Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Good Addiction Recovery Starts With a Good Plan

 

Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH
 
Recovery from chemical dependency requires motivation and a will to succeed. Any worthy endeavor in life requires a good plan, and addiction recovery is no different. A good plan begins with the end goal in mind. Knowing what the end goals looks like provides a roadmap of what it is going to take to get there. An example of this is to think of taking a trip. What is the destination and what is it going to take to get there? What is the mode of transportation? How long is it going to take and what should be packed to make the journey? Recovery is much this way with motivation (gas in the tank), desire, daily living tasks such as eating and exercise, distractions with social groups and hobbies that involve other people just to name a few.
 
Sometimes a person who is struggling with addiction recovery may not have a motivation problem, but a direction problem. They may not simply know where they are going or how to get there. They can become stuck and begin to have trouble how to become unstuck. There are 3 questions a person can ask of themselves in this situation; and this can go for any situation, not just chemical addiction issues. Make a list of everything you can think of when answering these questions. Take your time and think it through about where you are going.
  1. What are the changes that I want to make?
  2. What are the most important reasons for making these changes?
  3. What positive results do you hope to achieve by making these changes?
There is a famous quote that says “a journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.” The first step of recovery is getting a plan together. Take some time to brainstorm where it is going, what positive impacts it will have and what it is going to take to get there.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Need Counseling But Don't Have Time


By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

Do you ever feel like there isn’t enough time to do everything that is needed, wanted, or demanded?  Time seems to slip by unnoticed like a thief in the night who has taken all of your prized possessions with little satisfaction left over.  Minutes turn into hours, hours turn into days then years just disappear with hardly a remembrance of a fulfilled passion or dream.  The sadness looms over you and knowing that some direction, guidance, wisdom and counsel is absolutely essential just adds to the frustration of a ticking clock.

So when the stillness of the early morning hours finds you pondering random thoughts over and over, you finally give in and get up searching for answers.  Googling results in numerous blogs, all with helpful tips, but nothing really satisfies.  Praying brings some peace but nothing really changes.  Even if a friend was awake the conversation would result in a competition over how busy one person was over the other.  So what to do?

Organize time.  “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” has an amazing (admittedly unattainable) daily calendar with hour by hour mapping of time.  While your workday is most likely already on a calendar intermixed with demands of your family’s schedule, scheduling time for “your” activities should also be evident.  This should include days of intentional rest, time for exercise, time for friends and even time set aside for a fun activity.  If it is on the calendar it is likely to be done.

Prioritize time.  Steven Covey has a wonderful time matrix (see picture) separating daily tasks into priorities.  The beauty of this matrix is the more you focus on “Important, non-urgent” matters, the less will be forced into “Important, urgent”.   The exhaustion from constantly dealing with “Important, urgent” matters drains all of your creative energy because so much of it is needed just to overcome the challenge of the crisis at hand.

Identify wasted time.  Once life has been organized in time blocks and prioritized by importance, then huge time wasters will rise to the surface.  Time wasters of TV watching, busy work, and internet surfing are more obvious.  But the worst time wasters are yet to surface.  Time wasters of wishing things could be different, fantasying about winning the lottery, obsessing over the last comment your boss made, or replaying the argument with your husband are all wasted moments of opportunity.

Recognize productive time.  Gather all of the wasted time into an imaginary block of time and put it towards an “Important, non-urgent” issue.  Counseling and coaching both best belong in this category as they work towards goals.  Too often, however, people wait until in crisis mode because their marriage is falling apart or because of unemployment.  While counseling and coaching can be helpful during these times, this is crisis time and not the most productive time to be getting advice.

Most likely, there is time for counseling but things need to be reorganized and prioritized in order to get there.  Don’t wait; you won’t be disappointed with the results and maybe a few extra hours of sleep will actually happen for a change.

 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

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)

 

 

Counseling is for THOSE People



By Matt W Sandford, LMHC

At the beginning I hated the idea of going to counseling. It felt like an insult that someone had suggested it to me. I was sure that what they meant was, “there’s something wrong with you, something that you can’t fix on your own and you need help.” I had never thought of such a thing for myself, because I knew I was not in that category; meaning the group of people who are screw ups or losers who can’t make their life work or can’t fix themselves.

