Pulling Back the Curtains: An Inside Look at What Really Happens Inside the Counseling Office

Today I was at the doctor’s office and I was asked by the doctor, who was making small talk, what I had planned for the rest of the day. The doctor knows that I am a counselor and I replied that I have clients for the rest of the day. Now maybe the doctor said this because of the physical pain I was in but the next comment was, “So will there be a lot of ‘hmm’ , ‘ahh’ and ‘uh-huh’s’ today? I laughed and told the doctor that for me to treat a client like that would be the equivalent of him having a patient walk in, high-five ’em and send them back out the door. He wouldn’t have any clients if he only gave out high-fives and neither would I if I only made sympathetic sounds. Goodness. Do you think we do 8 years of University and 2-4 years of Residency just so we can make noises? 🙂 (I could do that without all the training- call me skilled 😉 lol).

The event at the doctor’s office reminded me of a meme. And like all the best memes it was from the TV show The Office. In this meme (below), Stanley imitates what he thinks a counselor does and what a counselor makes; both of which are laughable. In fact, even I bust up laughing at most counseling memes … because they’re funny. Enjoy them, laugh, but please, please do not think they are accurate.

20190723_174849

Do we make sympathetic sounds? Sure, if that’s what you want to call it. 🙂  I call it communicating and letting the other person know that you hear them, you understand what they’re saying and you care. Have I heard stories from the Crypt about counselor out there who only stare at their clients and if you’re lucky they’ll make a noise? Yes, I have. However, most of us counselors do not fit in that category. Please, keep “shopping” for the counselor who is a good fit for you – it is life-changing to say the least.

20190723_174820

I am so grateful for my career. It feels like a perfect fit – like the way we all would like our outfits to feel- “right” and comfortable with the elements of style that makes you YOU. Though Stanely likes the idea of an air conditioned office downtown where you sit and judge people, that is not the case.

Fact: I do sit in a chair

Fact: I do have an office that I love and feels like a cozy “second home” to me (and hopefully to you too, should you stop by 🙂 )

Fact: I do have some seriously great air conditioning for summer and heating units for winter

Fact: It is not a physically demanding job. We don’t get “body tired” (except for discomfort if we sit too long- gotta get some laps around the building here and there to keep the blood flowing 🙂 )

Fact: It IS an emotionally demanding job.

Counseling is a career that takes every ounce of who you are into the room with you. Literally. We must take good care of ourselves throughout our everyday lives in order to be able to fully focus on you and your needs. We put every ounce of US into being present with you.

20190723_174805

Fact: WE NEVER JUDGE. This is such a true statement. Another true statement is that I did not laugh with this meme because to me it is sad that someone, somewhere got that idea that this is what we do. 😦  When someone is pouring out their heart, their fears, the things they are scared to tell others, the very crevices of their soul that even they are afraid to look at, I can honestly tell you, judgment doesn’t come to my mind. It is such a privilege when someone trusts us with who they truly are. I cherish, respect and protect that vulnerability. I am honored by someone’s willingness to share, because I know it’s not easy.

20190723_174330

Do you remember when the style of meme above was trending on social media? I found it interesting because there are so many misconceptions from field to field of what we actually do. Even the counseling meme doesn’t match my opinion of what I think I do, and it’s supposed to shed some semblance of light onto this career path! 🙂

Here are the top 10 things that I do in a day at the office:

