The Hardest Step

the hardest step in counselingThe moment when a person breaks through the stigma around counseling and chooses to reach out for help represents their ability to take the hardest step in recovery. This is a very important milestone. It is the moment when a person decides that their mental health and the mental health of those close to them is far more important than some flimsy sense of pride and misguided self preservation. Making the difficult decision to take the first step in reaching out for help demonstrates the person’s clarity, honesty and sense of responsibility.

A clear headed person is able to identify within themselves what the need for counseling is. Our misguided societal stigma tells us to bury and mask our need to reach out for help, but mental health professionals do not agree with how society approaches this matter at all. According to them, it is far more rational and dignified to seek counsel for the areas in your life that are not being properly managed. This prevents the collapse of self awareness and objectivity. Counselors esteem people for reaching out for help and praise the clarity they demonstrate by recognizing a legitimate need within themselves.

Honesty and responsibility are another set of virtues demonstrated by the courage of being vulnerable. The stigma around counseling would inform a person that they are low in personal character for needing counseling, when in fact, identifying that you need help shows remarkable honesty with one’s self, and a mature sense of responsibility in understanding that management of your problems is critical.

Taking the initial step in seeking counseling is considered to be the hardest part, even by mental health professionals. They commend people for going from a state of isolation with their problems to a state of sharing and openness about their problems. When all is said and done, this is far healthier than the alternative.

The Stigma Around Counseling

Counselling and SupportCounseling is a necessary and beneficial tool to society, but it has come to be stigmatized as a sign of weakness and brokenness. In many factions of society, it is considered a disgrace to need counseling. It is looked down on as something that broken, weak, whiny people require. This stigma originates from thousands of years of people having to cope with hardships and trials in the midst of cultures that did not approve of weakness. In modern times, we understand the intricacies of human mental health far better than we did in the past, yet still people consider it a sign of weakness to explore it with a professional for the purpose of bettering one’s self.

One of the most common stigmas of receiving counseling is that the individual must be broken or damaged goods. Society sees this type of person as throw-away and unable to contribute anything of value. It is true that people tend to seek counseling to remedy something that is going wrong in their lives, such as their marriage or their life’s direction. However, assuming that anyone who needs counseling for matters such as these must be broken rather than simply having the wisdom to know when to seek help is the root of harmful stigmas.

Another widely spread stigma of a person who needs counseling is that they are weak, needy and cannot handle themselves. The idea of counseling indicating weakness is an old, pervasive one. Men in particular still fall victim to this way of thinking all the time. Asking for help is perceived as a sign of weakness. This is an attitude that many have worked long and hard on to eridicate. In fact, possessing any understanding of human behavior means that you already know better; that requiring counseling makes a person more sturdy and self aware than burying the feelings one is going through.

And lastly, it is common to be stigmatized as a whiny, emotional crybaby for needing counseling. People value strength and stability over expressing their hardships, which has lead to a collective mindset that opposes reaching out for help. Nothing could be further from the truth. Allowing one’s self to be vulnerable enough to seek help is a sign of strength.

The Reality of Counseling

counseling realityIt is common for people to stigmatize counseling, but the reality of counseling is far different from what the stigma of it would have a person believe. Needing counseling is stigmatized as a sign that a person is damaged goods; a disgrace to their family and their reputation. Men in particular believe in this stigma as there are still heavy expectations placed on men to conceal their emotions. What counseling actually represents is courage, responsibility and success.

The first reality about counseling that people need to come to terms with is that counseling is for everyone because no one has perfect mental health. A person who claims they have no need for counseling is fooling themselves. Everyone can benefit from bringing an objective outside opinion into their situation to find their areas of weakness and work on them. Our society’s present stigma on counseling is that it is only for broken people, but this is far from the truth.

Another errant stigma on counseling is that receiving it is a sign that a person is unhealthy and dysfunctional, when in fact, receiving counseling is highly responsible and healthy. Anyone who takes the step into committing to counseling should be commended for their bravery and their recognition of a crucial necessity. A person’s ability to recognize their own flaws and harmful tendencies indicates strong self awareness and dedication to good mental health. If one has identified harmful behavior they perpetrate and does nothing about it, they are being irresponsible with their own well being and the well being of those they care about.

Another important point to embrace in stripping away the stigmas from counseling is that counseling actually works. People are social creatures and part of being social is learning from others. Before counseling was a profession, it was merely an old tradition. People would spend time receiving counsel from a well respected person in their community in order to get through trying personal matters. It used to be understood that this was a necessary part of life because it offered people the guidance they required. In modern times, this practice has become looked down upon as a sign of weakness, which is preventing people from seeking the counsel they are intended to have.

The Origin of Stigmas

stigma originStigmas appear in numerous areas of life. A stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace on something, be it a person, a quality or a circumstance. If a collective mentality forms around something and labels it as disgraceful, people will do their best to sweep it under the rug. This may include a mental disorder, a break from social norms, a type of job or any number of things that people do. The stigma around mental unhealthiness extends to counseling and inspires many people to hide their need for counseling from the world. The formation of stigmas is a uniquely human thing to do and represents a weakness in our psychology.

The inherently unnatural thing about forming stigmas is, of course, that the things that become stigmatized are a natural, unavoidable part of life. There have always been mentally unhealthy people. There has always been a defiance of social norms. What the collective opinion considers ideal is seldom met, yet people will go to great lengths to conceal the fact that their lives are less than ideal, or that they are in some way associated with someone who is less than ideal. The choice to do this is ultimately unhealthy for the person choosing it because it creates secretiveness, dishonesty and a rejection of one’s own identity.

The reason that stigmas do not benefit people is because the flaws in people, conditions and circumstances that become rejected are completely natural and should have a place among society. Individuals who embody a stigma become widely rejected, which is highly detrimental. Society tends to want to throw out what it considers flawed, which is a natural human tendency, but a lesser one. The healthiest kind of society would go to the aid of those who embody a stigma and offer them support. People who embody stigmas are our friends, family members, neighbors and acquaintances. We do no benefit to anyone by holding stigmas over them and avoiding them. This is an exclusive way of thinking that hurts society far more than it helps it.