Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Becoming Happy: How Counseling Can Help

This month has been a bit rough.  We lost my sister at a relatively young age a few weeks ago.  I've had a bit of malaise since then.  I recently read Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking" and it was such a great book on the subject of grief.  I've thought about that a lot since my sisters death - how I had just read that book and how it has helped me in a way to be more in touch with what I've been feeling and thinking.  Things happen that we don't have any control over and they are not that easy to just get over quickly.  I've had a few things like that happen in my life now.  Sometimes I feel like the older you get the more you're subject to having to face things you never thought you would - things that never seemed real or likely or...I guess just things you never think about when you're young.  

At the same time  I have learned so much from some of the hard things I've faced.  I am so much more comfortable with who I am than I have ever been in my life.  I feel so much more sure of my ability to find my way through life.  

I just started what I hope will be my graduate program for counseling.  I'm very excited about this.  At the same time I'm a little nervous because these next 6 weeks are basically a 'try out' to make sure we're a good fit for this somewhat rigorous program.  So it's good, and nerve wracking at the same time.

I'm excited ultimately about the possibility of becoming a counselor and helping people through the difficulties of life.  Really, being a counselor is like being a guide for someone through times that seem dark or scary or just impossible and difficult.  It's about helping people understand themselves better, and maybe the people around them better at the same time.  It's about finding new ways to think and do and be.  Healthier and happier ways.  

I sometimes hear people say that they don't want to see a counselor because they are just as messed up as their clients.  I don't think that's usually very accurate.  What usually is accurate is that most counselors are counselors because they have been through something hard themselves and it left them a more empathic person and it made them feel like they would like to help other people get through difficult things.  Most of them work regularly to make sure that their own problems never get in the way of helping other people with their problems.  If you don't think a divorced counselor should be a marriage counselor, you're wrong.  That person is in a unique position to understand exactly what might go wrong in a relationship.  And more importantly, they are usually pretty in tune with what couples are going through when they reach a point of being willing to come in for counseling.  Ditto when drug counselors are former drug addicts, or eating disorder counselors have had eating disorders.  

Counselors can literally help you learn to be happy.  Who wouldn't want that job?  I can barely believe that people might some day pay me for what I would actually prefer to spend my time doing; listening to people and helping them with their problems.  Hopefully inspiring people to make the changes in their lives that will turn things around in a very real way. 

But counseling isn't magic either.  Talking with a counselor without spending some time reflecting on the things you learn and trying to apply them in your life isn't going to accomplish anything.  And change takes time.  Going to a counselor once or twice or even a handful of times isn't likely to accomplish a whole lot either.  Sometimes real change takes real time.  You didn't get in your situation over night.  Your change take some patience with yourself and with your counselor.

One of the hard things about counseling people is that often, people are very reluctant to actually change.  Habits die hard.  The ways in which they interact with other people in their life, the ways they respond to stress, unhealthy relationships that feel familiar and comfortable are all very difficult things to convince someone they need to change.  Even when they know it's true, it doesn't make it easy.  And there are many ways we delude ourselves into believing things about ourselves or other people that pull us into a rut or a cyclical journey where it's hard to find where we can get out or off.  

As I start this new journey I am hoping to maybe have some blog posts that might inspire or help people to find ways to be happier.  Or ways to deal with or look at their problems which might inspire them to get some counseling if that's what is needed.  

Are you happy?  Keep doing what you're doing.  If you aren't, change something.

How simple that sounds right?  But that journey can be hard.  

If you want some advice on counselors and finding one, you can always email me at:


Raven Blackmane said...

I hope these next few weeks go great for you because I think you'd be an amazing counselor. Just in the few times at book club, you have a different way of thinking about characters and love to "get in their heads." I think it's a natural fit.

Cynthia said...

I've always been amazed at how you can get into people's heads. I used to think you were clairvoyant (although I can say that word, I'm not sure how to spell it). Now I know you are just amazing. This is a good advertisement for your future practice.

Suzanne Barker said...

You will be awesome, girl.

calizona said...

Lezlee's smash A+ future dissertation and NY Times best seller will be MY life, thank you.

I would like to interject this observation re: our seeming resistance to change when we are seriously wounded and hurting. While much of what might interfere with a healing process could indeed be chalked up to behavioral habits, let's not overlook the sheer emotional stress of combating the three demons of Disappointment, Betrayal and Fear.

The afflicted is often running on emergency auxiliary power just to put one foot in front of the other. It may not necessarily be so much that old habits are hard to break as it is an emotional circuit over-load that interrupts the flow of therapeutic input. The stress of trauma (whatever it is) can easily over-ride cognitive skills, especially memory. I believe it is not uncommon for those seeking help to require multiple, patient reminders of what was already successfully discussed.

My counselor kept a notepad and a pen next to his couch. This was genius I tell you, sheer genius. You'd think a concept which hit you with a lightbulb moment in therapy would not escape you once you were cut lose into your day, right? But that's not always the case! Answers, meaning and meat of what is being explored can evaporate with a chilling regularity. It is very frustrating and at times totally frightening.

The beauty of Lezlee's natural skill (and any successful therapist or true friend) is how she can revisit an issue again and again without the slightest hint of exasperation or condemnation. She is masterful at key helping words such as "is it reasonable" or "is it helpful" and "does it make sense".

The most valuable thing Lezlee articulated to me a long time ago was her belief (and assurance, actually) that I had developed a very strong coping mechanism to deal with the chaos at home. I deeply appreciated this and recognized this as a crucial turning point in my recovery.

Where domestic violence is concerned, there may be an entire lifetime of false input by the abuser which profoundly confuses the receiver. It is extremely difficult to emotionally escape the influence and the moral judgement systematically pronounced by the abuser. This naturally diminishes the ability of the victim to process "why" in a productive way, and definitely cripples self-identity.

Once I was validated by numerous sources (Lezlee included) that I had indeed employed a variety of coping strategies in a very difficult situation, I felt encouraged to take a deep breath and give myself some over-due credit for all my efforts to keep the peace and follow my heart.

Stepping into the terrifying void of my New Life then, at long last, seemed "reasonable". And yes, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Thank you.

Bandanamom said...

Cindi - I am so proud of you and all of the incredible progress you have made! It is so gratifying to watch someone make such brave and profoundly difficult choices and to succeed!

You are correct, often there is an interruption of thought process - it is so hard just to survive, just to figure out simple ways to make it through to the next crisis, or to survive the crisis itself, complicated knowledge and learning is stunted momentarily. It's like an instinctual part of you takes over and that is where all the energy is expelled. Anything else takes too much effort.

I love the idea of the pad of paper and pencil! I'm going to use that. :)

I Am Boymom said...

Loved reading this post and the comments, especially from Calizona. In fact, I have to thank you Calizona for helping me understand why I have been kind of stuck for so long. I know I am not a stupid person, so it has been really hard for me to understand why a normally sane and intelligent person can't seem to make the decisions and take the steps necessary to break away from the things that cause me so much emotional distress and unhappiness. My emotional and logical brains are so overwhelmed just trying to get through a day that I cannot even begin to imagine trying to figure out how to come up with a plan for change. Wow. Major "AHA" moment for me.

I agree with the others, Lezlee that your ability to put people at ease and help them feel safe while opening up to you is an amazing gift and talent. You are insightful and intelligent and can articulate with words what others are feeling but sometimes unable to express. You get people. And you have a way of helping those of use who struggle with imperfection recognize and accept those imperfections as part of what makes us unique and great.


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