Many people struggle with mental health issues. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that there were over 50 million Americans dealing with mental health issues.
Unfortunately, mental health does not get the attention it deserves, and many people continue to struggle. Over half of Americans who experience mental health issues do not receive the help they need.
There are many reasons why people don’t get the mental health treatment they need. These include insurance problems, the general lack of resources or services, and/or a shortage of care providers in the area.
I, however, also believe many people don’t seek help because of the negative connotations that come with going to counseling.
“Qualifying” for Counseling
Being a student in a clinical mental health counseling program, of course, I am biased in saying that mental health is important and matters, right? Well, I do believe that mental health is important, but before starting my counseling program, I had never gone to counseling myself. To really understand what a counselor should be and do, I decided to experience counseling myself. So less than two months ago, I went to my first counseling session.
I have always loved helping people, whether it was family, friends, or people I just met, which is why I am pursuing a counseling career. However, I never thought that I “deserved” or “qualified” for counseling services myself. I thought, like many other people I have spoken to, that counseling was only for people who have experienced serious trauma or abuse, or who have a diagnosed mental health condition. And, as someone who had only gone through typical stressors in life, I didn’t think my experiences were traumatic enough to require counseling, or to seek out help.
Growing up, I had a loving family, a few friends, and a decent middle-class life. I went to school, had a house to sleep in, and had people who cared about me. Of course, my family had typical arguments and disagreements, but I was never abused or beaten. From what I learned through society, my friends, and the people around me, trauma was having alcoholic parents, being beaten, being sexually abused, or physically bullied by peers. These are traumatic experiences that no one should ever go through, but they were things some of my closest friends dealt with.
Even though I was verbally and mentally bullied by classmates in school, I thought that was a minor problem compared to what a lot of my friends were going through. My experiences didn’t compare to what my friends were going through, but they still affected me. However, I believed I just had to deal with it and get over myself.
I never thought that this was my own trauma, or that trauma comes in different forms for different people.
I never thought I was “allowed” to go to counseling because I didn’t experience a truly traumatic event.
Although I believe that mental health is important and have always loved helping people going through difficult times, I never thought I could or needed to go to counseling myself.
I was wrong.
Experiencing Counseling as a Client
After starting my counseling program, I learned that there are all types of trauma that can affect people and their mental health. I also learned that the best way to help people would be to experience counseling myself, so I decided to go to counseling.
I was very nervous about my first session. Even after learning about counselors being open and kind to clients through my classes, it was scary walking in there the first time. I had an advantage compared to most people, as I had an idea of what the counselor would say, but I was still anxious and nervous. Automatically, thoughts flooded my mind;
“I shouldn’t be here.”
“The counselor is going to judge me for my silly stress.”
“What do I even say?”
These are common worries and thoughts that new patients battle when going to their first counseling session, and I KNEW what to expect as I am learning to be a counselor myself!
I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down, that everything was going to be fine. When the counselor called me from the waiting room, I got up and he greeted me with a smile and said to follow him.
My counselor was very kind, empathetic, and really listened to my worries and thoughts. He did not judge me for what I was bringing into the session, and seemed concerned about me while I was talking about my life. It was the BEST experience.
Counseling Is for Anyone and Everyone
Counseling is different for every person, it’s a place for people to say or do what they need to help them move on and get through a hard time in their life. It can also just be a place for clients to rant and let go of deep emotions they may not be able to talk to anyone else about.
From my experience, clients are in control throughout the session, while the counselor is there to guide them and be there for them on their path to healing.
For me, that counseling session was relieving. I was finally able to talk to someone about the family issues I had been going through. Although I did talk to my friends about my struggles, I felt like I was burdening them when they had their own problems to deal with, so I avoided talking about my problems at all.
Talking with a counselor was different. He asked me questions and just made me feel like he was really listening to what I was saying. He didn’t kick me out or tell me my trauma didn’t matter.
Even if you think you don’t need counseling, or haven’t been through trauma, you can find something in it. You can learn more about yourself, your values and beliefs, and what you need in your life. Counseling is whatever you make of it, but everyone’s experience is different.
Mental health is important, and people should be encouraged to take care of themselves. Everyone should try a counseling session just to see what happens. It can help people in ways that they didn’t even know they needed.
Continuing My Journey with Counseling as a Counselor to Be
I have continued to go to counseling and it has been a great experience so far. I have learned so much about myself, what I went through and how it affected me, and various other ways that have helped me live a better life. I am not done going to counseling and my hope is to continue to grow from my sessions and learn more about myself and who I am.
I hope with my own counseling experiences, I will be able to truly support those who come to me in times of difficulty and struggle, and help them live their happiest and best life.
Image by VitalikRadko on Deposit Photos