Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fear of the Mirror

I began fearing the mirror when I saw my first gray hair. Then I realized the problem wasn’t the mirror, it was me.

So I shaved my head.

There is a stigma about visiting a counselor. Every office I’ve visited either spaces appointments far apart so that there is no chance you will run into another client; or it has an “airlock” – one waiting room where you come in, and an entirely different exit for when you leave.

(It’s kind of what I imagine visiting a mafia kingpin would be like – in the front door, then thrown out into the back alley by goons.)

I grew up believing that visiting a counselor meant I had a weakness. I also believed that they would collect information about me that would go in a file that would somehow follow me around, like my “permanent” record in school. (I imagined that as a kind of Rosetta Stone – unearthed a thousand years from now for archaeologists to cluck over the fact I was absent for twelve days in grade three).

A lot of people still believe this stuff. I’ve visited lots of counselors, and I can tell you this – they are simply human mirrors.

It takes a lot of study, training and skill to become a good human mirror. In British Columbia, make sure the mirror is a Registered Clinical Counselor. This certification requires a tremendous amount of education and expertise.

So how does a human mirror help?

It shows us all of the things about ourselves that we haven’t noticed or have ignored. It asks questions that challenge us to think about how we want to live our lives. It gives broad guidelines as to how others have dealt with similar things, and homework to help us overcome our obstacles.

It is hard work sitting with a living mirror that is gently getting you to notice and learn things about yourself that you don’t want to know. But the insights are pure gold.

Which brings me back to the stigma.

Visiting a counselor means admitting that you need to work on some part of your life. Like our assumption that mental illness is very rare, we assume that very few people need to seek help with their issues. So looking for counseling becomes shameful.

In reality, everyone could use a counselor to have a good look in the mirror. Everyone has issues they can work on. Often the people who are most vocal about not needing help are the ones who need it the most.

I am proud when I go to see my counselor, because this particular mirror has not only shown me my issues, it has shown me how much progress I have made addressing them.

I hope that one day counseling offices won’t need airlocks.


Karen said...

I've struggled with low-level depression for as long as I can remember. When I first got help, I was embarrassed to admit I had trouble managing my emotions and thoughts, but I had no problem telling people when I had a cold or food poisoning. I didn't like hiding something that affected my life so much. It's been years since the first time I went and I make a special point of bringing up that I've been to a therapist over the years because I want people I know to realise that the depression is always in my life. I don't make a big deal about it; mainly, it's mentioned in casual conversation. Most people who know me are often surprised when I talk about my depression, because I hide it well when I want to, but I realise it's more important to be honest about this aspect of me so people around me are aware that depression affects my life.

D'Arcy said...

Well said, Karen, and good for you! I also hide depression well, but make it a point of bringing it up - and the counselling service that I use - whenever it comes up in conversation. (e.g. at work, when we're reminded about the Employee Assistance Program, and there's a dead silence, I pipe up with "I use it to help treat my mental illness, and it's a fantastic service.")