I get it. Trust me, I get it. There has been a long time stigma attached to therapy and it is definitely taking its time in going away. People still use the word “shrink” and imagine they’d be made to lie down on the couch of a psychoanalyst for years to come. I imagine anything is possible and that may certainly be one of the scenarios that could play out if you were to seek therapy, but it isn’t likely.
While I like the word “therapist,” I most often refer to myself as a counselor for the simple fact that it sounds a little less intimidating. The root word “counsel” allows one to consider that there is guidance to be offered rather than being made to dig deep into one’s past. I appreciate counseling because it is far removed from pathology and the medical model. In fact, counseling is based in a wellness model. It is constructed on what is already going well for the client. It is a model filled with empowerment and never sees the client as the sum of their symptoms.
When people ask about the pros and cons of going to a counselor, I am always up front. I explain that it may initially be difficult to experience some painful and uncomfortable feelings that they may be struggling with but that ultimately, if they commit to the process they will come out clean on the other side. I’ve used that phrase “come out clean on the other side,” for a long time because I thought it was the best picture I could give of what they could expect.
I realized recently that while it nicely sets the tone for what a client can expect after entering counseling, it doesn’t answer the question of, “Do I need counseling?” When I wear my counselor hat, I rarely answer a question directly with a “Yes” or “No.” My training has taught me to give a question back to the client, for only they hold the answers. I figure if someone asks me if they need counseling and I look them in the eye and say, “I don’t know, do you?” that a lot of things might happen, none of which would make them feel good about entering counseling. Thanks to author and psychotherapist, Steven Levenkron, I know what I’ll say from now on. I’ll ask them if they need a bridge. While they try to process what may seem like a random question, I’ll help them along. I’ll tell them that if they have problems that they aren’t able to talk about, they can find a counselor and use their words to build a bridge. Their bad feelings can travel over that bridge, away from them and to the counselor. When clients don’t have the power to release their bad feelings, if they’ll just begin to talk and allow the feelings to cross the bridge, the counselor can hold them for the client, let them go, or even throw them away; something that the client was unable to do for themselves. The “bridge” is the therapeutic relationship between the client and the counselor. It is powerful beyond words and the greatest tool to facilitate change. I like the image of a bridge. It symbolizes transition, a journey, another side, and so much more.
If you ever dreaded therapy because you see yourself being analyzed, flat on your back in a therapist office one pill away from crazy, then I encourage you to replace that image with a simple bridge. Do you have some bad feelings that need to travel away from you? Do you need to use your words to let those feelings go? If so, find a counselor and begin building that bridge.