A few weeks ago I participated in an interview about college student success (which is relevant because it’s my career), and the first question was, “What’s the best piece of advice you could give to an incoming freshman?”
Without hesitation, I smized and chirped, “I’d tell them to get their ass into the university counseling center as fast as they can and use these services while they’re free.”
Shocked that I didn’t give the typical answer of “Attend a football game adorned in garnet and gold! Join a club! Find an internship!”, the interviewer asked, “Oh, you mean for our students who have mental health issues?”
I said, “Honey, every last one of us has mental health issues. No matter who you are, your parents or teachers or the media will manipulate your innocent mind by socializing you with their habits and norms. You don’t have to have a diagnosable mental illness to have shit to unpack.”
And I meant it. It took me until I was 21 years old to walk into my university’s counseling center because of the same bullshit reasons we all know: The shame of admitting something may be wrong, that we’re “weak,” that we need help to solve problems we can’t solve on our own, yadda yadda yadda, all of which are steeped in self-loathing and socialized aversion to vulnerability. I’m fascinated to see that mental health issues are becoming more mainstream to discuss–meaning most people would agree that there’s no shame in being diagnosed with or treating a mental illness–yet many people still hesitate to pick up the phone and find a counselor when they are in need of one.
If you’re on the fence, let me give you a few reasons why you should absolutely seek counseling, even if you think “your life is fine.”
- Just because your life is functional on a day-to-day basis does not mean you are immune to being plagued by significant challenges.
- Even if you are part of a conventionally “healthy” family, you still carry aspects of your behavior that are unhealthy. For example, most people have a poor sense of boundaries. Most people are not in tune to their needs. Most people have not explored those traumatic memories from childhood that quietly haunt them because they’ve decided to sweep them under the rug (thanks to the misguided idea that to be an adult means to forget the past ever happened).
- All of your upbringing influences everything about your life. For example, if you have not critically examined your parents’ marriage (or lack of one), you do not fully understand the dynamics of your own relationship or romantic identity.
- The “why” of our lives is what gives us meaning, purpose, and understanding. If you do not understand the origin of your sadness–even your happiness–then you are living your life without a true awareness of self. You need to be able to connect the dots between your past and present and understand how your behavior reflects a consistent pattern of decision making. Hint: it’s your future as well.
- We are all primal animals at heart with an intense yearning to be vulnerable and childlike. Working with a therapist to recognize your own being is a wildly humbling experience that helps you get in touch with the nature of your soul. At its best, counseling is a recalibration of spirit that reminds you of what the fuck you’re supposed to be doing on this planet.
Perhaps you’re on the fence because you’ve seen awful TV and movie portrayals of cliché counselors who only ask the question, “And how does that make you *feel*?” I have never been asked that question throughout three different counselors at different points of my 20s. When finding a counselor who fits your needs, look for someone who not only specializes in your area of need (for me, it was spirituality, LGBT issues, career, and family of origin issues–a list you can usually find on a therapist’s webpage), but also for someone whose counseling approach aligns with yours. There are counselors who deliver news delicately, and there are some–like the ones I requested–who use the “confrontational approach,” which (in my interpretation, not theirs) means I want them to rip me to fucking shreds. It works so well for me. We cackle together as I begin to swerve around my issues and they slam me back into my lane with a two-ton truck. A girl like me needs a heap of directness and challenge.
If I had to make one final argument, it would be this: counseling gave me my life back. In some cases, this statement is quite literal. In other cases, it gave me an understanding about my life that propelled my self-awareness to a level I could never have imagined. My counselors have given me so much language and insight to describe my human experience that I notice others’ mental health issues so easily. Counseling gives us the key to unlock a door that was accessible to us all along, but we never had the courage to turn the knob.
If you’ve been debating going into counseling, or if you’ve known for a while that you’ve needed it but never had the courage to make the appointment, consider this your sign from above, sweet cheeks. You have the power. Change your life now.