You Don’t Have to be Sick to Get Better

“I thought about coming in lots of times, but I thought my problems weren’t serious enough to talk about in counseling or that I’d be wasting time your time that could be better used by someone else.”

As a psychologist in the Counseling Center, I probably hear some version of this phrase from roughly half the students I meet with for the first time.  Whenever I ask about this hesitation, I often find out that because the student isn’t failing classes, feeling overwhelmed or out of control, or feeling depressed to the point of having some suicidal thoughts, the student doesn’t think that whatever is feeling problematic rises to the level of needing counseling.  Whether this is a function of a reduced, but still present, stigma surrounding seeking mental health services or perhaps some lingering skepticism/curiosity about what actually happens in The Big White House (Glen Esk), let me share with you the response I give after hearing these fears:

If it’s important to you, then it’s worth talking about.  You don’t have to be sick to get better.

There is no universally accepted threshold or measuring stick that will let you know that you need counseling.  In fact, if you have ever been curious about counseling but for whatever reason you have held off, I would challenge you to approach counseling from a position of using rather than needing counseling.  While it’s true that a number of students appropriately and effectively use our services to get connected and receive treatment for serious mental health issues, many of the 1500 students who used our services last year were using counseling as a way to continue growing and improving their lives rather than trying to “solve a problem.”

There is nothing magical or mystical about the work that happens in Glen Esk (although many of us wish we had secret powers – for me it’s a tossup between telekinesis and time travel).  Some students fear that if they come in for an initial interview (called an intake) that the counselor is going to push them to reveal some deep secret or troubling piece of their personality – that’s just not how it goes.  What actually happens is typically a three-part process:

First, you schedule an appointment, show up, and fill out some paperwork that helps you think about how counseling might be useful and assists us in formulating ideas about how we might be helpful.

Next, you meet with the counselor for the intake meeting, typically lasting 40-45 minutes.  This consultation often feels like an intimate interview of what your life experiences have been with the intent of helping the counselor get to know you and your goals as best as one can within a 45 minute window.  Many students report that even after this one meeting they felt understood and like they are able to identify strengths and stuck points that they can start working with in their day-to-day life.

The third step is identifying ways to put action to your goals – whether that’s getting involved with individual or group services at TUCC, connecting with opportunities on campus, or finding helpful resources in the community.  That’s it.

Thriving at Towson (and beyond) happens most successfully when you truly know your values, articulate clear goals, and engage in behavior that is consistent with those goals and values.  This reads as something simple in text, but can be difficult in practice.  Most of the work we do with students at TUCC is relatively short-term and based around your goals.  Students looking to do some life-hacking or just to improve their day-to-day lives often use our services in some of the following ways (the YouTube clips should give you idea of what I mean):

  • Discover passions/career paths
  • Improve study habits
  • Explore personal values/beliefs
  • Learn how to accept yourself and to love your body
  • What am I looking for?  Why?  How?
  • Develop stronger coping tools
  • Figure out why I have been “feeling a bit off”
  • Building the road map for “where do I go from here?”
  • Receive feedback from someone who really wants to “get” you
  • Take an hour out of my week to check-in with myself and ask, “how ya doin?”

If you’ve used or are using our services at TUCC and found it useful and think someone else might benefit – tell them about your experience!  If you’ve been on the fence, I hope that you’ll give yourself permission to take a small risk and embrace that you don’t have to be sick to get better and take a little time this semester to check-in with yourself.

Nathan Sharer
The Counseling Center

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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to be Sick to Get Better

  1. John March 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm Reply

    Terrific article that really demystifies the process of counseling and explains the practical benefits of getting help from a professional counselor. Thank you!

  2. sammysamica March 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Number One With a Bullet.

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