It doesn’t mean that I did not think I had problems - oh no! Of many of those I was keenly aware (sort of). You see, I was a perfectionist. And that, unfortunately for me, doesn’t mean that you are more perfect than other people. It rather means that you are keenly aware of your imperfections and that you loathe every one of them. The reason the perfectionist loathes them is because they see their weaknesses and mistakes as representative of their defectiveness. And so they are driven in two ways – to prevent mistakes and to prevent anyone from awareness of the mistakes they do make.

So, I had no interest in counseling because to need counseling would mean that I couldn’t correct myself on my own and that would be admitting that I was not good enough to do the fixing. It’s hard to separate out how much of that was about admitting my struggles to another and how much of it was having to acknowledge my inability to myself. Either way the perfectionist is trapped.

The trap pushes the perfectionist back into more perfectionistic performance. Because the perfectionist needs to avoid mistakes and the guilt that they produce, they must perform at a ridiculously high level, although they wouldn’t see it as ridiculous. I certainly didn’t. They have layers and layers of expectations and ‘shoulds’ and when the perfectionist falls short of their expectations, as we all do, they do not turn to grace. They heap criticisms and recriminations on themselves, and either they spiral into shame-based depressions or they use shame to motivate them to perform better the next time. 

I believed that if I needed counseling that it would be admitting that I was a failure, that I was defective. The irony is that I had always believed that I truly was defective at the core of me but I was trying desperately to prove my way out of that and so to earn the badge “Good Enough” or “Acceptable”.

What that all means is that I was afraid.

Looking back I think that underneath my desires to do it myself was that I was afraid that if I went to counseling I would be exposed and I would find out that I was one of those screwed up people. And so as long as I worked on me by myself and didn’t go to counseling then I could make sure people could see me as I longed to be seen. And let’s face it, if I could fool everyone around me, then maybe that way I could fool myself into believing that I was not defective, because people were approving of me.

Some of us are quite good at fooling those around us; of performing at a high level and getting acknowledgement for our smarts, efficiency, dependability, loyalty, kindness, or whatever it is we are trying to perform at. But don’t let that lure you into thinking that you are safe; that you can outrun your inner demons, your anxieties and fears because it is just as dangerous to be good at performing. The truth is that as long as you can keep all the balls in the air, you are going to need to have to do it again tomorrow…and the next day, too. You’re stuck. You can’t perform your way out of the pressure, out of the shame, out of the gnawing fear.

I know that it’s all you know how to do. Perfectionism is a complete way to see and do life. That’s how it was for me. And that’s why counseling sometimes seems like such a foreign and demeaning approach. The irony is that counseling holds the key that you are missing. It would be hard for me to bring you into an understanding of that from the outside, but just know that there is something better than this merry-go-round you are currently on.

As a Christian, you may be wondering, where is the Gospel in all of this? Great question! Back then I had some serious difficulties with the whole concept of grace and God’s acceptance of me. I believed that God had expectations. I understood that God forgave me when I blew it, but I was sure that he was ashamed of me and expected better the next time. And that is where the “something better” will be found: in grace.

Since that time I have learned that I was really wrong. Counseling is not actually for those who are “screwed up”. There is no demarcation, no division of groups into “those needing it” and “those who don’t”. There aren’t “those who can fix themselves” and “those who can’t.” There’s just one group and we’re all in it. We move around; at times we could use help and at other times we can do whatever it is on our own. The big kicker is that whether we can do whatever it is on our own or not does not actually mean anything about our character. Having needs and having limits and being flawed doesn’t make us defective – it makes us human. And that is not a put down; for we are gloriously human – and therefore gloriously “screwed up”.

But it took time in counseling for me to embrace this reality – for myself and for others.

If you have questions about counseling, I would consider it a privilege to help you.


 

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Why Are Guys SO Afraid of Counseling?