  1. I form relationships. When people walk into my office, they’re not “one more patient”, they’re not a task to check off or a “disorder” to cure, they’re PEOPLE. And I’m people. And we relate. We talk. We laugh, we cry.
  2. I learn about you. I find out through comfortable conversation what brings you in, what you would like to have change in your life, what your struggles are and what your successes are. What makes you smile brightest? What makes you angry? Learning about you helps me help you. My goal is not to change you to what “I think you should be” (you live your life, not me – and remember, we’re not there to judge). My goal is to learn what you want for yourself, your relationships, your career, your mental health, etc.
  3. I listen. Most of us in the world listen to respond, not listen to hear but wow does it change things when you experience the feeling that someone hears you- someone sees you. And they care. On paper, these are words. In the counseling office, this breathes healing and new life.
  4. I take what I learn and conversationally draw the picture of what I heard as if displaying  it on a white board for the person to step back and look at from an objective vantage point. This tends to bring a lot of clarity as “we can’t see the forest through the trees.” This can induce many “aha” moments (they’re the best, aren’t they? 🙂 ) A lot of times, our friends and family mean well, but they are stuck in the trees with us and often times cannot clearly get a bird’s eye view of the forest either. It is emotional blinders that keep our friends and family from thinking clearly and that is very normal. When we are too close to a situation, we are sometimes absorbed into it, which brings me to the next thing I do.
  5. #5 is kind of like when you feel all emotional and you talk but you feel like you’re making no sense at all and feel almost tongue tied, as if you cannot get the words out so you groan and put your head in your hands in frustration. Then you you look up, wondering if the person you talked to understood anything you just said… AND THEY DID! They “get it”! Not only do they get it but they help you find the words to express the emotions that are all tangled up inside you. Ahh, that feels good. Just think of counselors your emotional constipation relief. 🙂
  6. Back to that white board: Since I am not you, and you are not me, and I am not part of your family, chances are that I am going to have some different insights into the situation to share and perhaps lay some things on the white board that you didn’t notice before thanks to the “forest through the trees” phenomenon. Suddenly you’re not feeling so dang stuck, right? Look at all these things I didn’t even realize were there, you may think. Wow, I have more options than I initially thought... Hey, I don’t have to stay tangled up in this tree! (back to the forest analogy) your brain may shout!
  7. So now you are feeling more empowered, excited and stronger than you were when you walked in 45 minutes ago. You may realize that when you let go of that emotional constipation, you feel so much less pain! Great!! So… now what? You have options, you know you’re not stuck, you’re excited …. but how do I go back home and live this out, Bobbie-jo?
  8. I’m glad you asked 😉 lol. This is the part where us counselors show you a way to take everything you have gathered today and use it to start the process of moving from where you are to where you want to be. Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to go from taking a walk to being the next American Ninja Warrior by the next session. We always work with you where you’re at – it’s not until session 2 that we expect you to be Ninja Warrior material (totally kidding 🙂 ).
  9. Life is always lived one moment, one step at a time and not one second or movement sooner. Well, so is healing and recovery. We take one step at a time. Perhaps that sounds meager but I assure you it is not!
  10. Trust the process. This one always makes me smile to write because I have always been a GOAL! person. Process? Yaaaaaaawn. 🙂 But guess what I have learned about life? Life is Lived in the Process. The goal is the direction, but life is the process. When you’re stuck in the trees and you have someone (your counselor) saying, “This is what the forest looks like. I know you’re struggling to see it right now and I get that. I can show you the way to get yourself out but there are going to be times when it’s dark and you can’t see. You will need to listen to my voice as I show you where the next step is. But you have to take the step; I can’t take it for you. I’m right here and I am going to walk with you through this. Yes, counseling requires a trusting relationship, which is why us counselors are to uphold high levels of personal and professional ethics.

We will cheer you on and  encourage you every step of the way. And when you are in the process of “becoming” as the Velveteen Rabbit says, you can fully step into who you are. Counselors don’t “fix” you. Counselors show you how to find and “follow the yellow brick road” that you’re looking for. But you must walk it. We cannot do it for you. We will walk along side you throughout the entire process.

And when you feel empowered, confident, healed and whole again, when you enjoy life and feel free, you may think we did something extraordinary and that we really do have a “magic wand”. But we will simply smile and say to you, “You’ve always had the power [my dear], you just had to learn it for yourself.”

20190723_195416.jpg

 

 

 

Counseling… Let’s Bust up Some Serious Myths!

