Sometimes You Just Need a Good Listening-To……Should I Try Counselling?

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Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have someone listen non-judgmentally and with interest to what you think/ believe/ want/ hope for/ fear/ hate/ distrust/ desire/ need? Or even just someone to bounce ideas off of?  Just be there while you cry?  Help you find creative or practical solutions to your struggles?  That is the very definition of a counsellor.

But isn’t counselling just for people who are crazy?  Depressed? Alcoholics?

Sure, I would definitely recommend counselling for those struggling with mental health issues, those stuck in negative patterns, those experiencing crisis or those living highly stressful, anxious lives; however counseling can also work wonders for the everyday person who wants to think, feel, problem solve, create and grow in the presence of, and with help from another caring and thoughtful person.  Maybe it’s a habit you want to break. Perhaps you’re struggling with family conflict. Or maybe you’re unhappy in your job, and need some guidance in figuring out what career will really make you happy. Sometimes people just want to get something off of their chest, or ask philosophical questions.  Most often, someone is struggling to understand a situation or needing support through a difficult time or major change.  Counselling can be a great option in these situations!

So what’s stopping you? The way counseling is portrayed in movies and TV shows can paint a judgy, awkward and pretentious picture It is also often used interchangeably with the word “therapy” — the differences between the two lie in the certification of the provider, as well as the presenting topic – more medical and diagnosed mental health concerns should seek therapy.  But in reality, while there may be a couch or a comfy chair, therapists are not detached, distracted listeners who charge an arm and a leg for an hour of their time and come out with a statement full of judgment or a diagnosis that paints you with a negative brush. Just because you receive counseling doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong with you.  A lot of people seek out a counsellor to help them with a goal or dream, and still others for support as they hope to help others through their struggles.

Seeing a counsellor also doesn’t mean you’ll need medication, group therapy or extensive, lifelong treatment programs.  While all of the above are a possibility depending on the situation, a good counselor will start with the gentlest strategies to find success, and only work with what you are comfortable with.  A good counsellor listens, helps you find your strengths, identifies thoughts, feelings, questions and answers and helps you to realize the changes or directions you would like to go.  They support you during your difficult times, celebrate your good times and guide you through goal setting, reflection and problem solving.

It’s also easy for people to get hung up on the cost of therapy — which can run the gamut from $80 to $200 for a session (usually an hour in length). Therapy is expensive, but it’s an investment and you should be getting a return on your investment. There are other things that are expensive, that we don’t question the finances of so much, such as hiring a good attorney if you’re going through a divorce.  Also, often private health care plans will cover the cost of counselling sessions, and sometimes companies or employers will have Employee Assistance Plans for the same purpose.  I often tell people that they are going to “work through” their challenges one way or another: spending money on counselling is a good investment as opposed to alcohol, shopping, shoes, gambling, food or other distraction techniques…

“But aren’t therapists just people you’re paying to listen to your problems?” you may ask. While compassionate listening is an important part of the counseling process, therapists have master’s and doctorate degrees and have spent years studying how people change, relationships, work environments, conflict resolution and communication. We spend years living in those systems and training in those systems so we can help you get to that part of yourself to understand the things that are driving your habits and choices.  There are many theories, strategies and evidence based practices based on solid research that these professionals can draw upon once the client is ready to move on to problem solving and/ or change.

So how would you even start?  The first step to starting therapy is to find a therapist. If cost is an important factor, you could ask your insurance company for a list of therapists who would be considered in-network. There are also government organizations and Not-For-Profit support services.  Still more private offices may offer “sliding-scale” programs.  Churches and schools also have people trained in counselling. You could also try searching the internet, yellow-pages, social media or friends to ask for a list of mental health professionals. Especially if you are looking for a therapist for a particular issue (i.e. divorce, weight loss, grief), referrals from friends/ family or specific internet searches may be the way to go!  There are also more and more online options (cyber-counselling) over email popping up to offer counseling at your pace, place and convenience.  Check out www.knowledge-power.ca/cyber_services.php   for more info!

One of the most important aspects of counselling is the counsellor/ client “fit.”  Not everyone clicks with everyone…don’t let this be a reason for you to give up!  No different than your doctor, vet or employer, you need to find the person you connect with, trust and respect.  It’s okay not to like a person’s style and find the best person to help you!  All counsellors have a different personality, belief system, and style….shop around!  Even ask ahead of time some questions about their strategies, style or beliefs about your struggle…a good counsellor will talk with you and take time to answer these questions!

There is also the question of how many sessions one should go?  Some people want to have a speedy experience, where the problem is solved in six sessions or less. If this is you, then you should look for a “solutions-focused therapist.”  It is still important to keep in mind that you can’t expect that all problems can be solved in a short period of time, as some situations take longer to sort through. Meanwhile, other people can end up going to therapy for years, either because the situation has never been resolved, or because they like being able to come in for an hour each week to talk about life – either one is okay and you can decide what is best for you.

