Today, I want to break the stigma of seeing a mental health professional. Yes, it is more accepted in today’s society but there are still negative thoughts out there. This post is for those people who are afraid to be judged. This post is for those who have earned their degree, honours and masters. This post is for those who are curious as to how a professional can help them.
During high school, I saw a counsellor for the first time. I was losing motivation as each week passed and my teacher was concerned. Unfortunately, I had trust issues with most adults – the school counsellor included. I could barely muster up words to describe how I was feeling. Albeit I was conditioned to ignore my emotions… I was so afraid that he would judge me or “turn against me” somehow. I saw this counsellor once and never returned.
Throughout the next 5 years, I struggled with negative thoughts and had trouble sleeping. I saw a few counsellors which helped to a point. Even though I got along with these people, still, I felt the same: I had a heavy chest and a sadness that wouldn’t go away. Eventually, I scraped up the courage to see a psychologist. It was the best decision I ever made. Although it was very costly (as I am a student and work casually), it was worth it. My boyfriend would always remind me, “Your mental health is more important” – this finally clicked. I couldn’t push my needs to the side any longer. I longed to move forward with my life. I made it my mission to allow for psychology sessions in my budget. If I didn’t have enough to pay for it, I’d either borrow money from someone and pay it back or reschedule the appointment until I could afford it. It became a worthwhile priority in my life!
Counsellor or psychologist?
First, let’s define these occupations. Both counsellors and psychologists can help with mental health issues and personal problems. However, the main distinction is that a psychologist has a protected title that only those who are specifically qualified can use. This involves more than six years of tertiary studies.
As I mentioned before, I have seen both counsellors and psychologists. I found that a counsellor’s fee was more affordable than a psychology session. To this day, I assume it’s because of the difference in education and a psychologists protected title.
What’s important however, is whether or not you get along with the professional. The first couple counsellors I saw, didn’t seem like people I could ‘click’ with. Eventually, I met a counsellor who was amazing and really helped me through some harrowing times. She was kind, genuine and encouraging – qualities that I was lacking in myself/around my immediate social circle at that time in my life.
Steps to seeing a mental health professional.
- Do your research. Read about each counsellor/psychologists profile if that’s available. Find their website and read, read, read! Once you’re certain about having the first initial consult, send an email.
- Attend the consultation. The mental health professional should then contact you and organise a consultation. This is usually a orientation session to talk about what your goals are, medical history and emergency contacts.
- First session. This can be nerve-racking even though you’ve already had the initial consultation. But remember – this is the first step to overcoming the hurdles you’ve been experiencing. It’s okay to be nervous. It’s normal. Being vulnerable is difficult. It may not seem like it, but it will be worth it.
- Self-reflection. You’ve completed your first session. Well done. Now, you can take the next 7-14 days to think whether or not you would like to continue with this counsellor/psychologist. Do they respond to you in a way that makes you feel supported? Do you feel safe being vulnerable with them? Do you feel you could learn a lot from them? Expression is hugely cathartic but it’s also important that you are able to openly learn, and improve your life. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, let the counsellor know that you won’t be continuing. Go back to Step 1 and do your research. Maybe ask friends/family you trust about professionals they may have seen.
- Continue counselling sessions. You’ve now made the next decision to either continue or find another professional. Remember, healing isn’t linear. You may have a breakthrough and another hurdle comes along. It’s okay. Like Dory says, “Just keep swimming!”.
Seeing a professional can be daunting and even terrifying. But if talking to friends or trusted adults aren’t improving your situation, take that step to seek help. Don’t wait. Waiting may exacerbate your symptoms.
Mental illness can be so isolating. Reach out. And if you know someone who is struggling, send them a message. Give them a call. Visit them. You never know what battle someone may be facing. Don’t wait until it’s too late to show your kindness. Don’t wait to spread love to those closest.
It’s okay to ask for help. We are stronger together.
Image from last years trip to New Zealand.