Help! I am ambivalent and confused about seeking help

Q: I have some adjustment issues in my personal life. At times, I have thought of taking help from a counselor/psychologist. But some or the other fears stop me from doing so. How to handle my mental block? Is it ‘normal’ to have such “blocks” to seeking help?

Answer: All of us go through some challenging hurdles in our lives either at work or in the personal realm. We may use a variety of methods and resources to handle the same, depending on the nature of the issue and the situation. This may include seeking support from others including professionals. Perhaps you may be worried about what people would think if they got to know about you going to a therapist. Would they think there is something wrong with you or that you are weak? Would they judge you for it? Wouldn’t it be better to talk to your close friend, to seek advice with someone who knows you well? Is the therapist/counsellor someone who would understand me and my issues? All these questions might well underlie your ambivalence. The ambivalence about seeking help from a counsellor or a therapist is a very common and understandable experience. It would be a good idea to write down and become aware of the specific mental barriers you may be facing and then try to explore the possible ways of minimizing them.

Q: Would it not be better/enough if I try talking it out with my close friend?

Answer: Support from loved ones is one of the important factors that help us to maintain our well being. When we are dealing with a significant concern, they may be major source of emotional as well as practical help. Yet, the thing with close friends is that they might not be totally objective in their perspective about a particular issue. They are also very close to you emotionally. So their opinion might be coloured by the nature of your previous interactions and emotions experienced in the relationship. At times, they may not be very forthcoming as they may not to want to hurt your feelings. While it is perfectly all right to lean on them for emotional succour and consider the suggestions that they may have to offer, this may not be sufficient on all occasions.

Also, there might be certain very personal issues that you may not be comfortable sharing with even close friends. A professional counsellor/therapist on the other hand will be able to give you an objective view point. They also have specialized training and education that make them experts in understanding your problems and helping you in identifying dysfunctional thoughts and dealing with your emotions in a healthy manner. Meeting a counsellor/therapist who is well trained can hence   be helpful. It is a safe space where you can expect a non-judgemental and compassionate approach to help you explore ways of changing certain aspects in your life and discovering new skills to handle challenges and emerge stronger. They are trained to recognize problematic patterns and can empower you to deal with it.

Friends and other informal sources of support are important as well as helpful but there are times when you may want/need an additional source of support from a professional.

Q How do I decide as to when to seek professional help?

You don’t have to necessarily be diagnosed with a mental health issue to benefit from counselling. A lot of people nowadays seek professional help for regular concerns like work stress, relationship hurdles, problem behaviours, low self-esteem etc. Sometimes people turn to therapist when there is major transition in their life like an illness, dealing with loss, a divorce or a break-up. In fact people with a healthy dose of self-awareness often seek help from a professional. They realize that they have certain blind spots and may benefit from some insight into their issues and this is exactly what therapist/counsellors offer.

If you are experiencing the following- then it is time you reached out for additional help. When you are constantly unhappy about something, when the usual coping mechanisms (including support from friends/loved ones) have stopped working, when there is a sudden crisis, when you recognize certain repetitive negative patterns in your life or when you just cannot put your finger on what’s going wrong, then do reach out for professional help. Grappling with issues early on is always better than waiting for it to become a crisis. So don’t let the thoughts such as “it may be too small an issue” or that “nobody else can help” stop you from exploring the option of meeting a well trained counsellor/therapist. So, go ahead and make that call to help yourself!

Expert: Ms Sukanya S, Consultant therapist at Columbia Asia hospital and an independent practitioner, stress management coach and content writer