(This blog post starts with a sub-plot recap from “Law & Order: SVU,” so you know it’s going to be good.)
In Season 15 (the one on-air currently) of “SVU,” Detective Olivia Benson incurs severe trauma at the hands of a perpetrator. She starts seeing a therapist to deal with it. This isn’t the first time in the series she’s seen a therapist, but despite that, she has trouble making herself go to sessions. She quickly gets back into the swing of things, though, and sees/feels the progress she’s making. Not long after, she sees that two of her fellow detectives are struggling with their own issues, but they’re not seeing counselors: one is going to “Anonymous” meetings, and the other is speaking to his pastor. She urges them to consider seeing a counselor, but they both blow her off, insisting that therapy wouldn’t “work” for them, or that they don’t “need to pay someone to listen to” them.
Personally, I love shrinks. I do! I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from seeing a licensed professional counselor at least once in his/her life. I myself have been in therapy for the last six or so years, on and off (more on than off, and I shouldn’t have ever been off, really). And I’ve experienced the same backlash Olivia Benson received: “I’m glad it works for you, but therapy doesn’t/wouldn’t work for me”—as if they’re so special that proven-effective methods work on the rest of the world but not them. Besides demonstrating serious egotism, this excuse also assumes that there’s one type of counseling. To me, saying you don’t like therapy (or that therapy doesn’t/wouldn’t work for you) is like saying you don’t like cookies when you’ve only ever tasted ginger snaps. Maybe ginger isn’t your thing, but Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip? I’ll pass you the tray.
The first counselor I ever saw was my high school’s counselor, who had one of the toughest jobs and was gracious and graceful in doing it. In the few brief times I talked to her, she demonstrated for me a high standard: I quickly knew what good professional help looked like, sounded like, and felt like. I have had three incredible counselors since. The first ended up leaving her practice for various reasons, but even so, she corresponded with me via email until I got set up with someone new. The second one I still keep in touch with—she is a bit older and has an old Nokia phone (with actual buttons!), and yet she texts me to check up on me, even though it’s obviously not her preferred method of communication, because she knows I’m more likely to text back than I am to answer the phone. The only reason I had to find a third therapist is because I left home to go to college, so I needed someone here in Shreveport. And he is just as wise and wonderful as the others.
That’s not to say I’ve only dealt with fabulous mental health professionals. When they sent me to stay at Brentwood in high school, I had to sit through group sessions with this therapist who obviously disregarded everything I had to say because of my background. And another time, I “tried” a counselor in Texarkana who told my parents that self-injury was nothing but a high school social fad—a way to rebel, sort of like how kids drink alcohol or smoke pot (don’t even get me started). So I get it: some counselors suck (Can I get a #duh?).
But the benefits of seeing and talking to and listening to good, smart, wise counselors outweigh the injuries of the bad ones a million to one. Therapy with a trained professional (with whom you “fit”) is an invaluable experience. Quickly, here are my top three reasons why:
1) They know what they’re doing. They’ve spent years learning and figuring this stuff out. They know things about psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and more, and you could stand to learn how these things are relevant to your life, and to the lives of people around you. Besides that, if you go in with a problem, chances are they know how to help. They’ve been educated and trained to do it.
2) It’s proactive. Most people go to counselors after something bad has happened (myself included), which makes sense. But think about all the additional bad things that have been prevented by good therapy. And imagine what tragedies could be prevented if we stopped waiting until last straws broke. It’s the reason we (are supposed to) get check-ups with our MDs—because we want to stay physically healthy instead of regaining health after illness. Therapy can and does function in that way as well.
3) Good, smart, wise counselors are, at the end of the day, good, smart, wise people—and any chance you get to talk to good, smart, wise people you should take. I may go into my counselor’s office with a specific problem on my mind, and when I leave, I may or may not have a solid solution, depending on the problem. But I don’t ever leave a session without a new piece of wisdom in my back pocket.
If you are truly benefiting from your AA meetings or chats with your pastor, or if you’re currently excelling out in the world by yourself, that’s great! But if not, consider making the courageous choice of seeing an LPC. It’s not easy: after I came back from Christmas break, I knew I should make an appointment, but I put it off for weeks—because it’s easier to just go through the motions of day-to-day life, self-medicating (with food, media, alcohol, whatever). But it’s healthiest, smartest, and bravest to talk to a professional. If you need help finding one and you’re a student, I highly recommend contacting your school’s counseling services office (Centenary students, I can personally vouch that they’ll give you an awesome list of local professionals and help you figure out who on the list would be best for you). You could also ask your regular doctor for recommendations.
I mean, at the end of the day, nobody wants to be stubborn Amanda or know-it-all Amaro; we all wanna be brave, fierce, smart-as-a-whip Olivia Benson. Follow her lead: get help if you need it.
*steps off soapbox*