“Why should I go for counseling? Isn’t that for, you know, crazy people?”
Picking up the phone and making a counseling appointment: an action that is both distressing and intriguing, anxiety-provoking but necessary, and anticipative yet worryingly indeterminable. As a recently minted counseling psychologist who is teeming with passionate enthusiasm for the therapeutic work I do, I am honored when a new client walks in and says “I have a problem, and I need some help”.
I know it took a lot out of them to make the appointment to come see me. In an increasingly ostentatious world where admitting any personal setback, flaw, or deficit is considered shameful and weak, the very submission of a personal difficulty to a total stranger takes a big step of courage and a large dose of humility. We are taught to wear protective shields, armor ourselves against emotional weakness, and cloak our inner fears, worries, and dysfunctionalities. But what happens when we decide to put down the mask, stop roleplaying the bravado, set aside the ego, and admit that we need some help?
To step into the clinic and sit down face to face with the counselor in the vulnerable hopes of rectifying deeply personal conflicts is an experience similar to sitting on the rocky edge of your personal precipice and then taking a great leap of faith into an indecipherable unknown. You hope against hope that your therapist will throw you a rescuing lifeline as you take the jump.
And it is downright terrifying, but more and more individuals are resolutely crossing the threshold from their private space and into the therapeutic bubble and simply hoping for a satisfying resolution at the end of it all.
Seeking counseling and psychotherapy has started to become a little more commonplace and a little less stigmatized in the recent past. It could be due to the rising knowledge amongst the public that going for counseling does not mean you are mentally ill, psychologically defective, or in the often quoted words, “have gone crazy”. Perhaps our definitions of crazy are more varied, liberating, and in some ways, acceptable than they have been in the past. Or maybe it is simply because people now have grown the compassionate understanding that asking for help does not make you weaker or inferior, and instead helps you become stronger and more resilient. These subtle, and yet significant, changes in the appraisal of the work undertaken by psychologists, therapists, counselors, and social workers have allowed for a more positive reception of therapeutic endeavors and the overall counseling profession.
Counseling, as defined by the American Counseling Association, is “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals”. Counseling Psychology, a specialty within professional psychology, focuses on personal and interpersonal functioning across various domains – organizational, vocational, educational, social, health-related, emotional, and developmental concerns – across the lifespan. Clinical attention is also given to diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and disorders as part of the overall counseling process. Various official institutions define counseling as a profession that guides individuals to improve their well-being by alleviating distress and maladjustment while resolving personal crises and increasing overall productive functioning. Counseling helps resolve a myriad of issues, ranging from depression, grief, anxiety, stress, and trauma, to addiction and substance abuse, eating disorders, relationship conflicts, marital discord, and many more.
The counseling relationship between therapist and client is confidential and collaborative in nature, where both parties explore issues, identify goals, and form potential solutions together within a safe therapeutic environment. The therapist plays a key role in building rapport and providing focused guidance, psycho-educational knowledge, and empathetic nonjudgmental support to effectively structure the counseling sessions in a way that assists the client to get to where he/she wants to be. The counseling process spotlights the significance of promoting healthy cognitive and behavioral change, strengthening self-esteem and self-worth, improving coping abilities and life skills, and ultimately increasing overall wellness and optimal functioning. The core of counseling is guided by a healing philosophy that celebrates and incorporates individual diversity while focusing on the prevention, development, and healthy adjustment to various life stressors during the individual’s lifespan.
The beauty of counseling lies in the large assortment of approaches, theories, and interventions that can be used based on the customized necessity of the individual’s issues. And the skill of a therapist lies in finding the best fit between the various evidence-based practices and the client’s individual characteristics and presenting problem. Therapeutic interventions can be brief or long-term as well as insight-oriented and/or solution-focused. They are selected and customized from an umbrella of counseling therapies that include psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, existential, and person-centered approaches, just to name a few. This list is not exhaustive, and therapists amalgamate various therapeutic approaches to shape their own personal counseling style that best meets the needs of their clients. Counseling is also offered in a variety of formats, such as individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling, and group counseling.
Regardless of the counseling context, the supportive space in counseling provides the fertile ground for clients to gain a deeper understanding of their problems by exploring habitual patterns of thoughts and behaviors as well as the development of their personalities from childhood to now. The cornerstone of counseling is understanding that the therapist is not there to offer advice or answers; instead, the therapist is there to offer a safe, supportive, and genuine therapeutic experience that will allow the client to find their own answers. Clients are encouraged to introspect on their past, present, and future, while actively altering maladaptive thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, and negative emotions. Counseling guides individuals towards higher self-awareness and self-empowerment while increasing the overall quality of their lives. Armed with the newfound psychological knowledge and personal assessment of their own individual functioning, clients can take charge of their lives and live a more fulfilled, guided, and purposeful existence.
Instead of asking “Why Counseling?”, maybe we should be asking “Why not Counseling?”