When is it time to see a counselor?
Some of your friends have talked about going. People you trust have suggested it. Now you're contemplating.... but how do you know it could be time to see a counselor?
I get asked this question quite a bit and have learned to ask several questions in response. (Answer a question with a question...classic.) But seriously, although I am unashamedly biased that everyone could benefit from counseling at some point, here are some things to consider if you are on the fence about going now.
1. Have you felt overwhelmed for a while now?
Yes--that is a vague amount of time. That is purposeful, though; we all have different stress thresholds. Even for those with the strongest coping skills, it's completely normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes. The key is if you feel like you've been living in a state of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or drained for what seems longer than you'd expect for yourself. Or perhaps, you realize that all you know is feeling overwhelmed....all the more reason to look into counseling! Why? Because this might be an indicator that learning some new skills, identifying unhelpful patterns, and trying some new strategies could help you manage stress more healthily.
2. Are you in a time of transition or change?
Transition of any kind, whether it is generally considered "good," (graduation, marriage, new relationships, new jobs, etc.), or more difficult (losses, divorce/breakups, moving, ALL that has happened in our world the last few years, etc.), can not only cause present stress, but dredge up a lot of past stuff, too. You know, those past hurts or insecurities that we try so hard to push away. Counseling can help you both learn to process what's going on in the here-and-now in a healthier way and help address any unmet needs or wounds that might blindside you in the middle of a big change.
3. How is your overall functioning?
It sounds like a sterile question but it is worth asking. How's your quality of life been? Do you notice it slipping significantly in one or several areas? Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health are all important and intertwined, so if one area feels affected, chances are others are, too. For example, perhaps you notice you've lost interest in things that matter to you, so you start to isolate, thus straining your relationships. Or maybe you find it's increasingly more difficult to get out of bed and when you finally get to work or class, you can't focus because your mind is racing with worries. Or, it could be a more long-term observation that you just don't seem to connect with others like you would like; feelings of worthlessness lead to harmful decisions; you find yourself in self-destructive patterns; or some terrible things happened and you feel stuck in their effects. It could look a lot of different ways, but ultimately, it is really asking yourself how are you really doing overall--just surviving or living meaningfully? When you engage in counseling, you commit to setting goals concerning emotional and mental health that are designed to help you grow. To make progress towards healing and living meaningfully. The process can look different depending on the counselor and client, but in therapy there is support, some structure, and different evidence-based approaches to help you move forward.
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list of questions to determine if counseling is right for you. It can, however, be a starting point to guide your self-reflection as you sit on the fence. Again, I am admittedly biased towards counseling--I wonder when it's ever a bad idea to have a space to set growth goals, gain self-awareness, and pursue healing without judgment.
I understand many do not share this sentiment and it might feel shameful or terrifying to take the step into counseling. It takes a lot of courage to make that phone call! Signing up to be vulnerable can be scary. My hope is that if you do, you will be pleasantly surprised. And as challenging as it might be, you will come to cherish that time as a way to show yourself understanding, love, and growth.