Why some people refuse to go to counseling

By Marina Williams

It is my belief that nearly everyone (including therapists!) could benefit from counseling.  The research indicates that roughly 20% of U.S. adults have a mental illness, yet less than 4% receive counseling.  Furthermore, research has shown that about 80% of people suffer from stress, anxiety, relationship conflicts, or other emotional issues. These are issues that could easily be relieved through mental health counseling, effectively and safely.  With such a high number of individuals experiencing emotional distress, I decided to write this article for those who are ambivalent about starting therapy and try to encourage them to give it a try.

“Going to counseling means I’m crazy”

Some people seem to think that counseling is only for crazy people or if you attend therapy then you must be crazy.  I assure you that craziness is not contagious and you can’t catch it by going to a therapy room.  Some have said that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  If this is true, then I would argue that it would be crazy to NOT go to counseling if you are experiencing recurrent emotional or behavioral difficulties.  I have often had clients look back on their pre-counseling days and exclaim “I’m so glad I’m not living in that craziness anymore!”

“People will find out I’m in counseling and my life will be ruined”

People have mentioned before that there is a stigma to being in counseling.  I think much of that depends on your culture and upbringing.  I have had clients in the past that have come to my office in absolute secrecy and have had others that freely discussed their therapy with anyone who would listen.  If you do not want anyone to know you are in therapy, you don’t have to tell anyone.  What you say in therapy is strictly confidential.  Your family, friends, and coworkers will never know unless you tell them.  There is no document in your records that says you were in counseling.  Those documents are in your therapist’s office and nothing short of a very strong subpoena can release them.

Some clients complain to me about the names of mental health clinics.  They were afraid that people would see them walk inside and know they were there for counseling.  Unfortunately, some counseling centers have the words “psychiatry”, “mental health”, and “counseling” in the name.  However, I think most people are too busy worrying about themselves to pass judgement on a random stranger walking into a building.  Also, no one has the ability to determine if you are a patient or a therapist just by looking at you.  I do understand that for some people just getting in the door is difficult and so I use a private setting for my office.  There is no sign on the door and my neighbors don’t know what I do for a living.  If I send letters or voicemails, they are from “Marina Williams” and that’s it.

“Therapy is inconvenient”

Since most people work 9-5 jobs, the most convenient hours to see a therapist are evenings or weekends.  However, most therapists work 9-5 too, requiring clients to make adjustments to their own schedules if they’re going to make it to appointments.  Going into this career, I knew that I wouldn’t have a job with traditional hours.  My clients set my office hours, not me.  So I do agree that one of the problems with counseling is the limited therapists that offer convenient appointment times.  I have also heard complaints about therapists with long wait lists.  This is certainly true for psychiatrists and agencies, but I know plenty of therapists in private practice with room for new clients.  The problem is that therapists in private practice are not going to be the first names that come up with google search “mental health counseling”.  You’re going to have to do a little digging, but I promise you that you will find a therapist that can see you within the next week.

Some complain about the time required to do therapy, but let’s put it into perspective.  Is doing therapy one hour a week really more time consuming when you consider how much time every week is consumed by stress or tension?  People often comment to me how quickly the hour goes by and request longer sessions.  The idea of therapy being inconvenient is more troubling than the reality of therapy.

“I can just talk to a friend”

Although people sometimes think of their therapist like a friend, talking to a therapist is quite different than talking to a friend.  A therapist has received several years of training and is held to the strictest level of confidentiality.  A friend is not.  Therapy is a one-sided relationship.  The therapist is there for your benefit, and yours alone.  People who are in therapy have tried talking to friends and family members and it didn’t work.  Although part of friendship is sharing thoughts and feelings, it is unfair to your friend to use them as a therapist.  Someone who has not received the proper training to deal with emotional issues can become distressed and emotional burdened by the problems of others.

“Therapy doesn’t work”

New research has shown that therapists have higher success rates than medical doctors.  No one would hesitate to see a doctor for a physical problem, but they will wait to the point of desperation to see a therapist even though therapists have superior success rates.  One might argue that the conditions that doctors treat are more serious or life threatening, but I feel that mental illness is just as debilitating, if not more so, than physical conditions.  As a therapist, I believe in my profession and have seen it change people’s lives first hand.  This is one of the reasons why it hurts me so much to see therapy portrayed as a scam by the media even though research consistently shows that therapy works.

“I don’t like therapists”

When I hear people say this, my first reaction is to ask why.  The answer I get usually has to do with a lot of misconceptions or falsehoods about what a therapist is or does.  Therapists don’t tell people what to do, destroy marriages, or just sit there watching the clock.  If you feel this way, then I encourage you all the more to seek out therapy and discover for yourself what therapists are really like.  In general it’s not good to make sweeping generalizations about any group of people and usually reflects the type of black-and-white thinking that causes negative thoughts and feelings.

“My therapist will judge me”

The characteristic that unites all therapists are our ability to feel empathy and compassion for our clients regardless of their past or current behaviors.  I can honestly say that I have never had a client disclose anything to me that I found shocking or repulsive.  I think very highly of all my clients.  It is an act of courage to admit to your flaws and mistakes.  I don’t judge negatively anyone trying to turn their life around.

“I’ll get reported”

Therapists are not cops and don’t “report” clients unless they are threatening to kill themselves or others.  In the past I have worked with people who were in gangs, sold drugs, or were involved in other criminal activity.  Through my skills as a therapist, I was able to help these individuals find a new path for themselves where they contributed to society rather than take away from it.  This would not have been accomplished if I had filed a police report.  The laws of confidentiality are so strict that a person can even admit to having killed someone and gotten away with it and the therapist would still have to respect their privacy or else risk losing their license to practice counseling.  Others are afraid that if a therapist “finds out how crazy they are” she’ll have them committed to an asylum or rehab.  Perhaps this was the case in the past, but there is a such thing as human rights and you cannot be held somewhere against your will unless a person’s life is in danger.  Even if a therapist does mistakenly report, the screeners at the hospital reassess all potential admittances.

It is true that therapists are “mandated reporters”.  We are required by law to report child and elder abuse.  Filing on a client is not something therapists take lightly or like to do, but we will do it in order to save a life.

“I tried therapy in the past and it didn’t work”

Maybe you have tried counseling before and felt that it didn’t work. That doesn’t mean that counseling will never work for you. Different counselors have different personalities and different therapeutic styles. Sometimes it’s just not a good match. Maybe you weren’t completely open and engaging with your therapist. In order for therapy to work, you must be willing to participate, follow through with your counselor’s suggestions, and go to every appointment. This may seem like a lot of work, but you will get better if you participate fully in therapy. You and your family is worth the effort.

If you live in the Boston area and are looking for a professional to help you to make the changes in your life necessary to get what you really want, Please contact me (Marina Williams, LMHC) for more information or to set up an appointment at 774-240-5550 or info@counselingwithmarina.com.

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