What Mental Health Counseling Is Really Like


MentalHealth_Flickr
Image is taken from Texas Public Radio

If you need help finding a counselor, please look at this video from my YouTube channel. 

Back in college I saw a mental health counselor for the very first time. I was frankly overwhelmed with life and I needed help. After a semester, I felt better and it wouldn’t be until a few years later that I got help from a counselor again. Here’s what I wish I knew before beginning that journey.

There are different types of therapy

When I was in college I had received something called “talk” therapy. I now receive Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with my current counselor. I’ve been seeing my current counselor for 1.5 years. Though there were small lessons I learned through talk therapy, I definitely like CBT better.

Talk therapy is the kind of therapy you would see in tv shows growing up. I would talk and talk for almost the full hour and my counselor would only occasionally interject a thought or question. The biggest lesson I learned from a semester of taking therapy was to be comfortable with being alone and to even enjoy my own company. Prior to that therapy, I dreaded walking to the train by myself or pretty much any time alone.

CBT is focused on changing your response to situations. Yes, something awful can happen- but how do we react to that? [Edit- In my case, sessions have looked more like a conversation. My counselor and I talk and share and she will ask questions and spend time offering direct advice. I was never given direct advice in talk therapy. She’ll even walk through strategies or give me worksheets or recommendations for books to read or things to try outside of session.] 

Mental Health Counseling Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Trust God

There are people who are resistant to medicine because of their faith and I know that others would scoff at such extremism. But why do we then act as though we might not need help with the things going on in our heads? It seems okay to take a Tylenol  but admitting that you need help with mental health is for some reason not okay.

CBT, as mentioned earlier, focuses on your thoughts. And the very idea of reorienting your thoughts is inherently biblical. Philippians 4:8 instructs that, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The counselor I see is Christian and will often mention the bible to me or even recommend Christian books or authors to me. The irony is that for many- my choice to seek counseling would make me seem weak or “unbiblical.” But choosing to have a counselor has grown my walk with God in incredible ways.

You Are Not More “Broken” If You Seek Help

I remember going for this class on finances and a friend of mine would often say that none of us in the class should offer advice because the very fact that we need that class means that we’re not qualified. Maybe there’s some truth in that but I wouldn’t apply this logic to counseling.

I like to think of it like going to the gym. I consider myself pretty fit and I wasn’t when I first started working out. Maybe that’s the same for you when you first seek help with mental health. You go and initially need a lot more help and over time, you don’t need to see your counselor as often.

When I go for counseling, sometimes there are a lot of things I need to work through. Maybe there’s a lot I’m struggling with. But other times, I’m honestly feeling okay but go out of discipline and over the time I’ve sought counseling, I’ve learned invaluable lessons.

I don’t think that choosing to seek help means that one is more “broken”, we’re all broken. It just means that one is willing to try and get better. [Edit- There are times people do go for counseling and are going through extraordinary pain or need, but this isn’t always the case. I honestly think counseling could help most people as well as people with more severe need. And to clarify, both times I sought counseling, I was in need of help.]

You Get Out What You Put In

Counseling is not a magic pill. It is hard work. Maybe you’ll match with the first counselor you see, maybe you won’t. The unfortunate truth is that it is hard to find a counselor but if you are persistent enough, I’m sure that you will. I could write another blog post on just how unfair it is that it is so hard to get counseling but I’ll save that for another day. (BTW: Hasan Minaj has an excellent special on this topic.)

Once you get through the already unfair hurdle of starting counseling, it will be a hard journey to grow.

There have been many times that I have been tempted to focus on things that I want to complain about or seek our old destructive patterns. but I put in the work and choose to think better thoughts and this has led to so much joy in my life.

Closing Thoughts & Lessons 

Do not let the stigma around mental health counseling stop you from getting help if you need, if you believe you would benefit from it. At the end of the day, you are the one who has to live your life, not people who pass judgment or who categorize you as “less than” for seek help. To end off, below are some of the major lessons I’ve learned from counseling through CBT from that around 1.5 years hat I’ve been receiving help.

  • Even when I desperately want to spiral into negativity, I know to instead choose positivity. It feels so good to be negative in the moment but choosing positivity is a flourishing foundation to build your life. And you’ll find that over time- you were so right to be positive.
  • Sometimes we can’t give people exactly what we want, but we can offer our best yes.
  • You never know what’s right around the corner.
  • If there’s pain you need to process, journal it!
  • When someone isn’t listening to what you’re saying and//or saying hurtful things- let them know and leave the conversation.
  • Boundaries are so SO good.
  • Rewrite your narratives about who you are.

There are countless other lessons, but these are just a few I wanted to share. Best of luck to you if choose to start counseling, please always feel free to reach out.

-Nina

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