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3 Things You Can Learn From Mental Health Counseling

We can all benefit from having someone that can help us build a better outlook on life and manage our stress better. Having a mental illness isn't a prerequisite for seeing a licensed mental health counselor. Maybe you're trying to keep yourself afloat with the demands of your life or you're unmotivated and feeling kind of trapped. Whatever is keeping you from living according to your goals and values can be addressed in counseling.

Everyone's journey with mental health care is different but some lessons with it are standard. Below you'll find 3 simple yet meaningful lessons that can be derived from being in counseling.

1) Disclosure Brings Reassurance.

The therapeutic relationship with your counselor can make or break your experience. I've had a total of 5 mental health counselors in the last 2 years in order to address mental health challenges with different levels of severity. I've gotten the chance to get acquainted with fairly different approaches to counseling as a client. Whenever my counselor uses storytelling with her personal anecdotes and weaves it into our conversation on my challenges I'm more likely to get the emotional release that comes after disclosure.

A counseling session typically lasts about 50 minutes. That's usually enough time for me to talk about the ups and downs I went through since the last session to then work on an objective from my treatment plan. If you seek mental health counseling you might often get the chance of talking without filters and get probed about anything disquieting to you, which is called free association. It's at the beginning of the session when free association usually happens for me and I bring up things like feeling triggered because of a scene in a Netflix show or disappointed because of my performance at work. This process can feel like taking off a heavy backpack after a hike.

2) Thinking Traps Are Real.

You might have heard something like "Your thoughts create your reality" while navigating though some sort of self-improvement content. There's truth to this. Cognitive behavioral therapy is all about identifying the thinking traps that lead us to operate in a way that can make things like depression and anxiety a reality.

Thinking traps or cognitive distortions take a variety of forms. Counseling can train clients to create balanced perspectives that lead to more rational decisions and better problem solving abilities.

One of the thinking traps I'm often prey of is magnification. Oftentimes I make mistakes in communicating with clients that I encounter in my work as a crisis counselor. I once used "indignated" (instead of indignant) to reflect the feelings of frustration and irritability of a client but I don't think she even realized that wasn't a word or maybe she didn't care. I magnified that mistake and thought about how my yearly appraisal in the agency would take real a hit. A former counselor of mine recommended for me to use the 7 Column Thought Record in situations like this one and with it I was able to arrive at the conclusion that although I make mistakes I always work through them to learn something. I don't think I would've been able to reach a moment of mental clarity so easily without the tools I gained from counseling.

3) Emotions Have a Purpose.

Thoughts and emotions go hand in hand. Being in counseling has taught me how important it is to put a label on my emotional experience in order to put my thoughts in order. Multiple counselors of mine have advocated for journaling to stabilize emotions and after journaling for years I can see how valuable it is for self-reflection over time. Although emotions are fleeting and don't make us who we are, they carry vivid messages for us moving forward.

Being in counseling leads to getting educated on the reasons for regulating your emotions optimally. After an emotion serves its alerting purpose it's necessary for us to de-escalate it. One valuable skill that I discussed with one of my former counselors is the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique. I find myself resorting to it sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and need a self-care break to stay present.

The Lessons of Counseling

Albert Einstein said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school." Counseling isn't unlike school. Your counselor is like your teacher who guides you through different lesson plans about yourself and sometimes you literally get assigned homework. Whether you go to counseling for a couple of sessions or a couple of decades what you learn will most likely stick with you in the long run at some level.

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