Debunking counselling myths

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Rapid economic growth in our country has also spawned problems such as workplace stress, relationship troubles and anxiety. According to the WHO, India has the dubious distinction of having the highest suicide rates in the world, majority of which are committed by people below the age of 30.

Experts say 60 percent of these deaths could have been prevented with proper counselling. But one reason why even educated people often choose not to seek professional help is because of the negative connotations surrounding it.

Here then is an attempt to debunk the seven biggest myths attached to counselling:

Myth 1: Anyone who counsels can be a professional counsellor
The term counselling is vague and used loosely in a variety of contexts – everyone, from receptionists at educational institutions to priests – term themselves as “counsellors”.

But professional counsellors are required to undergo a course of study leading to recognized qualifications. They are equipped with years of training in the science of human behaviour; some (though not all) are also qualified to administer tests to evaluate mental abilities, aptitudes and personality traits. While some doctors such as psychiatrists provide counselling, most counsellors are not licensed doctors and don’t have the authority to provide medical advice.

Myth 2: People who go for counselling are ‘mad’
One of the most persistent stigmas about counselling is that only “crazy people” need it. But consider this: You visit a doctor when you fall ill. You take your car to a mechanic for repairs. You do this because these experts are equipped to help you.

Similarly, seeing a trained expert for problems such as lack of confidence or relationship issues does not have to be a sign of weakness or “madness”. In fact, often it may be the smart way out. Whether you keep going to a counsellor a secret, or are open about it, depends upon you. But if you need help, reach out for it!

Myth 3: You don’t need a counsellor when family and friends can advise you for free
Counselling by a trained professional is different from “advice” or “council” given by friends or family. Such advice can be confusing and even risky, because family and friends – however well meaning – operate from their own personal agendas.

Counsellors do not give advice, but help you explore problems and implement action-oriented goals. They also use tests, role-plays, games, reading material and other techniques to help you formulate newer ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Myth 4: Therapists are slimy shrinks who make money out of your troubles
Ouch! Most counsellors are in the profession because of their need to help. There are some though who see their work more as a business than a service.

Therapists are individuals with their unique style – there is no “one size fits all” type. However, you can expect most counsellors to be compassionate and caring by nature and to actively work with you during the session. If after a few sessions you find that you are not comfortable, you can opt to see another counsellor.

Myth 5: During counselling you are made to lie on a couch and hypnotized
This misconception originates in the hilarious “client-therapist-couch” scenario portrayed in movies and TV where clients lie in a deep trance and reveal lurid details of their past.

Actually, counselling is far less dramatic and involves a typical “doctor-patient set-up”. In the initial session, the counsellor takes your case history, evaluates your needs and also explains what counselling means. This is followed by weekly (or bi-weekly) sessions, lasting up to an hour. The number of sessions will depend on the nature of the problem. The therapist may assign “homework” as a method to help you make progress outside of the session.

Myth 6: Counsellors charge exorbitant fees
Counselling often works on a “sliding scale” principle, where clients are charged fees depending on the nature of their problem and ability to pay. Also, counselling being expensive is a mindset. Rather than thinking of it as a waste of time and money, consider it as an investment in your health. The change in attitude can make all the difference!

Myth 7: Online test can accurately tell if you need counselling
In fact, no test can predict whether you need counselling. This is because there are no set benchmarks that denote when to seek counselling.

One way to decide is, if you are anxious or depressed about something, and feel that you can’t cope with the problem on your own. If this also affects your ability to concentrate at work and home, it’s a sign that you need help.

Do not be afraid to go out and seek help. If you think you need it, go out and get it.

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