What is counseling?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines counseling as : professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes
To you and I and people like us, counseling is a method of interaction between a professional counselor and a counselee or client, wherein the counselor using gentle empathetic probing and listening techniques to understand the client’s condition [be it confusion, fear, pain, suffering, trauma…], help bring about clarity of thought and guide the client without pushing or influencing, to help her/himself.
In what way does professional counseling by a psychologist differ from the counseling that we get from our friends and family?
Traditionally, when the mind was uneasy, we discussed our issues with families and friends. They listened, offered advice and helped lighten our emotional load.
However, this kind of counseling has a strong emotional angle, as these are people who love us. They may find it hard to help us become aware of and accept our own role in creating some of the misery or unhappiness we face. Family or friendly counseling is strongly inclined towards advice giving. And while this advice is seemingly useful, it usually results in short terms gains but falls short of helping us eradicate the problem by understanding its roots and creating new pathways of thought and action.
Family and friends may also be judgmental and take a strong “right/wrong” or “good/ bad” approach or a moral stand based or another person’s view of morality and ethics.
Whereas the professional counselor [who may be a psychologist, psychotherapist and/or a psychoanalyst] is trained in counseling techniques where emotion and judgment are not used. That does not mean there is no compassion. There is caring and empathy, but with a healthy level of detachment so that a sense of balance prevails, and practicality is not drowned out by emotion.
Why do people look down on counseling and think only “crazy people” need professional counseling support?
Sadly, in our culture, people have chosen to attach stigma to psychological counseling. They feel personal issues should only be discussed in your “inner circle” of family and friends, and not with a counselor, who is a stranger and does not know you. Therefore they might put down your efforts to seek professional help.
People who seek professional counseling are normal people going thorough some tough situations that may need a little help to get resolved. And this is a smart idea because an experienced professional counselor has the education, training, skills, emotional strength and knowledge of various methodologies and schools of thought to counsel people in a variety of situations.
“Crazy” people do not actively seek help to resolve their issues. Only a sensible and mindful person will think that he or she needs to address the situations, concerns or problems that are creating unease or distress in his/her life…. and use professional counseling services to help improve it.
I am worried that some of my friends, family or co-workers may come to know I am seeking counseling.
In “western” and “westernized” societies it is very common for people to share with their family and friends the fact that they are seeing a counselor or therapist. In fact it indicates that they recognize they have a concern or problem and are actively doing something about it.
In India we hate to admit we have a problem. We look at a problem as a weakness of character or mind. We forget that we are human beings, and we are fully capable of making mistakes or taking decisions that don’t work out. When we are stressed we suffer but do not want to see a specialist to treat the mind and relieve it of it’s trauma.
Your mind and thoughts are centered in your brain. Your brain is a organ just like your liver or kidney. But unlike your liver or kidney, your brain has to control, manage and perform thousands of tasks every second. And when your mind is troubled and stressed, your brain cannot perform many tasks well, which is why stressed out people suffer from physical health problems (acidity, headaches, loss of sleep, high blood pressure, joint pains, frequent infections, sexual dysfunction, etc) or mental health issues (anger, violence, sadness, depression, fear, loss of confidence, low self-esteem, social phobia, nervousness, anxiety to name a few).
So if your brain was troubled and stressed, would you prefer to let it suffer? Or would you do something about it? After all we rush to a urologist or a heart specialist when that organ is in trouble…. why do we let the brain suffer so much?
Does it matter very much what people think?
Does it matter that people think there is something wrong with you because you are trying to sort out your issues or seek clarity on them with the help of a professional?
Or does it matter more that you are happy, healthy and functioning well? You only live once…. will it not help to sort yourself out and move in the direction of peace of mind, satisfaction and realistically set goals?
So if family, friends ad co-workers genuinely care for you they ought to be happy for you that you are helping yourself by using the services of a professional as and when needed.