WHAT IS COUNSELING?
Counseling Psychology, psychotherapy, or talk therapy is a process whereby a person works alongside a licensed mental health professional to gain insight into his or her life, and then makes the necessary changes in thoughts and actions to increase personal effectiveness. Left unattended to, minor stress and minor issues can grow into big problems. It is human nature to ignore or avoid that which is uncomfortable; however, the things we do to avoid pain usually end up causing more pain and problems than the original issue itself, says Marsha Linehan, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy pioneer.
To use an example, I liken mental health issues to black mold. What starts off as a single cell grows prolifically behind walls in the darkness. No one can see it, yet it has the potential to make everyone in the house sick. Once mold is brought out into the light, the UV rays will kill it. Psychotherapy is just like the UV rays. Once problems are brought out into the open, a person can acknowledge them, and then make healthy choices to manage them.
Please note: Psychotherapy isn't always a pleasant experience, and change isn't guaranteed, but the long-term benefits of counseling most often exceed the temporary discomfort. Counseling is beneficial for everyday problems, such as stress management, anger management, relationship issues, melancholy, sadness, confusion, inability to concentrate, insomnia, grief/bereavement, mild anxiety, and dysthymia. Counseling is also beneficial for more serious issues, such as major depression, general anxiety disorder (including panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, etc.), bipolar disorder, mental disorders due to a medical condition, sexual/identity disorders, eating disorders, dissociation, trauma survival, etc.
MENTAL HEALTH STATISTICS
For some reason, mental illness is still a stigma in our culture. This is ironic because mental illness is a very common problem in the United States. It is estimated that 18.1% of people in the U.S. suffer from anxiety in any given year, and 22% of these cases are severe (Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, & Walters EE, 2005).* Women are 60 % more likely to experience anxiety than men (Kessler RC, Berglund PA, Demler O, Jin R, & Walters EE, 2005).** According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011), 9.1% of the adult population in the United States report symptoms of depression in any given year, and it is thought to be the leading cause of disability in the United States.*** Sometimes mental illness runs in families: "Children of parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are up to seven times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder themselves. Children of depressed parents, meanwhile, are two to three times as likely to develop depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI, n.d.)."**** In other words, if you are experiencing mental health issues, you are not alone. In fact, you are in good company.
Although major depression can be devastating, it is treatable. Between 80 and 90 percent of those suffering from serious depression can be effectively treated and return to their normal lives. If untreated, bouts of depression usually last from six months to a year, and 50 percent of people experiencing their first bout of depression will have a recurrence. For some, there is a risk that depression can lead to suicide if it is left untreated (NAMI, 1996-2001).*****
THE GOOD NEWS: For whatever reasons that mental health issues exist, counseling can help you work through them. When you seek help for problems in your life, you become a great role model to your children and your friends by showing them how a healthy person deals with the storms of life.
*Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, & Walters EE (2005, June). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6):617-27.
**Kessler RC, Berglund PA, Demler O, Jin R, & Walters EE (2005, June). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6):593-602.
***Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2011, March 31). An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression.Retrieved December 10, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsDepression
****National Alliance of Mental Illness (n.d.). Hand Me Down Depression. Retrieved December 10, 2011, from http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Esperanza/Hand-me-down_Depression.htm
*****National Alliance of Mental Illness (n.d.). Facts for Policy Makers, Treatable causes of Disability. Retrieved December 10, 2011, from http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/About_Public_Policy/Policy_Research_Institute/Policymakers_Toolkit/Facts_for_Policymakers_Treatable_Causes_of_Disability_-_Major_Depression.htm