Q I think I have a psychological problem but I don’t feel like taking help! I want to help myself.
Dealing with psychological problems may involve helping oneself, availing support from family and friends, and seeking professional help. Each of these is important in its own right but may be inadequate without the others.
Choosing to self-help may or may not be sufficient to resolve one’s psychological problems. Some people feel confident about their ability to deal with difficulties in life and to recover from stressors. Self-reliance in this sense is laudable. But, choosing to solely rely on self-help and reject other kinds of help before having an objective assessment of the nature and the level of one’s psychological problem may not always be a wise choice.
There are number of reasons that make some people think of not going for expert help, such as previous negative experience of a consultation, belief in one’s ability to manage oneself, perceived lack of time or available services, misconceptions about mental health issues and treatment, and lack of knowledge about the nature of one’s psychological problem etc.
Even if you plan to help yourself, it would be a good idea to discuss with a mental health professional about your plan to help yourself and engage in a discussion about the steps and strategies that you are planning to use. You may also want to discuss your reasons for choosing to help yourself. In this way, you will have an opportunity to identify if there are any psychological or other barriers that have led to your plan to manage it yourself. Talking openly to a professional can help in taking a more informed view of these ‘barriers’ to help-seeking.
All this shouldn’t sound like undermining the role of self-help in recovery process. Seeking out professional help and support from others does not mean that you have nothing to do on your own!
Q I am afraid people will judge me and make me feel small and weak if I go for professional help.
Just as there is nothing to be ashamed of having headache and diabetes which are physical problems, similarly, there is nothing to feel ashamed or weak regarding psychological problems, either. With better awareness, our society should realize that just like the body once in a while may have health problems, the mind also would sometimes need help in handling psychological problems and there is nothing to feel small about it. These problems result from multiple factors and it is not your fault.
Deciding to seek help would mean that you are choosing to be strong and refusing to be bothered about or cowed by what others might think about you. It takes real strength of mind to choose to talk about one’s psychological problem and seek help. So if you decide to take professional help, it simply means that you are a person who cares about one’s responsibility toward oneself. And that is going to be your strong response to some people who may seem to hold a negative view about your psychological problems.
However, if you prefer to not let a lot of people know about it, you may choose to mention it only to a few important people who will not discredit you for it, and will keep your confidences.
Q How do I actually go about seeking professional help for a psychological problem? What do I have to reveal?
You’ve done well in deciding to talk to a mental health professional. If there is a professional counselor in your school/college/institute, you could think of first discussing with him/her. It is alright if you feel not comfortable about talking to someone in your institute. You would be able to identify where/whom to consult by discussing with your parents or your teacher or any adults who is willing to guide you or a friend who has sought help earlier. Look for a mental health professional in your locality, i.e., a clinical psychologist, or a psychiatrist, or a psychiatric social worker or psychologist trained in counseling (Psychotherapy refers to professional help utilizing psychological means, and the professional is sometimes called a therapist). You are free to look for a therapist of your gender if that seems comfortable for you. Do your homework in terms of looking out for a trained professional and in terms of what kind of therapy approaches are used. A single session may not be sufficient to arrive at a decision about whether therapy will help you or whether you are comfortable with the therapist/counselor.
You may be wondering if you need to do some preparation about what to share when you first consult. However, it is important to feel at ease about how the session would go. Your therapist will help you to share what is important. However, if you are a person who likes to do your homework in such matters, you may do a few things to help your therapist. You can have in mind a priority list of what you aim to happen through the sessions. You may keep in your mind the list of all the difficulties that need to be addressed. It is not absolutely necessary that you reveal anything and everything about you-the first time you meet a professional. If there is some matter that you want to reveal, but find it extremely difficult to talk about, your therapist will help you and gently lead you through the process of sharing it.
In case, you are not able to relate to a given therapist/counselor even when you have met the person a few times; don’t give up on therapy/counseling! Explore another therapist/counselor with whom it may be easier to work with. At the same time, switching too soon from one to another professional may not be useful. Be proactive and clarify from the professional what can be a reasonable expectation of progress in your case, the time it would take and how to facilitate the process of recovery.
Reaching out for professional help when you need it -is part and parcel of being your own good friend.
Expert: Fr. Dr. Rajeev Joseph Michael
Clinical Psychologist, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Manjmmel, Kochi
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