Numerous stigmas of counseling exist today:
Counseling is for the weak.
You can’t handle problems on your own.
Something is fundamentally wrong with you.
You’re crazy and must have a mental illness.
These stigmas, or myths of counseling, reflect the negative personal or cultural biases which commonly prevent people from obtaining the wisdom or counsel needed for them to move forward in life. I will challenge these myths one by one in this article.
Myth 1: Counseling Is For The Weak
I couldn’t disagree more with this myth. It is clearly rooted in a sense of pride and conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. There is nothing weak about working with a counselor and directly facing whatever emotional or relational challenges lie before you. Engaging in such a process requires courage and resolve. Furthermore, it is deciding to face those challenges that allows us to mature as individuals and realize our full potential in our career, marriage and family life, and in our walk with God.
Myth 2: You Can’t Handle Problems on Your Own
It is indisputable, no one gets through this life on their own. Any other perspective is based on an illusion, since no individual is able to handle every problem on their own. There comes a point when we require the knowledge or expertise of others to successfully address certain issues. This applies in the business world, in marriage and in every aspect of life.
However, it takes a person of humility to fully recognize, understand and apply this principle. When applied to the realm of counseling, an individual, couple or family positions themselves to learn how to be more emotionally and relationally sound. On the other hand, a prideful person who rejects this principle will find themselves deeply frustrated, stuck and perpetually dealing with the same issues over time.
That being said, seeking counseling doesn’t mean you can’t handle problems on your own. It does mean you have the sense to realize you can’t handle every problem on your own, and that growth and development occur when you humbly seek the counsel of others more knowledgeable in certain areas of life.
Myth 3: Something is Fundamentally Wrong with You
Working with a counselor in no way indicates you are fundamentally flawed as a person. If anything, it indicates you are human just like the rest of us, and need help addressing a past or present situation. Countless individuals seeking counseling to help work through recurring feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, loss and other symptoms. Many couples also seek counseling to address painful breaches of trust in their relationship or to learn ways to improve their communication. Others need help processing deeply painful and traumatic experiences in their lives.
Obtaining the help of a counselor in order to learn how to effectively navigate these and other important factors is an act of wisdom. It’s also a central step in helping you heal and have a greater sense of emotional and relational integrity or wholeness. As a therapist, I consider it an honor to join with those who are willing to move forward in this manner as part of bettering themselves.
Myth 4: You’re Crazy and Must Have a Mental Illness
It’s not hard to understand why so many people avoid counseling. When the society in which we live commonly applies terms like “crazy,” “disorder,” “shrink” and “mental illness” when referencing the counseling field who can blame them? I am convinced that we have to change the language so often used in our field and address the matter of labelling people with diagnoses.
Not every person who seeks counseling has a disorder or mental illness, and they surely wouldn’t deserve to be called crazy. Granted, they may have a legitimate problem or situation to work through, but we have to be careful with quickly placing a DSM label on them. We also need to acknowledge that it is supportive processes, not labels, which help bring about change in people's lives.
In all my years of counseling, I’ve never seen someone change because of a label. I have seen them change because they felt encouraged and supported by counselors who were willing to patiently listen to their concerns, respectfully help them make sound decisions, and provide them with information empowering them to effectively address their presenting concerns. That is the true essence of counseling.
Finding a Good Counselor
I realize that finding a good counselor can at times be challenging or intimidating, so I wanted to provide the following suggestions:
Do Your Homework: Take time to read as much information as you can on the counselor(s) you are interested in working with. It’s important to research methodologies they identify using in session, and determine, with the information available, whether their values line up with your own, and whether they have the training and experience required to effectively address your counseling goals.
Making Contact and Asking Questions: Most counselors have a website with their contact information, which you can use to address questions you may have about per session fees, insurance utilization or reimbursement, and scheduling possibilities. From a counselor’s perspective, it helps to have a very brief sense of what type of counseling you are seeking (e.g., individual, marital, family). Such information helps them know whether to coordinate with you on scheduling a consultation or, if needed, refer you to another provider.
Scheduling a Consultation: A consultation is your first meeting with a counselor. It provides you with an opportunity to share what you are wanting to address in counseling, and to determine whether you feel the counselor is someone you feel comfortable working with. It also allows the counselor to determine whether they will be the best person to help you address your presenting concerns.
These are few basic, yet important steps in helping you find the right counselor for you.
Perpetuating the myths we’ve addressed is in no way helpful. Conversely, encouraging oneself and others to seek help when needed is a constructive and beneficial process. In the end, whether you decide to reach out to a counselor, trusted friend, family member, pastor, or coach remember it is the act of humbling yourself and directly addressing the core issues you are facing that makes all the difference in the world.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Eric Gomez, LMFT
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Fulfilled Christian Counseling