“Maybe you should think about seeing a counselor.”
This little phrase can conjure up so many emotions: fear, shame, anxiety, anger, relief, exhaustion, hope, despair, trepidation and failure. For many, counseling is only for crazy people or addicts. These are the people with real problems.
Why is there such a negative stigma connected with counseling? In a society that’s success-driven and where independence is highly praised, there are an awful lot of us who feel lonely, hurt, bewildered and lost. We as Christians should be different and more used to openness and vulnerability … right? We believe we all fall short of perfection.
But when a good friend, family member, roommate or mentor observes an issue in our life that warrants the help of a therapist, we get irritated and defensive. We shake our heads and angrily affirm, “I’m fine!”
Carl Jung says: “There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
Here’s the thing that needs to change: the belief that counseling is shameful. It’s OK to admit things aren’t going well. The fact is that we’re all so afraid to reveal we have problems, many of us aren’t getting the help we need in order to live more healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.
We remember a particularly painful day during our first year of marriage. We were renting an apartment adjoining a house owned by a young family. As Jake met with the wife to pay rent, her 4-year-old daughter poked her blond head out the door and declared, “We heard you yelling really loud last night!”
We knew we had been fighting badly again (many hours had been spent in counseling working on this issue as a dating couple), but for some reason going to a counselor this early on in marriage seemed like, “We’ve failed—we can’t even make it one year.” We felt embarrassed and very, very alone. It took a reality check from a pre-schooler to make us realize we needed to head back into a therapist’s office.
So, apart from fear of exposure and judgment from others, what are other reasons many people don’t try counseling when they face difficulties in their life? It can be a fluctuating mixture of pride, apprehension of change and an unwillingness to re-experience pain.
In many cases, therapy involves situations, emotions and relationships we would rather leave buried. It’s completely understandable to desire avoiding these past hurts or traumas. But oftentimes things left unaddressed and unhealed have a tendency to fester. This festering issue begins to affect our present lives, often without us realizing it. Ben Franklin said, “He that won’t be counseled, can’t be helped.” Many times, the only way to address old hurts and current problems is to talk them through with someone else. As Christians we often feel that going to Jesus with our problems should be enough. And He is enough. But He gifted other people with wise minds, open ears and a master’s degree for a reason. Jesus is cool if you talk to both Him and your therapist.
Along these lines, it seems to be harder for men to seek counseling than women. This isn’t true of every man, of course, but it’s a big enough issue to address. Culture dictates that being a man means having the ability to handle anything and that emotional displays are not acceptable. Guys, this perception is wrong and dangerous!
Being a real man means being able to ask for help and accountability from others. Manliness should be exemplified by doing whatever it takes to have healthy relationships, good family lives and peace with others. God tells us that finding strength means allowing Him and others to help when you falter.
“By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 (MSG)
Counseling doesn’t have to be a sign of weakness, but instead one of strength and maturity.
The next obstacle to overcome once a person can accept they need help, is that it can be very overwhelming knowing where to start.
Where do you find a counselor and specifically one that fits your individual needs? How much can you spend on therapy? How long do you go? Many people (including us on occasion) often quit therapy before even starting because these questions seem so daunting. What are some ways to avoid this scenario?
1. Ask around to get a recommendation.
An article in Psychology Today, written by Hara Estroff Marano says that “the fastest and most reliable way to find a good therapist is to ask a friend or someone you respect who has been helped by therapy. People you trust with helping you make other decisions can help with this one too, observes psychologist Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D., of Indiana University Southeast. Asking a friend relieves the burden on your judgment, while your friend’s success provides a clear indicator that what the therapist does actually works [with your issue].”
2. Interview the counselor beforehand.
Interview a prospective counselor about their personality and their counseling style. Ask questions as to how they would structure your therapy. Some counselors won’t provide the kind of therapy that you need and others will. Feel free to ask questions on the phone before spending money on an appointment.
3. Don’t be afraid to “break up.”
After 1-3 sessions, if you feel the counselor isn’t helping don’t be afraid to try someone else. Therapy is about receiving the specific guidance you need. Be honest with the counselor about your reasons for terminating therapy and ask for any references they might be able to provide. Even though it feels discouraging, try to persevere; a therapist who works well with you is worth the time searching.
4. Set goals up front about what you want to accomplish.
Make sure you and your counselor are on the same page with what the outcome of your time together is. Be aware of the goals you personally hope to achieve during therapy and work on a timeline together for accomplishing these goals.
5. Decide on payment.
Some offices take insurance, some do not. If your prospective therapist does not take insurance, ask if they would be willing to work on a sliding scale, which is a lower fee based on the income you make. If you do not have a way to pay for counseling, check with your local church or your town’s Health and Human Services Department. They might have contacts to therapists who take non-paying cases. Colleges also offer free on-campus counseling for students.
Jake and Melissa Kircher write about marriage and relationships at holymessofmarriage.blogspot.com.