 
By Dwight Bain
 
Face it. All people have problems, not just women. Yet, the research shows the majority of people who seek professional counseling are female. In fact the majority of counselors are now women, (over 60%).
·         Does this mean women have more problems than men?
·         Does it mean women really are the “weaker” sex?
Or does it mean women are just more honest because they are being healthier by working on problems instead of ignoring them?
This process may explain why men tend to struggle with addictions to sports, alcohol, pornography, gambling, violence or drugs more than women do. Simply put a healthy person seeks out wise counsel when facing a challenge and an unhealthy person tries to figure it out by themselves. Here are the most common reasons men avoid counseling situations.
1.       Pride, “I’m not the problem- everybody else is”
2.      Fear of their problems being exposed “for the world to see”
3.      Fear of being seen as “Weak” by not being able to solve all their problems alone
4.      Fear of Criticism or feeling ashamed
5.       Pain avoidance, basically “I don’t want to go to a place where they might make me cry”
6.       Humbling to ask others for help, (not a good idea if you are facing major back surgery, right?)
7.      Financial fears – with thoughts like, “Why do I have to pay to bleed out?” Or “Why should I pay a stranger to do what I know I should be doing anyway?” (Note – attending the average professional sporting event costs 3-30 times more than the cost of a professional counseling session. One challenges your thinking the other gives you a few hours to not think about anything. Guess which one the average guy will pick?)
8.      Not having time, or saying they don’t have time to seek help, yet the average man spends over 20 hours per week watching sporting events on TV.
9.      Big fear of the “Last stop”  which is the insecurity of feeling like you have  burned through every friend and now no one wants to listen to you talk about issues anymore. Basically everyone has given up on you.
10.  Being “Numb” to life and forgetting how it feels to feel normal, or feel good, or feel joy inside, so the goal is to stay numb by not thinking or feeling anything important… or another version of this is to be able to talk about the entire batting averages of some guy they will never meet to avoid having to learn the names of their own child’s teachers. Major discussions about highly detailed financial markets, yet cannot ever remember the date of their own wedding anniversary.
11.  Negative Expectations – “it won’t get better – so why even try?
12.  Being listed as “Crazy” or being perceived as having a mental illness.
This one is interesting since the American Psychiatric Association is releasing a new guide to outline the diagnosable mental health issues in the United States. The results do not look promising. Early indicators point to 10% of the population have some form of diagnosable mental illness while 40% have emotional issues in varying degrees of severity.  You have to wonder which half you and the people you work around are in, since the APA suggests that people who don’t seek out professional therapy when needed are actually the emotionally unhealthy ones. And you guessed it… it’s not women who skip out on seeking insight and emotional management, it’s the guys.
So should everyone go to counseling? Yes, but not all the time. Think of it like going to the Dentist, Chiropractor, Eye Doctor or Car Mechanic. You go to fix or maintain something in preventing bigger problems. Same with most counseling- It’s a short term approach to prevent long term problems.  But it takes getting honest about issues, and that is a place where a lot of guys don’t want to go. They would take down a terrorist to protect their family, but when it comes to facing their own selfishness, or anger, or lust, or confronting a rebellious teenager or a controlling in-law, they act like scared babies and hide.
The Biggest Problem Men face
The biggest obstacle men face isn’t usually their actual problems. It’s simply admitting they have them. Actually admitting you have a problem isn’t easy, but it is the beginning to solving it.
The odd thing is that most guys like to “fix” everything for others. You know, tinkering with the lawn mower to make it start again, or rebooting a computer, or plugging leaks under the sink, or working on the router to get the Wi-Fi back up… you name it, most guys will try to fix it… unless it’s about improving them or their relationships.  Seems backward doesn’t it? Actually it’s not. Fixing the car doesn’t require opening up your heart to possible hurt, rejection or criticism. Car’s don’t ask hard questions like when a son asks his father, “Why is it okay for you to watch bad TV, but it’s not okay for me?” Cars just sit there and don’t talk, think, feel or challenge a guy’s thinking.
Virginia Woolfe said, “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” So understanding emotions are healthy to express, but may cause you to feel helpless in the beginning of the process is normal. To express negative emotions through journaling, talking or praying is a powerful start, but honestly looking at issues in light of the example of Christ is the most transformational. Deep spiritual insight creates major emotional change.
Here’s a thought, What if the Clutter in a guy’s car, was an actual reflection of the clutter in his mind? While there are no psychological studies to show the connection between messy cars and mental concentration, it is true that greater self-awareness leads to greater self-improvement.
 It is a direct 1:1 correlation, which is why you always have to change you before you can change anyone else. This is especially true in marriage, yet many guys make blaming their wife or kids for their problems an art form. The sad reality is their wife and kids know that dad has problems too, but also know he would rather die than admit to any weakness.
So how can guys break out of the pattern of being average to become emotionally healthy? Simple, just follow these four principles.
1.      Face it
2.      Feel it
3.      Grieve it
4.      Grow
To face it is to get honest, to make it real. Since once you know you need to work on something like explosive anger, you now have to do something about it, or you have to lie and cover up. Guess which one most guys pick?
To feel it is to allow emotions to be expressed in a non-violent or non-threatening way. Since most guys learned how to “suck it up and be a man” which translated means “shut up” they don’t know how to describe what they are feeling. But they know how to be angry. That’s why anger is the most common emotion for men to express. They aren’t allowed to cry anywhere except their mother’s funeral, but they can be mad anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
To grieve it is to release the regrets of the past, face and feel the mistakes, take ownership for wrongs and to move forward in character development. This process leads to the final stage which is growth. A growing man will manage emotions instead of just stuff them. This is actually quite prudent since he will become more secure in himself to then lead his family in truth and that’s a good trade.
God wants men to be strong leaders. Not passive couch potatoes. If you are a guy let this article challenge you to lead your family in truth; if you are the woman in the life of a guy who blame shifts a lot, then it’s just about time for a real honest talk. Will he change? Will he take ownership to really be different? You won’t know until you ask.
 
