And yet, so many people are afraid to seek out counseling or therapy when they find themselves facing genuine crisis in their lives. It’s a stigma against mental illness which has been holding fast for decades, and it’s doing the current population no favors to hold onto it. Nearly 20% of Americans are diagnosed with mental illnesses every year, but less than half of them actually seek professional help. What about those individuals who just need counseling to overcome a stressful point in their lives? What are therapy and counseling, anyway? Does having no diagnosed mental illness make it easier to seek help?
Counseling? Therapy? What Are They?
Counseling can be done by a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist while therapy usually requires a psychologist or psychiatrist. The difference is that counseling is designed to address short-term goals or a single issue/situation where the individual needs help examining their motivations, their options and making a healthy decision. Therapy is more far-sighted and can involve everything from psychotherapy to behavioral therapy. Psychiatrists can even prescribe medication to help individuals handle anxiety, depression and other expressions of psychological distress.
In essence, counseling and therapy are both methods of one professionally trained individual helping another person understand themselves and their choices in life while offering support and a listening ear. Most people who initiate counseling are going through life stress, such as a divorce, loss of a job, the death of a family member or a career change. Any type of change, positive or negative, creates stress and that leaves individuals at a loss. Therapy offers a chance to speak to a sympathetic, objective individual who can use knowledge and experience to provide plausible options.
Why Is There Such a Stigma?
Although people are quick to say that there’s no shame in getting help when it’s needed, the overwhelming majority do not understand the purpose of counseling. One of the largest misconceptions is that behavioral therapy is to ‘fix’ someone who is ‘broken.’ It could be that a person has a phobia or an obsession which is interfering with their daily life. Behavioral therapy, counseling and even medication can help a person find a new lease on life.
The stigma goes hand in hand with ignorance. As mental illness is considered frightening by the public, very few people actively seek to learn more. The idea of someone being ‘crazy’ is used to dismiss behavior that we find either frightening, unpleasant or offensive. With the association between psychology, psychiatry and counseling and mental illness, the uneducated public feels it’s admitting to a ‘failure’ by seeking out professional help for life stress.
There is nothing further from the truth. Counseling, behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis and other therapy techniques are meant to help everyone. Life stress is something that all of us can understand; after all, regardless of circumstances, unexpected things happen to everyone. Just as we have come to understand that stress is as common as sunburn, so must we now educate ourselves and each other to know that all forms of therapy are merely medical treatment for the side effects of stress.