Some people are just plain lucky. They never seem stressed, they don’t appear to have many problems and they’re able to toss off whatever bad comes their way.
Life isn’t so easy for the rest of us. At some point in our lives, we will find ourselves in situations where there are no easy answers. We may feel confused, conflicted, stressed, embarrassed and, worst of all, alone.
Take the case of Mary (not her real name), a 35 year old administrative assistant and mother of three, struggling with parenting issues and the recent death of her mother. “I try to be a good parent, but it’s hard,” Mary says. “I feel out of touch with the pressures my children face. Kids behave differently now than they did when I was growing up.”
Mary’s 11-year-old son Jeffrey was having “strange problems” with stress. Mary first noticed changes in her son’s behavior when his grandmother became terminally ill. “Jeffrey was like a different child,” Mary said. “He became nervous and cried over silly things. He started vomiting in the morning and said he didn’t want to go to school. I was preoccupied trying to take care of my mother, who was dying from cancer. I knew that Jeffrey was close to his grandmother, but I didn’t realize how her illness was affecting him. And once I became aware that Jeffrey was in trouble, I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. My husband kept saying that he’d grow out of it. But I wasn’t sure.”
Mary decided to seek the help of a professional counselor. The counselor praised Mary for her courage in helping her son seek professional help. She explained that by getting help early, Jeffrey most likely would overcome his problems. Without help, however, Jeffrey’s condition might have gotten much worse, and his recovery would have been much more difficult.
Many of us are confused about when to seek the help of a mental health professional. And like Mary, family and friends may give us different advice about how best to manage the problem. Many of us have been brought up to “keep problems to ourselves,” and to handle our difficulties on our own. Further, human nature causes us to put off getting help in the hopes that the problem will resolve itself. Unfortunately, many of our life problems do not disappear and, if left untreated, get worse. This is true not only for mental health concerns, such as depression and stress, but other problems, such as domestic violence, financial crisis, and alcohol and drug abuse.
When considering whether professional help is necessary, we need to ask ourselves:
“Is this problem likely to go away by itself?”
If we have worked hard to resolve the problem on our own and it continues to bother us or is getting worse, then it is time to get some outside help.
Richard, a 42 year old bricklayer, explains his decision to seek marriage counseling:
“One day, I realized my wife and I had been growing apart for years. We spent our weekends arguing. Every time we tried to talk, it would end in an argument. I missed the old days when we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. I decided I didn’t want to waste more years of my life waiting for my marriage to get better. I told my wife I was going to see a counselor. While I hoped she would come with me, I realized I needed to see the counselor anyway for help for myself. My wife took time to warm up to the idea, but eventually she joined me in counseling. The counseling really helped – we both wonder why we put counseling off for so long.”
How Counseling Works
Many of us arapist about the problems in our lives. The counselor’s goal is to help us better understand and cope with our troubles. The therapist listens and provides guidance and support as we sort through ways to resolve our difficulties. Unlike family and friends, who may be biased or lack the education and training needed, counselors provide sound guidance. Counselors help us gain insight about ourselves. They help us learn ways to cope better with problems and avoid similar problems in the future.
Richard describes his counseling experience
“I learned a lot about myself. I realized I needed help to communicate better with my wife. I learned how to control my temper, express my feelings and show my wife I cared. The counselor helped me recognize better ways to control my stress, rather then taking it out on my wife. It helped to talk to someone outside of the family, who could give me solid feedback.”
Sadly, even though help is readily available, many of us will go without. There are many barriers that get in the way of our seeking help. Some of these barriers are self-imposed, because we have hang-ups about what it means to see a professional counselor. Some of us cannot overcome our childhood training to “manage on our own,” no matter how out-of-control our problems get. And, even in our enlightened age, some people look down on themselves and others, and use labels such as “weak” or “crazy,” when professional counseling is considered. The truth is that it takes tremendous courage to recognize and admit problems, and to get help.
The good news is that our attitudes about counseling are changing. We recognize that “stuff happens” in life, and that problems happen to everyone. People from all walks of life see professional counselors for help. Improvements in medical science are teaching us that mental disorders and drug and alcohol abuse are illnesses, rather than signs of a character flaw or weakness. We also recognize that seeing a professional counselor does not mean that we’re crazy, that we see counselors for all sorts of personal problems. And while it’s still not easy to take that first step to reach out for help, we see counseling as a way of taking care of our families and ourselves.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, call the Bricklayers’ Member Assistance Program (MAP) to confidentially speak to a licensed mental health professional. Call toll-free at 1-888-880-8222