About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Certified Life Coach in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint. "Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2013), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit
www.LifeworksGroup.org 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Is Your Teenager on Drugs? How to Look For The Warning Signs



Brian M. Murray, M.S., IMH

A nightmare scenario for a parent can be the day they discover their teenager is using drugs. Upon this discovery the parent will often question themselves as to how this happened and may even begin to question their parenting skills. One of the best things a parent can do is to equip themselves with knowledge of what teen drug use looks like.

If a teen is caught using drugs know that there are several factors involved with them using. Teenage years are often a time of exploration, hormonal changes and what psychologist Erik Erikson in his psychosocial stages of development identifies as identity versus role confusion. They are trying to figure out the world, who they are and their place in it. Drug use is often best resolved if it is treated like an open wound. Find out what they are medicating. What kind of life situational issues are they trying to resolve through the use of drugs? Sometimes it is simply a choice. Like any adult who suffers from addiction or dependency they often like the way it makes them feel or they may believe it gives them a favorable impression among peers.

Teens are often prone to sarcasm and negativity when being questioned or confronted on their behavior. This behavior is an attempt to protect what they are doing or to control their environment. It is usually associated with not wanting to give up what feels good to them, like drugs. Sometimes it can be hard for a parent to refrain from taking discipline to an extreme. It takes a little forethought to know that as a parent it is okay to respond to the teen without giving up ground. When dealing with drug problems, resistance is common. This isn’t about getting into a power struggle; this is about getting to the root of the problem.

Below are some warning signs a parent can look out for if they suspect their teen might be using drugs. This list serves as a guideline that can warrant further investigation of the teen’s behavior.

Signs of Teen Drug Use

·         Sudden change of friends. Questionable character and integrity of new friends. Contacting parents of new friends is always helpful.

·         School grades dropping off or failing.

·         Isolation or avoidance of family

·         Keeps doors locked and being very secretive

·         Lack of motivation, wants to sleep all the time, lethargy

·         Quick temper where there wasn’t one before

·         Unexplained nervousness, paranoid ideation

·         Changes hair color. Black or dark dyes are a common choice. Hair dyes throw off home drug tests that use hair samples.

