The other day, to help with an article she was writing for one of her classes, a friend of mine sat down with me and asked if I had ever used counseling services at Elon.
As we sat in the crowded Moseley Student Center, I felt myself look around the room cautiously before quietly answering, “Yes.”
I have been using counseling services on and off ever since I first got to Elon. But no matter how long I’ve been in counseling, I have always reacted in that way to that question — with slight discomfort and fear of who would hear me.
I have been in counseling and therapy ever since seventh grade. Back then, I barely told anyone, and even now I still hesitate.
We hear the words “end the stigma” constantly in regard to mental health, encouraging people to be open about their struggles — but it is much easier said than done. As much as I want to rally people together to shout from rooftops about their mental illnesses and check in with confidence at the health center, I don’t see that as completely realistic or the most important issue.
What is more important is to not only get students in the door of the counseling center, but make them actually want to get better.
When talking to my friend for her article, she told me that many other students she spoke to had not had positive experiences at counseling services. This was shocking to me because while I wasn’t the most confident about my use of counseling services, I had positive experiences there and figured other students had as well.
I then thought back to any times I had felt that counseling wasn’t helpful — and there have been a few. But I realized that those times were during the darkest parts of my struggle with mental illness when I wasn’t motivated to help myself get better.
I think the biggest reason students find counseling ineffective is because they go at it with the wrong attitude. Far too often, people believe that counselors and therapists are there to solve their problems. They expect to be told how to fix things or to be given advice, but that’s not what the service is there for.
Counselors are trained to listen and ask questions, not give orders. The best people I have ever gone to have listened to me talk for hours and asked me questions that caused me to dig deeper into my mind for further self reflection. The patient is in many ways a more active participant in the conversation than the counselor.
If patients aren’t fully committed to working through whatever they are struggling with, then counseling is going to be ineffective. Students must truly want to get better in order for there to be any progress.
It’s hard to say, but if talk therapy isn’t working, then maybe it’s time the patients re-evaluate what they are hoping to get out of their time in counseling. Counseling can be an incredible journey for someone struggling with mental illness — all it takes is an open mind and a willingness to talk.