Can you really afford to not give counselling a go?
People often only come into therapy when they hit a crisis situation, or life feels too hard, their relationships are under threat, their jobs are getting difficult, finances are causing worry, and so many other reasons. What about if you came to therapy before you REALLY needed it. Isn’t prevention better than cure?
A couple of recent conversations got me thinking about this, and reflecting on my own life and how my life could have been so different if I had known about counselling, really understood what it was about, much earlier in my life. Back then I always knew I was hurting, I understood some of what had caused this, and I made some very unhealthy choices to either soothe, forget or be someone else for a while. If someone had guided me into a counsellor’s chair, things could have been so different.
So, for me, my choice was alcohol, but this could relate to any substance or coping strategy of choice. Several times each week I would go out, drink to excess, make unhealthy choices and spend most of my days feeling ill and barely functioning. I kidded myself that I was going out being fun and sociable, but what I was really doing was trying to live up to societal norms of what youngsters do, drink until I had the courage to be someone other than me and could forget about my pain for a while, and I could let go of any responsibilities.
Through therapy I learnt that I had been hiding from my pain, hiding who I was and presenting a version I thought others would like more, slowly but steadily shredding what little self-confidence and self-worth I did possess, and this only drove me to do it all the more.
Unlike many, I was lucky to have a clear, defining moment when life presented me with the chance to see what I was doing to myself. I had a bright flash of everything I could, and probably would, lose if I carried on as I was. Despite this moment being 26 years ago, I can still clearly remember that moment when I chose me and decided to clean up and stop running and hiding from myself. It was another 14 years before I started my training and therapy, but it was a better 14 years for having made that decision.
If I had done that therapy in my early 20s, and I had found a counsellor I trusted and felt comfortable enough to spill my heart out to, could I have saved myself a lot of that pain? If I had understood all the layers of what my childhood put me through, would I have understood earlier that it was not my fault and that I deserved better? If someone had helped me understand exactly what I was hiding from, could I have felt safe to stop hiding earlier?
I love working as a counsellor, whether that be with young adults working through stuff and seeing how much better their life might be for having that early understanding of themselves, or whether that is with older adults who are finally seeing themselves as worth the time and investment. My role is one of privilege and I always feel honoured and humbled to be allowed to witness other people’s stories and, just for a little while, get to walk their path with them. I guess you could say I am wanting to be to others what I needed for myself.
I know counselling seems expensive, but can you really afford not to do it? I don’t have a clear figure for what I paid for therapy throughout my years of training, but I do know it was worth every penny. I was lucky and found the right therapists for what I needed at the time, and they guided me out of a darkness I didn’t fully realise I was living in. If I had managed to heal myself in my early 20s, I am fairly certain that whatever the cost of therapy was, it would have been less than what I spent on alcohol. It is not just the financial element that would have made a difference though. To have invested the time and energy on myself would have paid off in so many ways. I might have avoided the damaging relationships that followed. I could have prevented self-doubt from holding me back in life. I might have had a lot more years already of feeling happy and good enough to be in the world. I don’t know how you would even begin trying to put a price on that.
Gone are the days of viewing counselling as tea and sympathy. It is so much more than that. My therapists didn’t just sit quietly, occasionally asking how I feel. They helped me understand, they showed me I was not to blame, they helped me work out who I was and who I wanted to be. They helped me heal from many years of pain and abuse –inflicted both by others and myself. Do I wish I had done it earlier? Yes and no. Yes because my life could have been so much brighter and happier, no because I gathered a lot of life experience that helps me be able to hear the stories of others and truly empathise.
At whatever point you are in your life, if you are hurting, sad, scared, anxious, depressed, angry or anything else, can you really afford to not give counselling a go?