Counseling… the “C-Word”? Why is it that in 2018, people are still kind of hesitant to accept that counseling is not for “crazy” people, but for “everyday” people like you and me? We are all people and I have never met a person without problems in their life, have you? We all have some “junk in our trunk!” Sometimes our junk gets overwhelming and we don’t know where to start or what on earth to do with all the crap everywhere and suddenly we’re feeling stuck, trapped and unhappy in our own lives!

Sometimes we need to go to counseling simply to learn what the road of life doesn’t teach us; how to create our own happiness, how to heal instead of hide from pain and how to take your power back during times when you feel like your back is up against a wall.

At some point in our lives, we all have had something that we dealt with and had trouble kicking to the curb (and not going back to get it! 🙂 ). It’s called being human. There’s no shame in that. It is normal to have problems. It is.

Everywhere I looked today as I was running errands, I noticed people with high stress, anxiety, anger, depression, insecurity, apathy, low self-esteem and huge, painful, aching hurts. People everywhere are struggling but somewhere along the line we must have learned that feeling like crap is “normal” or that feeling the way you do is “the best that it gets”.

We also may have learned from somewhere that we have to paste on a smile and keep our pain “in house” because getting help would be shameful or a sign of weakness-or perhaps even feel like a betrayal to someone or something.

I think it takes A LOT of courage to walk into counseling (even though my office is so comfy! 🙂 ). I see you as brave, determined and intelligent because you recognize the need for good health and you are willing to pursue it.

There are a few misconceptions out there about counseling and I want to address a couple. Why? Because inaccurate assumptions can keep so many people from help.

Misconception #1: “Counseling? That’s just talking; how is that going to fix anything?” I am grinning as I write that one because counseling is not a passive process. If that were true and all I had to do was “shoot the breeze” while you lay on the couch (PS. I don’t have a couch!) and chat:

  1.  How on earth would I have a job? If just talking worked, then most of us would be good to go after “venting” to your friends, spouse, parents, etc. … but even after the rant, the problem is still usually there, isn’t it? Sometimes, the “venting” can actually cause you to feel more stress, not less… so there must be something other than “venting” going on in the office… And usually we are venting about the symptoms of the problem (everyone and everything but ourselves) but not acknowledging-or knowing-what is really causing the distress.
  2. Why in the world did I have to go to college for 8 years, get 3 degrees, do thousands of hours of residency, and get tested and licensed by state boards before I was able to even step foot into this career? And why do I have to keep current in the field of counseling by doing 20 hours a year of Continuing Education? I mean, if this is just talking, well, I learned how to do that as a little baby! SO… maybe I learned a little something about helping people re-wire their brains so they can make the changes they desire for their lives, perhaps? 🙂
  3.  Just like going to the gym, counseling works if you work it. If you jump in and start walking or jogging, I am going to pace right along side you, working just as hard to help you reach your goals. The same way a physical trainer would develop a workout process with you, a counselor is going to do that as well to help you get where you want to be. But if you’re not willing to do the work… well, you can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.

Misconception #2: People thinking that mental health medications are “Happy Pills”.

Excuse me while I pause to throw my head back and laugh. Do we call the diabetics’ insulin shots “happy injections”? Or chemo “going to get your feel good on”? Yeah, right.

Don’t you think if there truly was a happy pill, the government and big pharma would be all over it, advertising on billboards, TV, and all over social media, working together to roll bank? Ummm, most definitely. But we already know this: There are no quick fixes in life. You don’t get a Ninja Warrior bod from sitting on a bean bag, eating Cheetos. I mean, that’d be kinda cool but… nonexistent. 🙂 Anything worth having requires an investment of self. And if it doesn’t take some level of investment, we don’t value it very highly anyway.

Misconception #3: The lie that tells us, “I just need to be stronger; I don’t need anyone’s help.”

If we were to break our leg, we wouldn’t tell ourselves that we “just have to be stronger” and “suck it up” or that “we can fix it ourselves.” We wouldn’t say, “oh, it’s not that bad” … “the pain comes and goes so I’m probably fine”… “it’s all in my imagination”…. Uhhh, no. We would go to the doctor to get it fixed so we can walk again and not have a limb hanging at an odd angle.