So…what is the first session like? Some therapists do a first session by getting an assessment of the current problem. Some will do history, relationship or background information gathering.  Others will listen and let you guide the process, and still others will engage using metaphors or thought-provoking questions.  It isn’t just a one-way relationship to be sure….you need to have an idea of what you would like to talk about, and what you would like to get out of therapy.  Be sure to communicate that desire…you’re the boss and the therapy should meet your need!  A counsellor’s job is to help guide people where they would like to go.  As a trust and rapport builds, this sharing and reflection will become more natural.

The purpose of counselling is to build. Grow. Repair. Remake. Lift. Understand. Seek. Answer. Identify. Feel. Live. Smile. Listen. Be.

If you need or want any of those things….give it a try!

Sticks & Stones: Negative Self-talk

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If day in and day out, I said to my friends or family members:

“I don’t know why you even bother, you’re never going to accomplish……….”

Or

“You’re stupid, lazy and good-for-nothing, no wonder you can’t…….”

And on and on and on, they probably wouldn’t want to be my friend much longer?!  And rightly so! But, we’re stuck with ourselves, and often that’s who’s talking to us like that!

Most people don’t realize it, but as we go about our daily lives we are constantly thinking about and interpreting the situations we find ourselves in. It’s as though we have an internal voice inside our head that determines how we perceive every situation. It’s the soundtrack to our thoughts, and our brains are listening very carefully, no differently than it listens to the words of others and has a reaction, emotion and brain/ memory firing according to what it hears (think the act of learning, conversation, sweet nothings, commands, etc). Some of our self-talk is a neutral easy-going kind of banter (“I think I’ll have waffles,” “cute shirt,” or “I wonder what Mary is up to tonight?”); but then there’s the dark side…

Have you ever noticed yourself talking down, criticizing, or holding yourself to an unrealistic expectation? Of course everybody has their bad days, where they do something foolish, feel awkward or regretful and then move on, but generally we should be doing a lot more cheering ourselves on than bashing ourselves for our mistakes! Life is t-o-u-g-h and we are all just doing the very best we can….we need to remind ourselves of THAT, and not of every single time we fail. There is a time and place to challenge yourself, but that should not ever replace recognizing that you are trying, succeeding, growing and learning too. If you find yourself constantly judging, critiquing, and generally hating yourself, you are at risk for lower self-esteem, decreased activity and productivity, depression, inability to concentrate and a negative outlook on life which will poorly reflect on you and negatively affect your relationships and responsibilities….which will likely begin the negative-self-talk-cycle all over again!

If this all sounds too true to you, you aren’t alone. Although it’s sad to say, we tend to be our own worse critics. We tend to be able to see the good in others (our friends, family members etc.) and dwell on our own less positive points, and it is hard to recognize our good side and pat our own back…especially for just trying or being brave or keeping calm. There is no question that in rough world, we have to be on our own side! So how can we possibly start to change the way we treat ourselves? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Be gentler with others. The way we treat other people is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves; the ability to forgive or have patience extends to others and yourself and it’s a great habit to get into….once you are easier on others, it’s easier to be easier on yourself!Ÿ
  • Actually believe that no one is ever perfect. Even the people you think are perfect are not. Trust me. You need to allow yourself room to grow and learn and make mistakes sometimes. Apologize and forgive yourself when things go really really wrong. The act of forgiveness is difficult but also can give a sense of freedom and growth.
  • Try to concentrate on the positives. This is FAR easier said than done, but we need to recognize and appreciate our efforts and our positive traits especially on days when we feel the worst. This takes time and practice, and we need to remind ourselves a lot, but there are positives and life’s “little” things and gratitiudes can take us a long way too!
  • Set realistic expectations of yourself. Don’t set yourself up to fail, if there is something that you feel you need to change then work towards it but don’t expect yourself to accomplish the impossible or to make major changes in a day.
  • Take a step back. Try to look at yourself through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes it’s easier to see your good points if you think about how your friends or family view you. Ask yourself, “how would they describe me? What qualities do I have they appreciate?”
  • Work at ways to build your confidence. Often, it is when we are feeling insecure, judged, vulnerable, anxious or undervalued that we use negative self-talk. Work at learning about situations, building your skills, recognizing your strengths, practicing and building a support system in order to feel more confident and competent in these situations.
  • Be around people that are nice to you! Often, we repeat the messages we hear from others (or worry others might be saying). Choose friends, colleagues and social situations that celebrate and support you! Nobody needs frenemies and they’ll bring you down long after you leave their presence. Stick to those whose words will uplift and bring joy to you no matter what kind of say you are having!
  • Have a “go-to” mantra or phrase that you can repeat during stressful, negative or difficult times to replace negative thoughts and keep calm in your mind. Create your own meaningful phrase or use a popular quote that makes you smile or feel positive! Some examples are:

* This too shall pass

* You have enough. You do enough. You are enough

* I’m doing the best I can and that’s enough for today

* You are smart. You are important. You are kind.

*I think I can, I think I can…

*Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

*Faith does not make things easy. It makes things possible

* I will try.

We can learn a lot from children…check out this little girl who’s got positive self-pep-talking down to an art! Enjoy the smile:)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kKswLd65Ws