The word ‘counselling’ is pretty loaded. People generally have a lot of ideas about what counselling is, and what it means to seek counselling help. Unfortunately a lot of it can often be quite negative.
‘Things got really bad in our relationship so we had to go see a counsellor’
‘I hit rock bottom and knew I would finally have to get some counselling’
‘Work told me I had to get counselling or risk losing my job’
All these common examples highlight that counselling is more often than not seen as a last resort for most Australians.
People only go to see a counsellor when they absolutely have to, when things have gotten so bad there are no other options.
To compound this issue further, counselling is generally considered quite a taboo thing to do in Australia. Not only is it seen as a last resort, but when you finally do seek help the implicit understanding is you are better off not telling anyone you’re actually talking to a counsellor.
This is despite the fact that in this day and age we all recognise that not talking about our problems is a bad idea, and generally causes more harm than good. We have evolved sufficiently to know the strong, silent type is often a breakdown waiting to happen!
So we are left in a hard spot - we know we should talk about problems when they are around, but going to see a professional feels like a big step to take. Admitting we are going to see a counsellor is akin to an admission of defeat.
What if we could change this perception?
What if we could see it as preventative instead of reactive?
As something we do to prevent problems becoming much bigger?
We all have problems and challenges in our lives. No one is immune.
It should be considered a great strength to go out and seek help.
Imagine how silly you would think a friend was if they had an easily treated physical illness but refused to go and get help from a doctor for it?
This is effectively what people do when it comes to counselling - most problems are easy to fix until they are left to fester for years and years before seeking help from a professional.
If only we could call it something like ‘checking in’, or going for a weekly/monthly/quarterly ‘debrief’, as opposed to ‘counselling’ - how would this impact on people’s willingness and ability to seek help? Probably in a big way.
When you get past all the rhetoric, this is effectively what counsellors and other mental health professionals do - check in on how things are going, debrief any issues, and work together with the client to help them find their own solutions.
The process of counselling is really quite simple, but not always easy to do, particularly when problems have taken over a big part of a person's life.
Going to talk to a professional about whatever is bothering us helps to catch problems out before they get overwhelming. It really is that simple.
Using the physical illness analogy again, just think what happens when we let certain ailments go without getting them treated by a doctor - it doesn't usually end well right!? It's no different with your mental health. The quicker you can get on top of it the better.
So if you are thinking about seeing a counsellor, try approaching it as an opportunity to check in, debrief and find solutions together, and leave all the loaded counselling/psychology mumbo jumbo at the door. Like most say when they actually finally get in to see a counsellor:
'This isn't so bad, I wish I had done this ages ago!'
Thanks for reading! Adrian Holmes