Many people who are experiencing tremendous pain in their lives, have difficulty seeking the services of a professional counselor. CounselingWorks has been fortunate to help so many hearts over the years overcome the pain they are facing from life’s hardships. Daniel L. Weiss has given hopeful advice to those struggling to seek help through his article, “Common Barriers to Seeking Counseling”. Examining barriers that keep people from receiving counseling services is the first step toward a healthy new beginning.
One of the most common barriers to counseling is the denial of the existence of a problem, or at least a problem bad enough to seek professional help. There is something stoic and resilient about humans; we want to prove ourselves, we want to overcome. We can admire people for this hardy approach to life, but we must also mourn for them at times. Refusing to come to terms with an obvious problem in our life is not laudable, it is foolhardy. One of the most common misconceptions among all people regarding mental health is that everybody else has it together. They all look fine, right? So we adopt the same approach. We make sure our outside persona gives the appearance that we are fine.
The greater probability is that almost everyone you see is undergoing some sort of internal or external struggle. Some are weighed down by physical illness, others struggle with circumstances they cannot control, such as joblessness or the death of a close friend; many walk around filled with shame, fear, doubt, guilt, anger, hopelessness, or a host of other emotional and mental issues. As Christian educator Christopher West said, it’s like we are all driving around town with flat tires. Since everyone else is also driving around on flat tires, we think it is normal.
The real first step in getting healthy, whether from physical, mental, or emotional wounds, is to admit that something isn’t right. A visit to a professional therapist is like a diagnostic exam. They are trained to help you discover what has gone wrong; together you decide what kind of treatment you may or may not need.
Although this is decreasing, a stigma is still attached to seeing a counselor. There is an impression—especially among those who have never tried counseling—that only people who are really sick or mentally ill would need to see a therapist.
The good news is that our society is beginning to see the value of professional counseling. More and more people are using the services of licensed therapists for a variety of reasons, many of them involving life experiences common to all of us. A counselor can help a college student learn to manage stress, or to determine if the stress is being caused by something deeper than a heavy course load. Some benefit from counseling as they work through the grieving process due to divorce or the death of a loved one. Others seek counseling for depression and are able to alleviate it before chemical imbalances occur in the brain.
For others, however, counseling may be the very thing that pulls them away from serious mental illness or addiction. The first step in most 12-step programs is to admit that one is powerless over the addiction. This means that on their own power, they are unable to stop their errant behavior. One of the primary assistants in the addict’s community of caregivers is a trained professional who can help unlock the deeper reasons why the individual is seeking solace in his addiction.
Getting healthy is the most important goal for a person, whether the problem is major or minor. We cannot be concerned about the unhealthy viewpoint of individuals in society who still maintain that counseling is only for a certain category of people. As one counselor said, “Get over it and get help.”
Just as common as social stigma, there is a strain of thought among Christians that counseling is somehow contrary to God’s Word, and therefore should be avoided. They hold the Bible up and insist that everything we need for life is contained within. Although this is a proper spiritual approach, it can definitely be misapplied.
God designed us as embodied persons. He endowed us with a body, mind, and spirit. The Bible doesn’t contain up-to-date medical manuals, but few Christians would refuse a doctor’s treatment because they couldn’t locate the proper chapter and verse authorizing them to do so. As psychologist Dr. James Dobson has said, the task of a Christian psychologist is not fundamentally different than that of any Christian. He needs to exercise discernment by filtering everything through the screen of God’s Word. In this way, a Christian approach to psychotherapy would reject methods and theories that contradicted God’s revealed truth.
Mental and physical health are similar in this regard. As our medical knowledge progresses, we understand more clearly just how intricate and wondrous God’s design is. Unlocking the mysteries of the mind does not replace our faith in Christ, it illuminates it.
Secular counseling can miss the vital spiritual link to our mental and emotional health, but trained Christian counselors can offer an integrated approach that includes body (behaviors), mind (thoughts and emotions), and spirit (our relationship with God).
Of all the reasons to avoid counseling, this is the most understandable. Many of the problems that lead to counseling are caused by painful experiences that a person often has no interest in reliving. Some of these include:
- Sexual abuse (childhood, rape, etc.)
- Physical abuse
- Addiction (for the addict or spouse)
- Major trauma or calamity
Just the thought of diving into those painful memories is enough to keep many people from seeking help throughout their lives. Even as we acknowledge the reality of this pain, we can also offer encouragement to move forward.
Our fear is based on the pain of reopening the entrance wound, but this focus keeps us from seeing how destructive and dangerous the internal wound is. Reopening the wound will be painful for some as they begin counseling, as will finding and extracting the bullet that caused the wound. Yet, without getting to the source of our pain, we will never fully heal. We will always carry the weight of our original wound with us, and we will notice the bleeding from time to time as the wound tells us that it still isn’t healed, that it is still harming our lives.
Cost is a common barrier for the practically minded. For those with limited incomes, it is not unreasonable to consider the price tag for something that seems less important than rent, food, or clothing. Yet, for those who can afford counseling, there is an all-too-common practice of bargain hunting for professional therapy. Would we bargain hunt for heart surgeons or parachute manufacturers? Why, then, would we cut corners when it comes to our mental and emotional well-being?
While less common than the other barriers, having a previous bad experience with a therapist can be one of the hardest to overcome. A person with a prior experience that has not helped, not been focused, or has led to counseling abuse (a rare, but real occurrence), is unlikely to ever return. This negative experience compounds the initial trauma or situation that led the person to seek help, and may actually serve as a prison door locking the individual into his internal pain for the rest of his life.
CounselingWorks offers solutions to barriers of: denial, social stigma, religious stigma, fear, cost, and prior bad experiences. If you or a loved one is currently battling a tragedy, we would love to help you find guidance by understanding the common barriers ensuring you find the love and counsel your hearts deserve.
5440 Harvest Hill Road
Dallas TX 75230