Yet when we feel overwhelmed or tortured in our minds, most of us tell ourselves these very things, though what is happening is just as real as a broken leg! I once listened to a man who was diagnosed with cancer. Due to this diagnosis, he fell into a deep depression. Thankfully, he went into remission from the cancer and recovered from the depression. After going through these huge ordeals, do you know what he said? He said that he would rather go through cancer again than go through that deep depression again. That is a pretty bold statement and I do not take cancer lightly at all. But I don’t take depression lightly, either.

So why is it if we feel awful physical pain, we rush our butts to the ER, yelling, “Fix it!” … “Help me!” … “Make this better!” but it we feel like we are falling apart in our minds, we tell ourselves minimizing statements or tell ourselves that this is the best it gets anyway. Is living with a broken leg the best it gets?

No, you don’t “see” depression as immediately as you do a limb hanging off (well, sometimes you do actually…). But we do see it. We don’t see the wind. But we do feel it. And we all acknowledge that it exists. We don’t pretend a migraine doesn’t exist because we don’t see it visually.

I have NEVER heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t believe in headaches.” Or “No, wind isn’t real- it’s all in your imagination.”  … We acknowledge and believe that fibromyalgia is real, though it is something that has no known cause or cure and cannot be seen… but we ignore mental struggles that can be just as debilitating. Why?…

You know what has always been interesting to me? People think that no one can see their internal. mental suffering -that they can ignore how they feel, push aside their emotions and as long as they put on the smile when they go out the door and laugh at the right times, then no one knows.

But think about what would happen if you ignored that broken leg. You would have major painful consequences that would affect your career, family, activities you used to love, your relationships and your wallet from trying to band-aid this break yourself instead of going in to get the real work done. And yes, people would see it.

It is the same if you ignore emotional pain.  You may push it aside for the moment and then later snap at loved ones, yell at the dog, fight with your husband over nothing, sleep a lot, cry often, have to take time off from work or cancel with friends from mental exhaustion; you may end up in a broken relationship, being left because the other person couldn’t compete with what you were pretending wasn’t there. You may lie to try to cover your tracks, especially if you are dealing with stress a way you know others wouldn’t approve of, knowing the people and things you value in life could fall apart if anyone found out. So when we think we are hiding internal struggles, just know it comes out one way or the other.

Instead of letting mental or physical wounds fester and get worse day after day, what if we worked at repairing it so you could feel better? If your car had a few flat tires or your alternator went out, you would go get that fixed, right? But when our lives feel miserable, we just let ourselves stay in that tortured state. Again… why?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, constantly down, moody and sad, always feeling guilty, not good enough, not perfect enough, pretty enough, thin enough; feeling as if you are “wrong”, “bad” or “dirty”, feeling like you always have to prove yourself, explain yourself, “fix everything”, do everything for everyone, make everyone happy… if you continuously tell yourself, “If only I had this…” or “If only___________ would change, I would be happy. That would make it better… I can tell you right now that it is not true. We would like to think that something or someone else is causing our unhappiness because it is so much easier to “explain it away” then to take a look at ourselves, our lives, our behaviors and what is really going on inside ourselves.

Therapy is kind of like taking [cognitive] medicine for your mind and every time you come in, you are getting your treatment. It is not just talking while someone listens. It IS treatment. And after you finish all your treatments, you leave feeling better and more equipped to handle what comes your way… just like people in the maintenance stage of a physical issue- things have stabilized and you have the tools you need from the health center to continue maintenance. Occasionally you may come in for a check-up, another treatment, etc.; other times you simply leave feeling relief and knowing you can always come back if you need anything in the future.
If any of this “hit home” for you or you think this information could help a friend or family member, please don’t hesitate to share this with them.

I am a counselor. I love what I do. And I would be honored to walk with you to on your journey. At Hurt Counseling Center, we offer hope, help and healing in a comfortable, nonjudgmental environment where the focus is on helping you. Don’t let fear of misconceptions keep you from feeling better.
*If you are currently in an emergency, call 911 immediately.

Fear Quotes-736349