Three Ridiculous Reasons People Give For Not Going to Counseling
By Laura Hull, LMFT
If you’ve read enough of my blogs, you probably will find a common thread among them that starts with “if I had a buck for every time…I’d be writing this from _____” (fill in the blank with some exotic location). So in an effort to maintain continuity, here you go: if I had a buck for every time I heard someone give a misguided reason for not going for counseling at a time when he/she really needs it, I’d be writing this blog from the sunny beaches of
. Here are three of the
top reasons I have heard: Australia
Myth 1: Counseling is too expensive.
Truth 1: Divorce is more expensive. Medications are often more expensive. Losing relationships are more expensive (emotionally). Losing your ability to experience joy is more expensive. Times are tough for many people right now. When people are living paycheck to paycheck or are between jobs, it can feel like a real financial stretch to spend money “talking about yourself or your problems.” But in reality, it is often in those stressful and/or uncertain times that people need the benefits of counseling the most. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, anxiety, marital problems, suffering the effects of not being able to handle the stress of daily life, profoundly unhappy, having suicidal thoughts, etc., can these issues really wait until the financial situation improves? Are you willing to struggle for weeks, months or possibly longer, hoping that the money situation improves and the problem will resolve on its own? There are many avenues to seek help. Private practices, agencies, and church organizations offer services and will often work with individuals and families to make it affordable; some agencies reduce or eliminate fees based on need. Do not assume that counseling services are out of your price range. Counselors did not go into this line of work to “get rich.” We went into this line of work because of a desire to help others live healthier, happier lives.
Myth 2: Counseling Doesn’t Work.
Truth 2: Yes it does. Does it work for everyone, 100% of the time? No. Nothing in human hands works 100% of the time. But it works for many people. According to the American Family Physician publication in December 2005, by 2020, depression will be the second most common disability worldwide. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 people in this country will experience a major depressive episode at some point in their lives, with 20-30% having a recurring problem with depression. These are staggering numbers if they are accurate. Physicians are prescribing anti-depressants now more than ever. These medications sometimes have unpleasant side effects. Many studies have been conducted that have shown that patients who receive treatment for depression benefit from counseling and often hold their therapeutic gains. “The Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement states in an evidence-based guideline that mild to moderate depression can be treated with psychotherapy instead of, or in addition to, pharmacotherapy.” (ICSI, 2003). This is just one study. I encourage you to go online and seek reputable sites that explain the studies that have been conducted concerning counseling, talk therapy, and the benefits and limitations of the different ways (psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy) of addressing emotional and/or mental health issues.
Myth 3: I don’t have time for counseling.
Truth 3: We make time for the things that matter to us. This is a great truth. What is your happiness worth to you? Is it not worth an hour of your time, once a week? (for starters) How much time do we spend watching TV every week? How much time do we spend on our computers, surfing the web or plugged into our social media sites? Certainly it requires a dedication of some time to glean the full benefits of counseling, but aren’t you worth it?
Starting counseling can feel like a big step. Some people are very hesitant, or more truthfully, very afraid of counseling. Often times, the counselor’s office is the last stop on a road of desperation. Sometimes a demoralized client comes in for a first session after having exhausted every other avenue in their life to solve the problem - friends have been unable or unwilling to help, family has been unable to help resolve the issues, self medicating hasn’t worked, and counseling is the “hail Mary” pass at the end of the game with time expiring. I have so much empathy for that person. What I try to help my client see in that situation is that counseling is not the “hail Mary” pass at the end of the game, rather it is the overtime that allows the game to still be won.
I remember the client, who in a moment of clarity mixed with humility, revealed that it was very hard for her to admit that she needed counseling. She felt demoralized that she did not have the ability to work through her problems on her own. She stated that “it galls me to have to pay a stranger to help me figure out the mess I am in.” She was basically a strong lady, and it was hard for her to concede that she needed someone’s help and that she could not do it on her own. When she was finally able to trust the counseling relationship and see that the process really could help her, she was well on her way to being a much healthier and happier person. Ultimately, her time in counseling was life-changing, and she would tell you that herself. But that is not a unique story. When I was beginning graduate school many, many years ago, a friend of mine said to me “I don’t know why you want to be a counselor. People don’t really want to change. You will fail with people more than you will succeed because people would rather stay unhappy than have to change.” I considered that a challenge!
I truly believe that resistance to change is not about not wanting things to be better, in most cases. I believe that people learn to function (or barely function) in a way that resembles “autopilot” (for lack of a better descriptor). When people struggle emotionally for a long period of time, they must find a way to still get up in the morning and go to work. They must still find a way to be the chauffer, cook and chief bottle washer at home. Life goes on whether we are engaged in a meaningful way or not; whether we are happy or not. These people can get through the day. They function well enough to hold a job, or provide for the basic needs of the family. This is existing, “getting by,” but it is not the type of living that brings meaning, contentment, and happiness. If this type of approach to life goes on too long, these people can forget what it feels like to function well. They forget what it feels like to be truly happy and experience real joy. Some people begin to shut down emotionally, unable to feel much of anything at some point; the pain dulled because that’s a coping mechanism, but unable to feel more than a fleeting moment of happiness here and there, if at all.
I am happy to report that in all the years I have been a counselor, while I have seen that change is a challenge for some people, more often than not people DO want to better themselves and their lives. People who come to counseling and are highly motivated often have a very positive experience. There really isn’t a good reason not to try it.