Are you sure you want to talk about this?

As a counselor, my inclination is to encourage people to talk to me because I want to hear what they have to say. For me, being heard is such an invaluable gift, I want to give that gift to others as much as I can. So much of our experience goes unacknowledged and unmentioned, and usually, those are the experiences we need the most support for. We need someone to bear witness to what happened, if for no other reason, to validate that it was real and acknowledge that everything they felt was real. I want to hear my clients out, and I embrace the opportunity to be there when someone decides that they want to work through something that is hard to talk about. Something else I’ve learned on my journey to trying to be “super counselor” is that readiness is a real thing, and no matter how dedicated, well-trained, lovely or caring your therapist may be, if you aren’t ready to tackle an issue, they can’t do it for you. Before you seek help with a particular problem, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when it comes to what to expect of the therapeutic process.

  1. Licensed counselors are mandated reporters. If you mention suicidal ideation, specific plans to harm yourself or someone else, or abuse of a child or elder, we have to report it and we have to take it seriously, and it does mean breaking confidentiality.
  2. Since so many of the issues that arise in therapy are sensitive and hard to talk about, the aforementioned situations are the only times we have to break confidentiality.
  3. Counselors can be empathic and intuitive. Most of us are familiar with the types of symptoms and behaviors that cluster together, but we want to understand your situation. Can I tell someone the typical course and symptoms of PTSD? Of course. Depression? Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Same thing. Still, what is statistically typical does not mean it describes what you are experiencing and I’m not concerned about representative samples in my office. I’m concerned about the client sitting across from me. Everyone experiences life through a unique lens. While mental health issues may blur or distort that lens a bit, it doesn’t mean that we should throw out everything about your way of seeing the world. The thing is, even the best and most knowledgable counselor is not going to be able to read your mind or give you that instant answer you’ve been looking for. This leads me to the next point.
  4. Talking about unpleasant memories and situations makes you feel rotten. Sometimes, for lack of a nicer phrase, life hands you a $hit sandwich. It really does. It’s not fair. It’s not fun. As a therapist, I really wish I had a time machine or magic wand so I could go back and make that awful stuff unhappen. Failing that, we have to deal with how those previous experiences are affecting the here and now and I won’t know unless we talk about it.
  5. Our brain protects us from unpleasant and traumatic memories by burying them. Contrary to what some pop-psychology “experts” claim, you do not need to “resolve” or process every horrible thing that happened to you since birth. If you can get through your daily life and you are functioning at a level that satisfies you, there is something to be said for just leaving well enough alone.
  6. If you choose to work through all that nasty old stuff, I commend you, and I’m with you 100%. It’s an awesome and brave thing to do. Just know that it will be painful. You will not leave every session feeling like a million bucks, and the processing, however it is done, is not going to be fun. Is it worth it? I can’t tell you that. Nobody can tell you that. Some of us will only feel at peace with ourselves and those around us if we feel that we have come to terms with all of our formative experiences. That may be accomplished through therapy, vision quests, yoga retreats, or whatever you choose. Other people just do better moving on and leaving it alone, at least for the time being.

Regardless of your choice, know that facing each new day with the optimism that everything will turn out okay and that you are safe now and you are loved is a brave thing to do. Nobody can demand any more than that of you.

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