When is it the right time?
The decision of whether or not to seek counselling can be a tough one. Especially in moments when we are low, the effort and uncertainty of finding a counsellor can feel daunting and scary. So this piece is written in acknowledgement of that challenge with the hope of bringing some clarity to the question of whether counselling might be a good choice for you where you are at right now.
What stops us?
There can be a belief that counselling is only for when we are in crisis and there remains a stigma that can lead to a sense of shame for needing help - for not being able to manage alone. Really though, life is a tough business for all of us and no-matter who we are we all have moments when we need some extra support and encouragement. One of the defining factors of resiliency is not the capacity to endure alone but rather to know when and how to reach out for support! Life is something we are all in together. To quote my granny,"we are all part of the gang!"
Is it for me?
What follows is an exploration of some of the different moments in life when counselling can be of greatest service. This is not an exhaustive list of all the circumstances that might lead a person to reach out for counselling, it is more to share a wider scope of the possible purposes and intentions of counselling.
Before heading into a challenging situation or a new role - such as taking on a new job, moving oversees, or committing to a personal relationship - taking time in preparation can equip and ready us. Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, sometimes a good time for counselling can be in a moment of calm when we are doing well, building our inner strength and capacity, so that when we enter back into the rodeo of life we have a newfound balance to see us through.
Likewise, counselling can be helpful at a time of crossroads in our life - when we are weighing up what path to take. Having an experienced sounding board in the decision making process can bring greater clarity and assurances to our choices. This can be especially valuable for those choices that significantly steer the course of our lives, such as when choosing a career or course of study.
Part of a self-care plan
One question that arises can be"is what I am struggling with serious enough to need counselling?" We tend to wait to include support into our lives until we are at the end of our rope. If you know that you are going into a situation that will require your full capacity and likely expose you to distressing realities, heavy responsibilities, and difficult decisions, it is wise to plan ahead how you will care well for yourself. This is by no means an admission of weakness! Rather it is a sign of maturity and foresight, showing understanding of our shared humanity. Having someone who knows us well and is tracking along with us can facilitate the management of stressors. Thus allowing us to process stressful events as they occur rather than accumulating stress until it becomes too much. This enables us to have both stamina and longevity and helps prevent burnout. Preventing burnout is much less difficult than walking through the longer process of recovery. You can adjust the frequency of such check-ins as you go depending on the particular pressures you are under. Then, when you face an acutely stressful situation you don't have to search for help, or build trust and try to explain your situation. Help is right there and ready for you. Also, if you finish a particular project or return from the field this person can much more readily debrief your experience as they walked it along with you! When I was working in international aid settings, this was my own personal practice. I found it helped me to withstand and bounce-back from the stressors I faced.
Following a challenging assignment it is valuable to take the time to process our experience to understand the struggles we walked through and the life gifts we received from this experience. This helps to integrate these events into the greater story of our lives, to let go of the injuries, and carry forward our new found strengths into our future journey. Understanding where we have been, can allow us to discern and transition into where we will go next. Following a difficult field assignment oversees, I set two weeks aside to go through debriefing counselling. When I first arrived at the counselling centre, I had a serious moment of doubt, wondering "is this process really worth all this time and effort!" However, half-way through my sessions I was so thankful I had chosen to invest in this process. It helped me shed some of the burdens I was carrying and allowed me to move into my next chapter much lighter and ready for the next adventure.
This is perhaps what counselling is best known for. There are many types of emotional injuries and all of us encounter things in life that require the time and process of healing.
Such injuries can be from both recent or more distant events over which we hold unresolved grief, fear, or shame. I won't try to list all of our human hurts, only to offer that healing and growth is a path we can all walk in life and is real and possible. I can personally attest to the healing and growth I found sitting on the receiving side of the counselling relationship. Having someone to walk gently with us and to be with us in our suffering is the greatest balm. To hold hope and strength for us until we find our own hope again.
Most of all, the hope in counselling is not simply to heal and equip for life's challenges but also to participate in the becoming of who you were created to be. Life's injuries can get us stuck into looping patterns of being, like a valiant plant squashed under an old rock, trying to grow despite the block in its way. Counselling can help push aside that rock and free your path, so that you can continue growing into fullness. Counselling then serves to rekindle your heart and hope wherever you are at on the journey.
An invitation to adventure
So if you feel you are a sojourner that could benefit from such company and support, then I invite you to the adventure, to join the gang, come along, and see what is around the bend.