Thursday, April 4, 2013

Don’t Stay Away! (Why People Avoid Counseling)

People come to counseling because they are unhappy. Something is not going well in their lives or in the lives of people around them. It may involve circumstances at home, work, school, or a combination of all three. Their attempts to fix or improve the problem have failed, but they also believe that something has to change – things cannot go on the way they are. They need an outside, objective person to help them clearly identify the core issues involved, and to identify and help them accomplish the changes necessary to resolve the situation.

So what’s not to like about counseling? Why would people hesitate to seek relief from mental and emotional confusion or pain? What prevents people from making a simple phone call to inquire about counseling services, or to come in to talk about what’s going on in their lives? The fact is that the field of “counseling” has been burdened with stigmas that are based on inaccurate information and distorted perceptions of therapy, its goals, and its potential.

Let’s look at several common objections or misunderstandings related to counseling.
Counseling is for weaklings and losers – I should be able to fix my problems myself, and certainly not go to people I don’t even know for help. As social creatures, we are not designed to “go it alone”; no individual has all of the mental, emotional, and spiritual resources needed to meet every life challenge. Counselors are trained and skilled to develop healing relationships with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Counseling is for crazies, nuts, and freaks – people who need counseling are “mentally ill” and belong in an institution —the further away from society, the better. Most people in counseling do not exhibit “extreme” or “strange” behavior; they come to counseling from many walks in life, and normally continue with their everyday lives and activities while engaging in counseling sessions.

I just need a little more time to figure this thing out – somehow, it will get better, even though I don’t know how. This is a popular definition of insanity: “Doing things the same way while expecting a different result.” It’s a form a denial, and only prolongs a person’s unhappiness.

A counselor is just a “paid friend” – it’s not really a relationship with someone who truly cares about you. A counselor is trained and motivated to display warmth, love, empathy, genuineness, and respect – it’s the only way that counseling can have a real and lasting effect.

I (or he or she) can’t change – some people are too far gone to be helped. Human beings are adaptable, and can actually change in a variety of ways at any stage or age in life.

My problems are unique – no one could possibly understand what I’m going through, so how could anyone help me? It is true that each person’s life story is different, but counselors are able to exercise empathy to perceive and validate your thoughts and feelings, joining with you at the point of your pain.

Counseling will make me look like a fool – it’s all about making me cry and talking about “how I feel” about everything. The goal of counseling is healing, not displays of emotion. Some people are more comfortable talking about feelings than others; counselors enter into your journey at your level of communication and experience.

Counseling is invasive and intrusive – I’ll be forced to talk about private things that are nobody’s business. Professional counselors do not force you to do anything you are not ready or willing to do. Counseling is a collaboration – a team effort – between therapist and clients.

Counseling is an old-fashioned practice – lying on a couch, talking to a doctor (“shrink”) who is stroking his beard, smoking a pipe, and telling me all the things that are wrong with me. We have couches, but they are for sitting on. Our counselors are not doctors; they have Masters Degrees in Professional Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Clinical Social Work. We do not follow a “medical model,” dispensing advice in a one-sided conversation; rather, we help clients see their situations clearly and consider their reasonable options so that they can come to their own conclusions.

Counseling is like talking to a mirror – the counselor will just repeat back everything I say. Counselors do not repeat back what clients say in a rote fashion; rather, they work hard to “think your thoughts and feel your feelings,” reflecting back what they hear in a way that makes clients feel deeply understood.

A counselor will make me do things I’m not comfortable with – like talking to an empty chair while pretending someone is sitting in it, or using silly finger puppets. There are hundreds of therapies and counseling techniques, but professional counselors will not introduce any type of therapeutic method without receiving your permission.

My friend/relative/family member/co-workers told me that counseling is worthless (and maybe even dangerous!) – I’ve heard that people can even get worse instead of better. Research has proven that counseling is effective for a wide variety of life problems. During the process of counseling a person may “feel” worse temporarily while facing difficult issues, but the end result will be positive.

A counselor might call a psychiatric hospital and have me committed – as soon as I say the wrong thing, I’ll be carted away in a straightjacket. If you make statements that lead your counselor to believe that you are a threat to yourself or others, the counselor will take time to carefully evaluate and clarify the seriousness of your mental condition prior to taking any action. This is an exceedingly rare event.

A counselor will label me with some type of “mental illness” that will stay with me for the rest of my life – it will affect my ability to get the schooling or job I want in the future. If you choose to pay for counseling with insurance, the insurance company will require a formal mental health diagnosis code. Otherwise, any diagnostic information remains in your private record and will only be released with your permission.

Counseling shows a lack of faith in God – if I just believed God’s Word and praised the Lord more my troubles would quickly disappear. “All truth is God’s truth.” This means that any insights the mental health profession has learned about how we think, feel, and behave are insights into how God has created us. Consequently, any legitimate counseling techniques that alleviate a person’s discomfort and distress can be seen as expressions of the grace of God.

Counseling will bankrupt me – I can’t possibly afford to pay someone for several sessions of therapy. Insurance coverage normally pays for a at least a limited amount of counseling sessions. For those who have used up their coverage, or who do not have insurance to cover counseling costs, counselors often have sliding scale rates that make counseling affordable. Fountain Gate is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers counseling exclusively on a siding scale basis.

Many people begin to feel better as soon as they call to inquire about counseling services. It’s a concrete action that can give a person a sense of hope. We encourage you to “try out” the counseling process for a few sessions to see what it’s like—there’s no obligation to continue if you feel it’s not helping you. At Fountain Gate we have provided counseling services to nearly 2000 people in the past 5 years, and we would be honored to join with you in your path to healing and wholeness.