** Please note this post is a copy from my previous blog and was originally posted in May 2014**
At some point in every person’s life they need, and could benefit from, counseling. It’s unavoidable. Just like, at some point, everyone needs to see a doctor. According to this article, less than one-third of individuals who experience psychological distress seek professional help. Most people tend to see counseling as a last resort; considered only after their attempts to handle things on their own have failed. However, according to a Naturalistic Longitudinal Evaluation of Counseling in Primary Care, after patients were provided counseling, there was a “significant reduction in severity of symptoms” for anxiety, depression, self-esteem and quality of life.
If counseling is proven to be successful, and statistics show a widespread need for counseling services, then why are people so resistant to the idea of seeking help?
Social Stigma – “What will others think?”
In regards to seeking counseling services, social stigma can be defined as the fear that others will judge you negatively for seeking help for a problem. Most importantly, the social stigma attached to seeking professional help is one of the most significant barriers to treatment.
Some common fears around seeking counseling include thoughts that others will see them as: awkward, dependent, insecure, sad, and/or unsociable; as having less control over his/her emotions; or as weak or disturbed.
Some evidence suggests people may feel less shame and guilt about seeking help if their symptoms are normalized and they are given an explanation for their symptoms. Most people feel reassured that their problems can improve with treatment.
Misunderstanding of Counseling – “Counseling is for crazy/weak/failures/etc people”
As I said in my last blog, most people who go to counseling are not suffering from a serious mental disorder. Rather, they are experiencing serious life challenges or are going through a difficult transition period – which are things that every person deals with.
In fact, for many people, one of the values of seeing a counselor is hearing a trained professional tell them they are not crazy. People have a tendency to fear they are alone, and/or that no one has ever had this problem (at least to this degree) – and this is almost never true. Problems, even severe ones, are common to everyone.
Furthermore, it is my personal belief that seeking counseling does not make you weak, but rather strong and courageous. Reaching out for help and being vulnerable is extremely tough. As this researcher says, “Anyone can ignore their own thoughts and feelings, but it takes guts to be honest about them and not back off from what you are really about.”
Those who think they can do it on their own are usually the ones whose problems end up getting worse and reach the end of their rope/hit “rock bottom” before getting help. If you were physically ill, would you wait until you were so sick you needed to go to the hospital instead of going to the Dr? Probably not. Then why wait until you have “hit rock bottom” before going to see a counselor?
Treatment Fears – Fear of the unknown
Such fears include: how the counselor will treat you; fear about what the counselor will think about you; fear of being coerced by the counselor.
The goal of counselors is to reduce such concerns by educating potential clients about the therapy process and dispelling inaccurate myths about therapy.
Very often those seeking counseling services do not have a lot of knowledge about counseling and other mental health services. Their perceptions are often based on (often inaccurate) information from media and other sources. Furthermore, people do not often understand the different types of mental health professionals and the services they provide. Therefore, people may be hesitant to seek services due to fears about being medicated, hospitalized, or otherwise controlled. My last blog explains the different types of mental health professionals and the types of services they offer.
Fear of Emotion – Avoiding the Problem
Seeking help from a professional often involves strong emotions, and clients may have a fear of experiencing painful emotions – especially in front of others.
Research has shown that reluctance to seek counseling is greater for individuals who are not open about their emotions. Similarly, those who are less skilled at coping with their emotions have generally been found less likely to seek help.
People may believe the counselor will force them to disclose all of their deepest thoughts, feelings, and secrets. However, in reality, the client is in control of what, how much, and when to share information. Even if there are specific issues that need to be discussed in order for the problem to be resolved, and may initially elicit pain, the client is still ultimately in control of the process. Issues that he/she is not ready to talk about will not be forced. Most counselors try to create (and maintain) a safe environment for clients, and any feedback is designed to be respectful and caring.
Utility and Risk – Reward vs Risk
Utility refers to one’s perceptions about the usefulness (or lack thereof) of seeking counseling services. Obviously, many of those who do not seek counseling services have lower expectations about the benefits of counseling.
Risk refers to an individual’s perception regarding potential dangers of opening up to another person. These risks may include feeling misunderstood, rejected, judged, or even ignored or minimized.
If the anticipated reward of seeing a counselor does not outweigh the risks, individuals are not likely to seek out services. For many individuals, the perceived risks are great enough that seeking help is seen as a last resort.
It is up to the counselor to accurately inform potential clients of the potential risks and benefits associated with counseling. Benefits of counseling include the development of insight and increased self-awareness – which helps people gain a better understanding of their behavior, feelings, and events. Overall, counseling can lead to improvement in health and well-being; which can translate to increased confidence, productivity, and a greater sense of vitality and peace of mind.
Self Disclosure – “It’s nobody’s business but mine”
Another avoidance factor to seeking counseling services is one’s comfort level in disclosing distressing and/or extremely personal information.
Research has shown that those with a higher tendency to self-conceal were three times less likely to seek therapy when experiencing a problem. Furthermore, those who were not comfortable talking about personal issues with a professional were shown to be five times less likely to seek help.
However, individuals actually often find great relief after discussing a problem with someone else. Although it can be scary, disclosing to others can open the door for people to feel understood and accepted.
I Don’t Need Counseling
First of all, everyone needs counseling at some point in their life (or, most likely, multiple points). Second, if you truly don’t need counseling, then there is nothing to fear from going.
As this author says, “Insisting one does not need it, while refusing to give it a try, is much like saying ‘I can stop drinking anytime I want to – I just don’t want to.’ Yeah right.”
You don’t have to accept living in chaos, being a slave to your thoughts/habits/choices, bad relationships, sadness, fear, blame, etc as the norm. There is something you can do about it. You can lead a better, happier, more satisfying life. And who wouldn’t benefit from that?
I Can’t Afford Counseling
Bottom line, you can’t afford NOT to go to counseling. Furthermore, why put a price on your mental health and wellbeing when you most likely wouldn’t regarding your physical health? If you were sick and needed to go to the Doctor would you accept that you couldn’t afford it, or would you try to find some way to get yourself medical care?
The fact is, counseling IS affordable and it IS worth it. If it means restructuring your budget to include counseling and maybe cutting back on other things, so be it. You are worth it. Your mental health and wellbeing is worth it.
Furthermore, many counselors accept insurance, work on a sliding scale, or do pro bono work. There are also free and/or low-cost services available in community mental health centers.
Some of the excuses listed may seem like valid reasons for not getting counseling. Rember, growth and change are painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t want to be.