It’s time to change our views on counselling

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: I once accidentally said “love you” to my therapy receptionist over the phone. It keeps you humble. wikimedia commons

Physical injuries need support. Why is the mind any different?

My brain is a ball of yarn. It’s filled with different colours and textures, all differently wound and wrapped together, but it’s atrociously tangled. Most days, it feels as though I can’t tell where the pink string begins and the blue string ends.

That sounds a little silly, right? Well, surprisingly, that analogy is far from uncommon. When I first used this analogy with my own counsellor, I was referencing, weirdly enough, a Shutterstock image that had illustrated exactly that: a woman speaking to her counsellor, her mangled mess of yarn being slow de-tangled, neatly sorted and rolled into its respective colours.

I genuinely wish I had heard or seen this analogy years ago, as it would have completely changed my view of counselling and therapy for years to come.

That being said, my view of counselling before wasn’t unhealthy or wrong. I think I maintained the view that a lot of the public held: I’m glad other people have access to it, but don’t need it. Because for some reason, we view visiting a counselor as acknowledging “brokenness,” as needing to go be “fixed,” and as if going means admitting that something is wrong with you.

This is why I feel as though the “untangling your brain” metaphor is so smart, and so necessary, in a world that still working so hard to destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health crises.

Counselling has never been, and never will be, a “one size fits all” solution to any mental health problem the world faces – much like how, in the medical world, not every patient needs the same care, even if two patients have the same diagnosis. But just like visiting a doctor, visiting a counsellor means not placing a band aid over your wound and calling it quits; it means visiting someone who will help your injuries heal, step-by-step, inch by inch.

Sitting with a counsellor means slapping your yarn-y, messy brain on the table, and asking for help de-tangling it. A counsellor’s job is to, little by little, sit and help you work out all the knots and kinks. It’s the equivalent of physiotherapy after injuring a limb; your counsellor is slowly exercising the parts of your brain that need help recovering. It’s about understanding your body, what’s happening, and how to move forward in the healthiest way (like you would and should with any health professional).

When it comes to doctors, we find comfort in knowing they are there if we ever need them. Additionally, from time to time we get to choose when we need them.

If you sprain your wrist or roll your ankle, you can choose whether you’re going to book a doctor’s appointment. Maybe your first course of action would be waiting to see if it heals on its own.

Regardless, there’s a risk that not going to see a professional could result in your injury healing improperly or causing you more pain. Is there a chance it could heal fine? Absolutely! And if so, that’s amazing. But that being said, it’s normal to see physical injuries not heal properly if they aren’t offered the proper treatment. So why is mental health viewed any differently?

If you experience a traumatizing event and choose to not seek help, that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal, in fact. However, we should normalize and encourage discussions surrounding whether we have “properly healed.”

There is so much to the human body, including the brain. Just like the way there is much to unpack from a physical injury (understanding different types of injuries, muscles, tears, breaks, treatments, etc.), lots of factors affect a mental strain as well.

Every injury has considerations. Every injury adds a few more colours of yarn to that big, messy, tangled ball, and that’s because every injury – physical or mental – has an underlying history. Physical injuries can be tied to your childhood, goals, family history, and traumatic events, just like injuries of the mind.

But mental pain is the pain we seldom unpack and investigate. It’s easier to study and understand the reason for a physical injury than a mental one, which can’t be dissected or seen. But that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. It should mean efforts are turned toward uncovering answers.

When I first began counselling, I would feel helpless over how impossible the task seemed. How was I, alone, supposed to de-tangle such a mess of trauma and heartache? But now when I arrive for appointments, I gracefully set my yarn down and get to work. I sit, and begin tugging at the little ends of strings, my counsellor sitting across from me, helping me keep them organized, separated, and neat.

I never needed anyone to de-tangle my yarn for me. I always knew I could do it myself. I just never realized that what I did need was for someone to hold my strings still as I began cleaning them up.

I realized over time that I never needed to de-tangle it alone. My initial view when I saw that counsellor for the first time was wrong. It was never about me decluttering my brain myself; it was about asking for someone to help me learn where to begin. It was about asking someone for advice about organizing the clutter.

If you break your arm and get a cast, it will help it heal in the proper places. It gives your body a moment of rest to catch its breath and repair itself. But what happens if another part of your body is injured? Your heart? Your head? Your soul? Tell me, are yours being repaired properly?

There’s no shame in needing a cast to heal your physical body, so why should there be anything wrong with needing a little support in building up your brain and heart? Everything and everybody needs recovery time every now-and-then.

With that being said, check in with yourself right now. How are you? How are you really?

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