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Are You New to this Therapy Thing?

Are You New to this Therapy Thing?

New to Counselling?

Are you new to this counselling thing? Are you contemplating giving it a try? Do you need to go to counselling? Or just curious as to what the fuss is all about? 

Well, here’s my attempt at giving you a little glimpse into the beauty of this phenomenon that is growing in its cultural acceptance and perhaps this can help you figure out whether signing up for counselling is the next right move for you. I speak as a fellow human who has attended counselling and as a therapist who has sat opposite to many who have courageously sought out help through the medium of therapy.

Here are some stats to gain a wider picture:

  • Statista conducted a survey of 1,650 people ranging from 18 years and older in 2020 via telephone interview. They asked the respondents, “in the past 12 months, have you received any counseling or treatment for your mental health?” 43.7% of respondents from British Columbia said “yes.” New Brunswick wins (or loses depending on how you look at it…) at 60.1% of respondents responding with “yes.” Manitoba was the lowest at 27.7%. 
  • Another study found that between 2019 and 2021 the percentage of adults who had received mental health treatment in the past 12 months grew from 19.2% to 21.6% (Terlizzi & Schiller, 2022). 
  • Statistics Canada found that in 2018 17.8% of Canadians aged 12 and older reported needing some help with their mental health. This is around 5.3 million people. That’s a lot of people! Out of that 5.3 million, 43.8% reported that their needs were either not met (they did not go to therapy) or were partially met (they went to therapy but it was not enough).

What do these three sources tell us? 

Simply put, therapy is being accessed more and more. Perhaps, we are catching on to the fact that our mental health is worth investing in. It really is. Gone are the days when therapy was reserved for those that we lazily labeled (or diagnosed) with words like “crazy” or “problematic.”

5.3 million Canadians acknowledged the need for assistance with their mental wellbeing. 

Deeper than just being accessed more, these studies are perhaps a helpful reminder that you are not alone, not part of a small fringe group, but… dare I say… human. Not yet got this “life” thing figured out. Normal? I think so.

 

What Does Therapy Look Like?

So, if you’re new to this or not yet bought into it, give me a moment to paint a picture of what it looks like: 

You arrive in a cozy office, sit in the waiting room, another fellow human – your counsellor – will arrive and call your name, together you’ll enter a room with a couch and perhaps a few chairs. You sit down. And then…

This is what you may see on the outside but so much is happening internally. 

You are setting out on a grand adventure. 

You are escaping the noise and bustle of every-day life.

You are marching out into battle. 

You are sitting by a warm fire on a stormy winter evening.

You are resolving unfinished business.

You are tending a wound that no-one around you sees.

You are aspiring and hoping for who you could become.

You are settling into who you are, becoming more at home in your own skin.

If you break your arm, you go to a doctor. This doctor will first assess your injury and then set you off on a path of healing and recovery – aligning your arm, bracing it, and advising you on what activities may or may not be achievable in light of your wound. 

In a similar way, you may have experienced various psychological/relational/emotional challenges – a huge setback in your work life and left feeling fragile, recurring conflict in your most intimate relationships, abuse from people that were supposed to be your protectors – and the question remains: where do I go to sort through/respond/heal these challenges?

The added challenge of mental health is its invisible quality, which leaves us vulnerable to the pushback: “is this just in my head? Can I just push through and deal with this?” A broken arm just seems so simple and obvious. However, mental pain and suffering left unattended can fester in similar ways than an untreated wound. Though, it may come out in angry outbursts, tension in your shoulders (perhaps its not so invisible…), the inability to know what you feel, a low sense of self-worth, or intrusive thoughts that plague you every time you slow down. 

This is where counselling becomes useful in attending to your mental well-being. It is true that humans are resilient and often, even after experiencing traumatic life events, people bounce back with courage and vitality. And yet, counselling is a protected space to address and tend to our relational, emotional, personal challenges.

 

How does counselling accomplish change?

At very least it accomplishes this through undoing our unbearable aloneness. Dr. Diana Fosha passionately declares that our relational, emotional, personal challenges largely stem from “being alone in the face of overwhelming emotion” (Fosha, 2000). Thus, therapy, at its best, works to undo aloneness.

Judith Herman, the legendary trauma therapist, writes that “the fundamental premise of the psychotherapeutic work is a belief in the restorative power of truth-telling” (Herman, 2015, p.181). In the presence of another human, can you share honestly how you are doing? Can you express, in detail and with clarity, the truth of your being? As you dive into the biggest challenges that seem to plague your life through this act of “truth-telling”, you are met with wise attentiveness and deep compassion.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, the medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, says “being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives” (Van der Kolk, 2015, p. 81).

 

A Safe Relationship

Do you have relationships marked by trust, safety, honesty? How can you tell?

Bessell highlights the importance of each of us being heard and seen by another person in our lives. We need to be held in someone else’s mind and heart. He writes, “no doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love; these are complex and hard-earned capacities” (Van der Kolk, 2015, p. 81).

Do you feel a desire to be met with this sort of attentiveness and care? Does it feel too good to be true? Too simple? Fair responses. A helpful question to explore is what the costs are for not receiving this hard-earned capacities? 

I know I need them. And as I step into vulnerability—this act of receiving and trusting—I find myself walking lighter, thinking with greater clarity regarding my relationships and problems, and feeling more at home in my body and in this world. Perhaps you could call it feeling mentally healthy.

I encourage you to find relationships that are characterized by these qualities. Whether or not they are counsellors. It will change your life. It’s changed my life.

Here at Alongside You, these quotes inspire our work; We offer award-winning counselling services that are shot through with these qualities: a safe context to be seen, held in the mind of another, and this “hard-earned” love that Bessell speaks about. If you wish to learn more, contact us to see how we can help.

 

References

Elflein, J. (2022, August 31). Adults who received past-year Mental Health Counseling Canada 2020. Statista. Retrieved from, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1328941/adults-who-received-past-year-mental-health-counseling-canada-by-province/ 

Facts and figures. Fraser. (n.d.). Retrieved from, https://vancouver-fraser.cmha.bc.ca/impact/influencing-policy/facts-and-figures/#:~:text=Between%2019.6%25%20and%2026.2%25%20of,a%20mental%20illness%20each%20year. 

Fosha, D. (2000). The transforming power of affect: A model for Accelerated Change. Basic Books. 

Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery. Basic Books.

Statistics Canada. (2019, October 7). Mental health care needs, 2018. Health Fact Sheets. Retrieved from, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00011-eng.htm 

Terlizzi, E. P., & Schiller, J. S. (2022). Mental health treatment among adults aged 18-44: United States, 2019-2021. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books.