·         Poor or avoidant eye contact, glassy eyes, dilated pupils, red and squinted appearance

·         Slurred or slow speech, delayed motor movements

·         Smell of substances, smoke or weird perfumes or incense smells in hair, auto or clothing

·         Unusual marks on arms, legs or other body parts referred to as needle tracks or pin sticks

Common Hiding Places

·         Electrical outlets, air vents, musical instruments & amps, hollowed out tampons

·         Buried in clothing in backs of drawers, socks etc., taped to backs of drawers

·         Under corners of carpets, mattresses, look for holes that have been cut out

·         Under the parents nose i.e. the master bedroom or other common areas such as kitchen

·         Pens or other writing instruments, lipstick/gloss, behind wall posters/pictures

·         Pet bedding, under the back of toilet tanks, game consoles, stuffed in candy/gum

·         False bottom containers that have screw bottoms that look like soda or hairspray/hairbrush

·         Anywhere in their car including under the hood. Anywhere in the garage.

This list can seem extensive and it is just the beginning. Watch the teen’s behavior, where they frequent in the house and be vigilant for certain patterns such as suddenly going in and out of the house through the garage, back door etc. The bottom line is drugs can be hidden anywhere and exhausting to look for. On top of this a teenager’s room can be a catastrophic mess and trying to comb through everything may seem almost impossible. However, it doesn’t take much to go into a teen’s room and start cleaning up a few things and at the same time make a few checks around the room.

Almost all teens are protective guardians of their rooms and may get defensive when the parent walks in, especially with a cleaning motive. Teens often feel that their room is their only safe place in the house and the only area they can claim some real estate. A protective teen doesn’t necessarily indicate drug use. Finding drugs in a stash after suspected behavior is what indicates drug use. In other words, get the evidence that the teen is using drugs before calling them out on it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Addiction Recovery Can Feel Like A Grandstand Performance



Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

It’s okay to be gentle with ourselves when we’re going through change and grief. Yes, we want to maintain the dis­ciplines of recovery. But we can be compassionate with our­selves. We do not have to expect more from ourselves than we can deliver during this time. We do not even have to ex­pect as much from ourselves as we would normally and seasonably expect. -Melody Beattie

Recovery from addiction does not have to be a grandstand transformational performance. When a person is going through recovery they may feel as if they are on display in front of friends, family, co-workers and others. Basically, they may feel like they are being watched by everyone in their community. This feeling of being watched can leave a person feeling intimated, vulnerable and subjected to other people’s expectations and judgments of how the recovery is supposed to be.

Stress, anxiety and fear of failure often result as the feeling of being watched begins to become part of the recovery process. The focus of recovery shifts from the self to what others might think or say. Should a relapse occur while being under a microscope, shame can be added to the list of emotions experienced. This is a huge distraction. In sports, professional athletes are often taught to overlook crowd noise and all of the distractions so they don’t lose focus on the game. This is the same in recovery: don’t let the distractions get in the way of the goal which is to recover and stay recovered.

A technique that can be helpful in addiction recovery is to be able to silence the judgmental voices. Stay away from the critics and the naysayers for a while and go somewhere to take care of yourself. The recovery belongs to the individual who is going through it, not everyone else. The addiction may affect others, however the idea is to not beat yourself up or get put on stage by others. Practice self forgiveness, take care of yourself and don’t live up to other people’s expectations of what recovery is supposed to look like. Each person recovers in their own way and pace just like all people running a marathon finish at different times.

Like the quote above by Melody Beattie, a codependency expert, be compassionate with yourself; take it one day at a time or even one hour at a time. Recovery is a process and there is no perfect approach. Sometimes it may feel like the whole world is watching and waiting like there is supposed to be this fireworks moment when suddenly the addiction is gone and an instantaneous transformation takes place. Like spectators in a grandstand watching a game, they are looking for the big play. It’s not like that. It’s a game of inches and those inches are calculated in days. Take it easy, just one day at a time.

 

Monday, July 01, 2013

Three Ridiculous Reasons People Give For Not Going to Counseling


 

By Laura Hull, LMFT

Coping Coach

 

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 Australia. Here are three of the top reasons I have heard:

 

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.