Post written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, Ph.D,. Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Office of Intramural Education and Training, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org
When our usual ways of coping are not working, it may be time to find a counselor. The reality is that most of us could benefit from professional counseling at various points in our life. I know for myself, the stresses and strains during my doctoral program was a time when going to counseling made all the difference. Since then, I think of obtaining counseling resources as investing in my own well being. After all, we routinely take our cars in for tune-ups, our pets to the vet, and our bodies to the doctor for physicals. Holistic self-care means investing in our own mental and emotional health, as well!
From talking with NIH fellows in wellness workshops and individual appointments, I know that many face a number of challenging life situations. For example, adjusting to being in a new geographical area in a large, competitive work environment without your usual or familiar supports. Or trying to determine your own career path when what you’re interested in pursuing differs from the vision of parents, PIs, or mentors. Or trying to excel at work while finding time to give to partners, spouses, children or other important people in your life. Or struggling with trying to make your own health and wellbeing a priority when receiving messages that nothing matters but getting the work done. And sometimes beginning to realize that patterns of behavior that you’ve used in the past just aren’t working anymore – and, in fact, may be making the situation worse. All of these circumstances can be managed better with the help of focused and supportive counseling.
Some people are comfortable with the prospect of seeing a mental health professional, but others are not open to the idea. They may have an internalized belief that going to a counselor means that something is really wrong with you or that you are weak or that you are avoiding responsibility for your life. These ideas often stem from 4 prevalent myths about counseling:
Myth #1: Only “crazy” people go to counseling.
Truth: Very few individuals receiving outpatient therapy fall within the “severe mental illness” categories. Most people seek counseling because of everyday stressors or difficult life situations. A counselor can provide support and assistance in learning how to better cope with these as well as attend to any feelings of depression or anxiety that may be present.
Myth #2: Why can’t I just talk to my friends?!
Truth: Counselors differ from friends in many ways. Beyond the obvious difference of their years of training and experience, they rarely give advice or tell you what to do like well-meaning friends often try to do. They are there to listen to you and help you come to your own decisions within a non-judgmental and supportive environment. They can also provide an important “mirror” for you to better understand what you’re going through.
Myth #3: Counselors always want to go back to your childhood and blame your parents for everything.
Truth: Counseling involves learning how to accept responsibility for your own life. Sometimes exploring childhood issues that may be contributing to your current situation is indicated, but not always. The major focus is on changing perceptions and behaviors in your current life that are creating difficulties for you.
Myth #4: Therapy can take years – once you start, it never ends!
Truth: Most counseling is short-term (8-20 sessions) and focused on specific and attainable goals. Sometimes longer work is needed and desired, and other times people take a break for a while and come back to counseling later. But the decision to end therapy is one you make with your counselor – you are not held captive!
The NIH Employee Assistance Program provides counseling services to help current employees with their health and wellness issues. The OITE also provides short-term wellness advising and can help you get connected with a local counselor. We can help you understand the training and expertise of different kinds of counselors (e.g., social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists) and what to look for in a counselor. [You may want to get started by reading this article on “How to Choose a Counselor or Therapist”: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-find-a-therapist/] We can also help you better understand the insurance process. So invest in yourself and contact us if you think you would benefit from some counseling. We’re here to make the process easier!