand yourself. Counselling will not rob you of independence; it will help you gain greater clarity about your thoughts and feelings, as well as the choices available to you for personal growth and recovery.
Ultimately, you are the person who makes the necessary changes and puts what you have learned into practice. Try to see counselling as a partnership with a warm and empathic professional who can offer you support, without judging you, as you gain greater self-awareness. Someone who can identify the triggers behind certain emotions, help you express your feelings and thoughts with more clarity, or explore patterns of ingrained behaviour that remain outside of your conscious awareness.
As for your vulnerability and distress? Most human beings go through a period of personal crisis. We are all wired to respond differently to our issues and have different ways of coping. Many of us struggle without support, but is that a good idea? Think of it this way: without modern diets, free healthcare, families and social networks, we would all find it difficult to survive.
Despite these systems of social support, our bodies are still vulnerable to disease, injury & accident. Very few of us question the logic of visiting the hospital or GP when we’re unwell. So why do we tell ourselves, it’s acceptable to neglect our mental health, or tell ourselves we need to get tough in order to overcome anxiety and depression?
To my mind, taking care of your general well being and mental health is a necessary condition of survival. Reaching out and seeking help with counselling makes sense. It is a sign of courage to acknowledge your problems and risk finding out more about yourself. There is strength in allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Reaching out for support when you need it, can come as a real relief to yourself and others who are close to you. It does not mean that you accept all the blame, or that there is something wrong with you alone.
So why the ambivalence about counselling? Such feelings are perfectly normal, because we all find it hard to trust someone not to judge us.
Perhaps a story I was told, will help: there were two men in a trench during World War I. One man was a young lieutenant in the regular army trained at Sandhurst who came from a privileged background; the other was an ordinary soldier recruited from a community of miners with barely a week’s training. The lieutenant was self-assured and physically tough. He had seen out brief military campaigns before and won medals. He had experience, pride and a sense of invincibility in the face of danger. When it came to fighting, he was an undisputed leader of men. He followed no one, made no friends and never sought anyone’s advice. The ordinary soldier, however, was quite anxious. He recognised his vulnerability and was afraid he may never see his wife and children again. He had been traumatised by watching friends cut down before him. By the time the whistle came to go over the top; both men followed orders & charged the enemy trenches. Although the lieutenant went without hesitation, the other had a flicker of doubt.
Ask yourself this – who was the braver man? Your answer may help you make sense of your needs and whether it is weak to ask for help. You will not be seen by the counsellor as someone who is dysfunctional or unable to cope, but as someone who is aware of their issues and wants to change their lives.
The only real question you need to ask yourself before considering counselling is this…can I allow someone who is compassionate, caring and able to withstand my pain offer me support? Can I allow myself to feel safe with someone professionally trained to help me? Or will I suffer in silence to maintain the appearance of being tough and self-sufficient?
In the end you must make the choice that suits you and your circumstances. But here are a few pointers for the qualities you should look for in a counsellor:
- You share a sound relationship based on mutual respect
- A feeling of trust, safety and rapport
- A sense of being understood and accepted by the counsellor
- A willingness to collaborate and negotiate
- Empathy and compassion from the counsellor
- A sense that you are making progress
- A sense you can work together
- The counsellor seems grounded and robust
- The counsellor belongs to a professional body and is well qualified with at least a Degree/Masters