Signs That You May Need Counseling

Why is it that when we have a sore throat or a torn ligament, we go to a doctor? Why is it that we willingly take antibiotics for our diagnosed strep throat, and endure medical procedures and tests for our torn ligament? Why is it that as soon as summer hits (or is about to hit), we hurry into our local gym in an attempt to get “buff” and look good in a swimsuit? The main question here is: Why do we put our physical health before our mental health? Shouldn’t the two be equal? When you’re sick, you go to a doctor. When you want to get in shape, you start to work out. So why is it that there are an estimated 58 million people in the United States suffering with some sort of mental illness in a given year who fail to seek treatment? Perhaps the stigma associated with seeking help for problems that are not clearly “visible” is one reason. This stigma is so strong that it can deter people from seeking the help that they require. However, we must re-frame our thinking. Our mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. If you don’t have good mental health, your physical health will suffer, and vice versa. For example, individuals living with a serious mental illness are far more likely to also suffer from a serious and chronic medical condition. Furthermore, these individuals are more likely to die prematurely (as much as 25 years sooner) than their healthy peers. As you can see, living with a mental illness in silence is damaging to both your mental and physical health. For some people, the stigma associated with seeking help or being deemed “crazy” is so strong that they live in silence with their illness, and may end up committing suicide. In the United States, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death, and it has been deemed that more than 90% of these individuals suffered from a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder.

I have been conducting counseling in San Diego with all types of individuals, couples, and families for over 30 years. Counseling is not something that you need to fear. And counseling certainly does not show signs of personal weakness. In fact, seeking professional help for mental anguish can be equated with going to the doctor for a routine check-up or procedure. You wouldn’t ignore your physical health if you had a problem, so why neglect your mental health when you are suffering? Since our mental and physical health are so tightly intertwined, it is of paramount importance to ensure that both are well-attended to so that you are able to function at your optimal level.

That being said, how do you know if you need counseling? While there are a wide array of psychological disorders, ranging from very mild to quite severe, I will briefly outline some common signs that may indicate the need for counseling.

First (and by far the most common sign that you may need counseling), you notice that you are experiencing extreme emotions. By this I mean feeling either very high or very low, or even a constant fluctuation between the two. You may feel like an “emotional rollercoaster” and like you are always on the verge of having an emotional outburst (i.e. crying, anger, etc.). If you are experiencing this, the people around you will notice as well, as relationships and friendships may become strained due to your emotional instability. Some clients I have seen who have exhibited these symptoms have since been diagnosed with depression and treated for it. This is not to say that everyone who experiences a fluctuation of emotions has depression, but in my experience I have found that symptoms such as uncontrollable crying outbursts and either high or low emotional arousal can be the beginning stages of a psychological disorder, such as depression.

Second, you may notice that you are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety. Keep in mind that a certain degree of anxiety is in fact “normal”, since it motivates us to accomplish the mundane tasks of daily living. But when the anxiety and stress become so overwhelming that they are taking over your life and hindering your ability to be productive or partake in activities you used to enjoy, you may want to seek out professional help. A common diagnosis in a case like this is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Unhealthy coping mechanisms, also known as “self-medicating”, are common among people struggling with psychological issues. This is often because they do not know what is wrong with them or why they feel the way they do. Some individuals use drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the mental anguish, while others resort to more extreme methods such as self-harm. Whatever the case may be, if you are engaging in unhealthy coping behaviors, you may need counseling in order to help you discover the root of the problem and the reasons why you are engaging in these behaviors.

Another common reason for individuals seeking out counseling is they have experienced some sort of traumatic event (i.e. physical/sexual assault) or a sequence of traumatic events (i.e. childhood abuse/neglect). Often people who have experienced trauma require counseling in order to make them feel safe and secure in their environments once again, and also to help them vent their thoughts, feelings, and emotions regarding the trauma (which they may feel like they cannot tell anyone else). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common diagnosis in cases like these.

Similar to experiencing trauma, grief and loss are often things that require counseling. If you have recently lost a loved one or ended a relationship and are having trouble coping and coming to terms with it, you may find counseling beneficial to help you get through this difficult time. Grief and Loss counseling is often short-term, but is dictated by your personal needs and is therefore person-specific.

Unexplained aches and pains is yet another red flag that something psychological is going on, rather than something physical. For instance, you have been to your physician several times complaining of “random” (yet bothersome) aches and pains, yet he/she cannot find any physical or medical reason for them. This is often a sign that something psychological is going on, as this mental distress is manifesting itself as physical symptoms (i.e. headaches, backaches, muscle pain, etc.) While the pain may not be visible, it is still real and therefore still requires professional attention, such as counseling.

Last but certainly not least, just a general “low” feeling about yourself is enough to warrant psychological counseling. Perhaps you have low self-esteem and/or confidence issues that are interfering with your ability to enjoy life and partake in daily activities such as work or school. Counseling can help you to talk through the difficult emotions you are feeling about yourself, and perhaps help you to learn new ways of looking at things by re-framing your thoughts.

Whatever your reason for seeking counseling, please do not hesitate to give me a call for a free consultation so I can better get to know you and your specific situation and needs. Remember, attending counseling is not a sign of personal weakness. On the contrary, it is a sign of personal strength, because it signifies that you realize something isn’t right and you are taking the necessary steps in order to fix it. You should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about needing counseling. Counseling has the ability to help a lot of people in a wide array of situations, and therefore it is something that should be viewed just like going to the medical doctor when you have a physical/visible ailment. The emotional and psychological pain you are feeling is real too, and deserves the same kind of attention you would devote to your physical health. Remember, physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. When either is suffering, you should seek the necessary professional help in order to get back to your optimum level of functioning.  Call me at 858-481-0425.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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