Is Seeking Mental Health Counseling a Question of Motivation?

By: Brian M Murray


“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.” ― Steve Maraboli

Deciding to take that first step to call a mental health professional to discuss personal problems can be an intimidating experience. It is normal to feel anxious or afraid when a person begins the process of opening up to discuss their issues especially if the pain has been stuffed or packed away for years. So, if going to therapy is about healing then what makes it so difficult? What causes people to avoid it? Why is it so hard to sort out problems and get to the bottom of depression, relieve anxiety, or finally grieve the loss of something or someone held dearly? Or perhaps the question is “what is it going to take to finally kick that addiction habit that has become a routine part of life?”

Often the answers to these questions are multifaceted for many reasons. A quote attributed to many famous people goes something like this: people will only seek to change their situation in life when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Like this quote suggests, when does enough become enough? Emotions are strong and powerful motivators and often people seek counseling when they can no longer tolerate the pain. Emotions are there for a good reason; they say something about what a person is experiencing. Too often people become familiar with their pain, they don’t want to deal with it and this results in a dysfunctional comfort zone or a type of distorted truth.

There is only so much emotional stuffing and distorted thinking the mind can hold. It has limitations. Like our dear old psychology friend Sigmund Freud once said, “our bodies betray our minds.” In other words, the psychological suffering manifests itself somewhere else in the body. The worry wears holes in the stomach and leads to loss of sleep, stress creates body aches, anxiety can increase heart rate, blood pressure and sweating and in severe cases it can manifest into a panic attack. 

A metaphoric way of looking at this is like that drawer at home that has been stuffed so full of junk it comes off the tracks because it won’t open. The drawer is finally opened and another miscellaneous object is tossed in there, never to be seen or thought about again. Out of sight out of mind, right? But it is still there. Over time the junk drawer gets to be too much, it’s overwhelming, it needs to get cleaned out, organized and put back together. When this done, there is a sense of accomplishment, of feeling better about the situation and the drawer becomes more easily managed and maintained.



Where to Begin?

Recognizing that there is unwanted or unmerited pain in life is the first step. While this is good awareness, how does it lead to healing? Seeking therapy now becomes a question of motivation and it might begin to get a little personal. A common reason for being afraid of therapy has to do with not wanting to roll out of a dysfunctional comfort zone and start breaking down all the presenting issues. In assessing motivation, this is referred to as being either ambivalent or contemplative. It is not yet action. The language of being ambivalent or contemplative is, “I don’t have or want a problem, I’m okay right where I am,” and all the while the person knows deep down inside the problem is there but they are reluctant to take action.

A useful tool to help muster up the courage to go to counseling is something called a decisional balance. This process looks at and weighs the balance of the benefits versus costs of counseling, and the benefits and costs of not going to counseling. For example:

Counseling Benefits:

·         Increased control over life

·         Better marriage/relationships

·         Better work performance

·         Improved health

Counseling Costs:

·         Experiencing emotional pain

·         Increased anxiety

·         Financial commitment

No Counseling Benefits:

·         Don’t have to deal with problems

·         Easier to keep stuffing emotions

·         Don’t have to think about it

No Counseling Costs:

·         Job loss

·         Relationship/Marriage loss

·         Increased health risk

These are only examples of how to measure and weight out the decision of whether or not counseling is needed. What side is the balance tipping toward, going or not going? In the long run, seeking out therapy is often a question of motivation. If you are still contemplating therapy, ask and evaluate the answers to these very simple questions: what would be achieved as a result of going, what is the worst that could happen, what is the best that could happen?

 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

 - Hebrews 12:11 New International Version (NIV)



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