Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On Counseling and Seeking Help

First up is a guest post on counseling and the stigmas attached to it, with a mini interview Taylor had with one of her professors in the field of psychology. So please give her a warm welcome! :)

Also don't forget to check out the other hosts' blogs/booktubes for more posts. :)
Shannon from It Starts at Midnight 
Inge from Of Wonderland
Taylor from Stay on the Page 
Vlora from Reviews and Cake 
Taneika from Flipping Through Pages


A lot of people refuse to go because there is still such a large stigma about mental health—which is what this entire blog series is about. But, as a student in a clinical mental health counseling program, I have a unique take on what it is like to be a client and what it is like to be a counselor. While I have not yet begun my internship (next year: ahh!), I have experienced first-hand what it is like to have the mental health stigma front and center as a client.

I denied my mental health issues (I say issues because I am highly sensitive [HSP] and my issues stem from certain situations) for a long time before I sought help. I didn’t believe that someone would be able to help me and I had such a wrong idea of what a counselor actually did. I quickly learned this in my counseling skills and techniques course, and all of a sudden it made a ton of sense as to why counselors are literally so great. I think the main reason I was so terrified to go to counseling is that I would be judged. I was ashamed that I couldn’t deal with these problems on my own. I soon realized that I really couldn’t and I needed some guidance about how to move forward and be able to cope in a healthy way.

We are trained to not only listen to you but also give you techniques about how you can overcome difficulties in your life. While I am on the topic, let me list some common misconceptions about counselors that I have learned:

1. We are not advice givers. 
2. We are not there to wave a magic wand and fix all of your problems.
3. We don’t know you best.

We are not advice givers. Stereotypical representations of counselors usually include the counselor telling you what you should do. We don’t do this in practice. We never tell you what you should do: we give you the tools and help you see all options about directions you could go in. Think of it as a pros and cons list that we help you formulate.

We are not there to wave a magic wand and fix all of your problems. A counselor is not going to fix your problems for you. You are the only one that can do that. We have plenty of helpful techniques that can help you move to a place of better understanding but you have to put in the work, too, as a client.

We don’t know you best. Only you know yourself the best. We are there as companions on a mental health journey but you are the leader. You can tell us if something isn’t working, so we can try something else. You are in control at all times when you are in therapy and we respect that you have the capacity to be in control of your life.

It is important to note that counseling is not always the best option if you are not ready. You need to be at a point in your mental health journey that you are willing to listen to what the counselor has to offer and actually try to use the techniques they suggest. Being forced into counseling is honestly the worst thing and does not end up helping the person at all.

To get the point of view of a counselor already in the field, I asked one of my professors—Dr. Misty Ginicola—a few questions about how the mental health stigma has affected her and her clients.

1. How have you experienced the stigma surrounding mental health first-hand? 
“I think as a teacher, I notice that some professors hide their mental health history. They feel the stigma themselves and they sort of succumb to it, where they don’t talk about it. They give off this impression that they are fine. We as counselor educators, sometimes give that off too. It comes from a place of wanting to be professional and serving as a good role model. I think they are missing that being a good role model means not hiding and being honest. I feel like most people don’t share because of the stigma, because one feels like ‘I am the counselor so I shouldn’t have any issues’, when in fact we come to this field because we are a wounded healer or know someone who has struggled, and we want to help because we feel empathy towards them. My personal experience was trying to understand when it is appropriate to share that and when it’s not: how can I become a model to not succumb to mental health stigma but also be professional. My rule of thumb is if it is in the best interest of student or client to know this information. I really reflected on if I have something that is in the best interest of the client, I share it. For example, self-care and the importance of that as a counselor. If I think it is part of my narrative and story, then I will share that, and it is also about how in depth you go and the context of what you are teaching.”

2. What do you feel needs to be done to diminish the mental health stigma? 
“People need to talk about it more, normalize it, do social advocacy around it. The whole idea of ‘it’s okay to not be okay’. It’s a disorder, yes, but we don’t look at someone with diabetes and put the same level of stigma on them as we do with someone with depression. We don’t tell them to buck up, get out of bed and live with it. We treat mental health so differently, and because of that, clients wait until they are desperate or in crisis where they have no choice but to say ‘I’m not okay’. They are embarrassed, secretive and don’t want to be judged, all while testing you out. I think it is in our best interest to lower stigma continually. I think also in terms of my work, every time I share or divulge part of my narrative, that is lowering stigma. To me, that would have been really helpful to see someone be like ‘That is a survivor who can talk and not cry’ because that is possible, and in the moment you don’t see a future where you can feel strong and confident. Having a role model that doesn’t buy into the stigma is helpful, as well as making people aware of it and challenging them. Some of your clients are so boxed in by stigma that you could be the only person that doesn’t carry that stigma, but I think too as counselors, we have to be so super conscious that we live in that world. We live in that world that tells us every day that mental health is different than physical health, that it is weakness and not disorder, and I think we get impacted by that too. For example, substance abuse. You just want them to get better but it takes them a long time to get better and they often falter. We think that you are making progress and it is in your control but self-esteem/trauma changes that and it is a battle to get yourself in a good place.” 

3. What are some things you do for your clients to help them feel more comfortable if they are worried about committing to counseling? 
“I always make sure that they feel empowered. From the moment I explain that counseling to me is like driving, where they are behind the wheel and I just have the map—I am trying to empower them. Also, in my first session, I don’t take it as a given that they are going to be my client. I actually give them education to say choosing a counselor is a big thing and to think about themselves and what they need from a counselor. I share who I am as a counselor and my techniques and let them know that it may or may not fit for them. I use some solution-focused things right away like asking them how would they know counseling is over and what it would look like. I get their goals, in terms of what they are looking for and what it means to them to be better. And then they get to reflect on that because they might be in a place of crisis and they just want us to make them better. I think it is all about empowerment and normalizing counseling. Making it a warm, comfortable place. If our offices look too clinical, or sterile, it can look very intimidating. From the environment to how we dress, there are some clinics where you wear street clothes because you are trying to be more at the level of the client and not as intimidating. Everything that you present in terms of how you talk, dress, and your office environment, can either alleviate or increase anxiety. I think a big problem, especially with minorities, is that the counselor is too authoritarian and rigid, and then they fall into that mental health stigma. It is a power differential too but also that you are here because you have a problem—that you are the one that’s crazy—and it kind of gives that message and that is hard."

I truly hope that this post, this interview and this entire series can help bring awareness to the mental health stigma that still exists in our society today. It is my goal as I journey into my career and the world of mental health to help diminish the stigma as best I can with my clients and my work.

Thanks so much for participating, Tay! You can find Taylor on her blog, Frayed Books, and on her Twitter and Instagram (@frayedbooks). You can also contact her through email: :)

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