Oct 19, 2015

Mental Health Monday - Counseling and Mental Health Stigma

I finally went to see a counselor!  And I loved it.

Some backstory: I don't have a specific problem.  But I am into self improvement and general optimization.  I want to live the best life I can and improving myself and my mindset helps me to enjoy it as much as possible.  So if I enjoy self-help books so much, it seems logical to conclude that I could get a lot out of talking to a professional who can target my specific issues and goals.

I did a bit of research first.  I wasn't sure if a counselor would want to see someone just to talk, without a specific problem to address.  But once I finally got someone on the phone, she assured me that they'd be delighted to talk to me about whatever I wanted.  So I went!

My counselor was a very calm, soothing, spiritual lady, with colorful art and tapestries in her office, along with the cliche couch that I totally wasn't expecting!  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I ended up babbling for a solid hour about all the topics I wanted to cover.  She gave me a few insights, but it was more of a broad overview about me and where I am currently than going deeply into any issues.

The results were surprising.  Like I said, I did get a few insights, and there were a few things I knew already, but she said a few times that I'm doing a good job already.  Unlike other doctors who seem apprehensive when you make suggestions or reference an outside resource ("Oh God, not one of these patients!"), she seemed delighted that I'd educated myself.  She didn't have specific suggestions for continued research, but she wholly approved of the books I'd picked out for myself and suggested a couple topics to go into.

At the end, I was expecting her to give me some kind of treatment or appointment plan, so I was blown away when she asked what I wanted to do.  It's been suggested by others that that's because I don't NEED to be there, but you know what?  I don't care.  Here's a doctor who's trying to help me to do what I WANT, not what she thinks I should do.  She cares about what I want to get out of it.

And I like that.  I liked everything about the experience.  Sure, I probably didn't NEED to go, and I don't NEED to go back.  But you know what?  For a society that is so damn regular with dental hygiene, vision, primary care checkups, gynecology, and cancer prevention, we completely ignore mental health.

It's a little ridiculous.  Everything else we want to catch BEFORE it's a problem.  But then you get to mental health and everyone's like, "You're going to see a mental health specialist?  What's wrong with you?"

I was excited when I made the appointment.  I'm still excited.  I've talked to a few people about it and the reactions have ranged from mildly supportive but confused ("That's great, but do you need to be there?") to completely awkward (swift change of topic).

It's not scary, it's not weird, and it's not embarrassing.

I knew there was a stigma surrounding mental disease, but I did not realize it was around the entire mental health field.  This is ridiculous and needs to change.  How are people with diseases supposed to get better when we can't even talk about it in a mature way?

So I'm sorry if it makes others feel uncomfortable, but I'm talking about my counselor and my appointments.  They're fun and I'm learning good things and I think it's important for everyone else to hear about it until it doesn't make them uncomfortable anymore.

I cannot tell you how much this would have helped me as a teenager.  Now?  I've pretty much got it figured out, but no harm in visiting to see if there's any way to make my life easier or better.  Who doesn't want that?

And it's not just useful.  It's been fun, too.

Update: this doesn't fit well into the flow of this post, but I've actually been twice now and the second appointment was amazing!  We hit some very key points and I learned some things that would have taken me a lot longer to figure out on my own.

Currently planning on utilizing some of the tips the counselor gave me, and doing a bit more reading, and then I'll probably go back in for a follow up in a couple of months.  Even if I don't go back, I gained a lot from this experience and I'm so glad I went for it!

Have you ever been to see a counselor?  Did people act weird about it?

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  1. I've wanted to see a counselor for a while, but I'm too scared! I don't have any issues to discuss either.. at least that I know of. I'm sure once I start talking to one they may uncover something. I'm afraid I'll be too shy to actually talk to them haha.

  2. I used to go all the time in law school! Because we HAD to pay for the health plan thingy with our tuition so I used every single service offered out of spite. Like, I went to the clinic when I wasn't sick. ALL THE FREE THINGS. But anyway, I loved going to the therapist. It was like an hour of just shooting the shit, and then he'd give me a pass to get extra time to take my law school exams because 'stress.' Man, I miss that place. So relaxing.

  3. I love sitting and talking with my counselor. We can talk about anything and she doesn't judge me. She doesn't know me outside of that room and that's soothing. She can't point out that I did something because she can only go by what I tell her. I make it a point to tell her everything I feel is bothering me or things I did that felt out of character. I don't hide anything. It's great for your health and surprising how easy it is to talk about issues you would otherwise avoid. So glad you did it! I knew you would enjoy it!

  4. I have never been to a counselor before, but I am with you. We go for annual check ups (or more often) for every other aspect of our health and our country clearly has a problem with mental illness so perhaps we should all have to periodically check in with a counselor! I love that you loved your experience and gained something whether you thought you needed to be there or not. People don't need to be so judgey about it.

  5. Well you know my answer :) I see my life coach twice a month and adore her to pieces! She's really helped push me into a more positive direction and space in general. As a matter of fact, I'm seeing her tonight. I completely agree with your point that we're super proactive about every other form of health care but when it comes to mental health - which can be as simple as venting to help destress - we're so behind the ball it's ridiculous.

  6. i am so glad to hear it went well!! i would love to see someone that i could talk to about things like this. i have been to people before, and i think it's harder when you have a specific problem, because it's like the huge elephant in the room and sometimes i didn't want to focus on it, sometimes talking about something else would have helped.

  7. I think this is fantastic, and am so glad to hear it's going well. I've seen several counselors in my youth—child of divorce, mandatory family sessions, etc.—and had one counselor in specific that I really, really loved and would have loved to continue work with... but he passed away. There have been a few times in the last couple years where I've really wanted to seek a therapist just for a bit of a "tune-up," the same way I see my chiropractor before I'm crawling into the office hunched over and in pain, but never found anyone I wanted to pursue a session with. Nowadays I get a lot of that work done with my chiro and yoga teachers, but I do think often about getting back onto the metaphorical couch. Maybe once I finally have health insurance again, hah.

  8. I have been to two separate marriage counselors, for two separate marriages. I'm not sure which sucked worse the counselors or the marriages. Needless to say they all ended. I also went to a therapist on my own over the stress from marriage counseling. I kinda remember it being ok. I cried a lot. I hate crying so there was that. I'm not sure I'd ever go back, but I do LOVE self help books.


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