April is one of those months that drives me crazy as a counselor because there is so much going on! We have so much to be aware of and only four weeks to cram it all in. April is awareness month for the following:
As I write this, I feel a bit silly because the theme I see uniting these three issues is recovery, but that gets its own month (September.) At the risk of being out of synch with the times, I’m going to discuss recovery anyway because it is an underrated phase of treatment, and the one that (we hope) lasts the longest. It also happens to be the phase that the client takes on the most responsibility for and people in recovery deserve credit for the demons they face every day.
When most of us think about mental health and substance abuse, we usually think of a crisis situation or a traumatic situation. Straight jackets and syringes full of Atavan along with full body restraints. Realistically, even most crises don’t look like that. Usually, the most acute suffering is experienced in silence until it becomes completely intolerable. Even then, as T.S. Eliot described the end of the world, the silence ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
It takes guts to ask for help. It also takes persistence. A lot of people encounter hurdles in finding a therapist: long wait times, lack of access to specialists they need, high deductibles and co-pays, no mental health benefits, transportation issues, and the natural resistance to bringing an outside person into one’s private pain. Unfortunately, people sometimes overcome all of those hurdles only to find a therapist who is overwhelmed by what they share. Fortunately, that doesn’t usually happen, but even once is one time too many.
Contrary to what some may believe, psychotherapy is no picnic either. While in general, talking to a therapist often will make you feel better, sometimes it doesn’t. Talking about tough subject sucks no matter how interested and compassionate the person you share with happens to be. One goal in most psychotherapy is learning coping strategies for times when something upsetting happens, and in order to develop coping skills, you need to practice in sessions. Learning any new skill is difficult, and it’s important to go in knowing that some days, you’re just not going to get it. Learning how to be okay with not getting those coping strategies down the first time is a big lesson in itself.
So, we get through the crisis phase. We have our moment of insight like the “It’s not your fault” bit from Good Will Hunting. Then what? We hope that recovery happens after that. Our hero now forges ahead in life armed with tools and strategies for confronting whatever challenges arise. That’s a big deal. It’s hard to do. Also, what often is missing from that part of the story is it happens to be the time when insurance companies decide you’re all better and don’t need any more sessions, and friends and family decide you don’t have “that” going on anymore. So the extra support that got you to that point is gone.
If you know someone who has been in treatment for a substance abuse problem, depression, anxiety, self-harm, or any other type of difficulty, be mindful of the reality that they struggle with their problems every day whether they are in treatment or not. It takes courage, determination, and strength, and the main reason they are dealing with those issues is statistics. Nobody chooses to have an addiction. Nobody chooses to have a mental illness. A certain proportion of our population struggles with these issues because that is the hand they were dealt.