Counseling Ignorance

My apparently neuro-typical, white, male-identified, married to a woman, father to two kids, upper middle class, Midwestern-born and raised by a loving and supportive family, science PhD-holding and apparently healthy, happy and successful coworker – whose social circle consists of mostly the same – is an extremely friendly, nice, generous and socially-minded moderate liberal. He’s a great listener and conversationalist and an intellectually challenging and supportive coworker; I LOVE to work with this guy. But he just asked me – in all seriousness with hope that he’d get an honest answer –

I don’t understand psychologists. You know, I don’t think I know of anyone who has been to see a therapist for counseling. I can’t imagine letting anyone tell me how to interpret my emotions. Why would someone need that?

This led to a long discussion (well, a diplomatic, coworker-appropriate rant from me, with pauses for him to nod or make minor comments):

  • You probably do know people who have been to see a therapist, or even who routinely see a therapist. 
    • These friends likely don’t tell you that they’ve been or go to counseling because there is still a stigma against those who have mental illness or who seek counseling to improve their quality of life (i.e. – help managing stress, relationships, decision-making, personal/professional/educational development, etc). 
    • “Invisible” illnesses and internalized struggles and stress tend not to come up in everyday conversation, especially if your friends – or the people with whom you spend much of your time thanks to grad school or work – are also your professional contacts.
    • (And by the way, you’re looking at someone who’s seen a therapist, who’s married to someone who takes drugs daily to manage his clinical depression, and who has more friends than she count count on both hands who either deals with a mental illness or seeks counseling.)
  • Psychologists don’t “tell you how to interpret your emotions”. They try to give you the tools that can help you work that shit out because ultimately only you can do that for you.
  • You’re a neuro-typical, healthy and happy person who has pretty much succeeded in life, as far as many people would define success. How much harder would it have been to get where you are if you’d had to struggle to get out of bed every day, or argue with jerkbrain morning to night, or been born without the ridiculous amount of privilege with which you’ve lived your life? Counseling can help some people work through that stuff.
  • Don’t make assumptions about why someone would speak with a therapist. There are different kinds of psychologists – people receive different therapies and counseling for all sorts of issues. Whether a person is struggling with a major mental illness, emotional distress brought on by a particular situation, wanting guidance with making life decisions, or anything what the hell ever – lots of people seek professional help. 
  • Wanting to talk to a psychologist is normal and healthy. Applied psychology is a tool that we have at our disposal to keep us healthy and happy or to help us get there, and it’s a tragedy when it’s seen as anything other than one more type of medical specialty. Bravo to people who make use of counseling when they want or need it (and have access to it).

What do you think? I’m certainly no expert on counseling, so what else could I tell him? He’s not trying to troll, he’s not being willfully ignorant – but he’s obviously not had a lot of experience with psychology or counseling. Also, and this is the biggie, he’s willing to listen.

Counseling Ignorance