I have come to appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to meet with a psychologist on a regular basis. The insights that I receive help to balance my own attempts to figure out what parts of my life require concerted attention, and to receive tools to master life-skills essential for personal success -- however you want to define that.
In 2009, I made the life-long awaited choice to begin seeing a counsellor. Beginning to recognize some anomalies in my social interactions, I wanted a chance to speak with a professional one on one about my specific personal concerns. On a recommentation from a trusted friend, I first contacted Carole Ducklow, a registered clinical counsellor. In my first meeting, she read me like familiar book and identified immediately the issues I was wrestling with the most, unbeknownst to me. Since then it has been a long battle to attend to that personal issue.
It was only by chance that my father was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after I first met with Carole. It was as if my decision to start seeing a counsellor was meant to be. Eventually, I turned to Paddy Ducklow, Carole's husband, essentially to get the appointments covered by my insurance company by meeting with a certified psychologist. I knew Paddy as one of the faculty members in grad school, and heard him speak once at church. But I never knew him in person.
On my first meeting, the chemistry clicked for me. He, like Carole, was an attentive listener, allowing me to speak freely without passing any judgments or interupting me with his diagnosis. He is also a graduate professor -- and that's what came home for me.
For me, counselling is all about being a student, and the role of student fits me like a glove. I am eager to learn, delve deep with my inquisitions, and I keep in mind the goal for what it is I want to learn. In school, it was to master Koine Greek (grad school) or understand the technique of orchestration (music school). In this counselling context, it wasn't "what" I wanted to learn, but "who" -- indeed, I, myself, would be the object of my study. The severe depressive episodes, particularly since my father's passing in March 2010, my relationship with my family and friends, the absence of coping mechanisms for stress -- they are all both experienced and analyzed in my daily life. And Paddy has become my personal tutor in the academic study of myself.
I never went to Carole or Paddy to have them tell me how to live my life. I always knew that was my decision to make. Sometimes he would make an observation, and the accuracy would feel slightly off. And so he would try something else. You see, what I have discovered in Paddy these last two years is a trusted guide who brings experience and education to help me form accurate thoughts that allow me to implement change with hope. But in the end, they are formed with me, not for me. I want to change. And that's why counselling works for me. In fact, there are times when Paddy spends so much time just listening, that I wonder if he is just there so I can talk out the discoveries that I have made and come to my own conclusions. But when I look back, he's definitely guiding my thinking, even if it is just to confirm that I am thinking along the right track. It's like seeing a friend on a regular basis, who I willingly pay for the services he provides as I would do any friend that I respect.
There still exists in today's society such a stigma attached to "seeing a psychologist" that makes me rather sad to see. It is almost as if you need to be suffering a major trauma, or severely mentally sick enough to see a qualified expert. But the truth is, my decision to seek counselling didn't start with trauma. It started because I was ready to make changes in my life and to understand the background that led me to who I am today. And when a major life change came around, like the death of my Dad, I already had a support system in place to speak plainly about my grief to someone who knows my history and disposition.
Counselling doesn't have to be expensive. Even in this area where I live, there are several sources that assist those who may not be able to financially afford regular appointments. Honestly, all you need to do is decide that you want to change. Once you make the decision, you will be motivated to find sources of help. Ask trusted friends for references, and do your research into the backgrounds of different counsellors or psychologists. Find one that seems to fit who you are and just give them a call. Then when you go, go prepared. Think about the questions you want to ask about yourself. And bring examples of behavior that you want to change. Be truthful. These are confidential meetings. There's no need to impress them. Just relax, even cry if you have to (I do!), and let it all hang out there.
One last word of advice -- and this is important. I have been in counselling for 3 years now, and I am convinced that if you decide to start seeking professional counselling, go the distance. Don't decide to get counselling for a few sessions just to try it out or just get a perspective. Go for a minimum of 12 sessions and really go for it. Try to go weekly for the first month, just so you can establish a working relationship with your counsellor, or figure out if this is the counsellor you want to see. Different counsellors specialize in different areas, and you will want to work with your counsellor to figure out if what you are dealing with could be best tackled by someone else with expertise in that field.
My doctor once asked me why I thought that Paddy was helping me. I simply said, "Because Paddy doesn't tell me things I already know. He seems to recognize what I need to hear, and what I can figure out for myself."