Earlier this month, I started speaking to a counselor again to help me with my mental health.
This is the fourth one I’ve had in my 30+ years on this planet. Coming back to counseling was easier for me than seeking out mental health treatment for the first time. Not that I really had a choice that first time, as I was in my early teens. I can still picture myself walking up the stairs to my first counselor’s office like it was yesterday, right behind my mother.
That first time, especially as a young teenager, I felt like something was wrong with me. People don’t go to counseling if everything is fine, right? But I learned a lot then and have carried with me the lifelong benefits of childhood counseling.
When I was young, we lived in a small town, so small that the counselor I saw was one of the leaders of my Girl Scout troop when I was younger. The other option in my town was an older man, and I did not feel comfortable talking with a male stranger about my mental health. Later on, it turned out that this older man was the stepdad of a good friend I met in high school. That would have been awkward, meeting my friend’s stepdad only to find out he was my counselor! At least with my former troop leader, we could talk about the rumors of a new cookie flavor coming out.
But that’s the thing. We didn’t even talk about cookies. We did have a little catching up at the beginning, as her daughters went to a different school than I did, and it had been a while since I’d seen them. But after that? Silence.
She let me know that silence was perfectly acceptable. That I could talk when I was ready.
This silence was heavy. It went on for a few sessions.
What was I supposed to talk about?
Why was my mom bringing me here?
What did my mom want me to talk about?
Why was everyone okay with me wasting their time?
The silence certainly wasn’t caused by my counselor’s lack of trying. She would often suggest things for us to talk about or ask me something that I would only respond with a yes or no, and very little elaboration even when she pushed for it. Admittedly, I can be very stubborn, especially when I’m told to do something I don’t want to.
One day, I did start talking. I couldn’t tell you why or how, or even what it was that got me talking in the first place. But I do know now, more than 20 years later, counseling changed my life.
Counseling did not change my life in some sort of epiphany-type way. It changed my life by gently nudging me over that first hump and showing me that counseling is much more than talking. It can include reflection, holding space, processing emotions, and so much more. And, counseling can give you tools to sort out thoughts in your head, techniques to focus yourself, and more. I have found so many lifelong benefits of childhood counseling that I began in my formative years.
I share my story with you for two reasons:
If you want your child to start speaking with a mental health professional, let them know what specifically you want them to discuss at their sessions.
I am not saying this to blame my mom for anything, but I think we can all agree that talking about mental health, in general, doesn’t have as big of a stigma attached to it now as it did 20 years ago when I was in this situation. Your child doesn’t have to be limited to discussing their problems or concerns in their sessions, but that can be used as a starting point. Remind your child that they can speak to their counselor about anything, even things they aren’t comfortable talking about with you.
Also, remind them that whatever they discuss in their sessions remains confidential, except for a few exceptions – if you plan on killing yourself or someone else, if abuse is involved, or if a court order allows limited parts of your session notes to be shared in court. If this were to happen, only the minimum amount of your confidential medical information would be shared.
The great thing about counseling is that in the future, your child will realize they have a tool to use. When they come to a difficult patch in their life, something will remind them that they have been through counseling and either remind them of what they learned or that it’s okay to seek out counseling.
Maybe they’ll just need a few sessions. Maybe more.
But their first time going will be the hardest. By introducing them to mental health treatments early, perhaps before they are grown and flown from your nest, they won’t have to deal with that hurdle alone. They will already know that speaking to a professional about your mental health is actually a very good thing. They may even have already experienced some of the lifelong benefits of childhood counseling.
As for me, this time going back, I was able to share with my counselor my expectations of what I wanted to accomplish this time around in the first few minutes of our first meeting. From the previous times I’ve gone to counseling, I’ve learned more about myself and how my brain works that I was able to easily recognize the areas in my life where I feel I need help and want to work on. For me, that’s a big deal.
If you or someone you know needs mental health assistance, please reach out to one of the following resources. Counseling can provide immediate help, and it can also give lifelong benefits.
Resources (Local and Crisis Services):
Vermont Human Services Database: dial 2-1-1
First Call for Children and Families 24/7 Crisis Line (Chittenden): (802) 488-7777
Adult Mobile Crisis Unit 24/7 Hotline (Chittenden): (802) 488-6400
Northwestern Counseling 24/7 Crisis Line (Franklin): (802) 524-6554
The Counseling Service of Addison County, Inc. 24/7 Hotline: (802) 388-7641
Washington County Mental Health Services, Inc. 24/7 Crisis Line: (802) 229-0591
Lamoille County Mental Health Services Crisis M-F 8-4:30: (802) 888-5026
Lamoille County Mental Health Services Crisis Nights/Weekends: (802) 888-8888
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1(800) 273-TALK
National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1(800) 442-HOPE
National Hopeline Network: 1(800) SUICIDE
Crisis Text Line: Text BRAVE to 741741
Suicide and Crisis Text Line: 988
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