As someone who now has a fair amount of experience with counselors, I've been noticing how in YA novels, when a teen goes to see a counselor, they're usually not a very good counselor. Often referred to as "a shrink," they take lots of notes and say things like "How does that make you feel?" They sometimes have the character lie on a couch while talking to them. All of this is a weird stereotype that doesn't fit my experience.
When you have a mental illness, counseling is often the primary form of treatment. I could not have made it through the past year without counseling. It's improved my life immensely! So of course I worry that the way YA books portray counseling makes it harder for teens to get the help they need.
I've worked with five different counselors long-term, and there are both good and bad ones out there. It's important to know that so you can put in the work to find a good one. They do exist, despite their lack of representation in YA literature. Today I thought I'd talk a bit about my experience with finding the right counselors to treat my OCD.
The first counselor I ever saw, our elementary school counselor, was indeed a bad one. I was first sent to this counselor in fourth grade because of a phobia that I'd developed concurrent to my OCD. (None of this was diagnosed at the time.) She tried some weird role-playing and lectured me about not letting my fears interfere with my education. That was it. She could have made a huge difference in my life if she had referred me to a regular counselor or the school district's psychiatrist. It would even have helped if she had just told me that there was a word for what I was suffering from. But she didn't. I had to educate myself about phobias and deal with the fear by myself. A couple of years later, I sought her out about a different problem, as discussed in my last post, which didn't go well either.
Partly because of that bad experience, I didn't try counseling again until college. I suffered through years of emotional and mental strife without any professional help and without any real answers as to what I was experiencing.
Then, my second semester of college, I had a mental breakdown. It began, after a sexual assault-related scare, with a lot of crying for little reason and in inappropriate places. I figured maybe I was just going back to "normal" after a good first semester. But my new friends were concerned and urged me to get help. I agreed to use the free counseling service available at ASU, where training graduate students offered their services. The counselor I got in with, Nicole, I liked right away. Based off of the years I'd spent researching psychology in order to self-manage my symptoms, I could tell she knew what she was doing.
Nicole didn't recognize my OCD, but she gave me a safe place to talk about past traumas and the negative patterns I'd developed as a result. She was also very good at reframing my thoughts and feelings in a way that made them much more understandable to me. She taught me a lot about healthy relationships. I still use the things I learned from her, and it's thanks to her that I regained faith in counseling.
However, during the summer, while I transferred colleges, there was another sexual harassment incident that undid my mental health progress and made my breakdown-in-progress much worse. I started up with a new counselor in my hometown who meant well, but was not of good quality. She liked to talk about herself, which is not professional, and became overexcited about things in a way that was not helpful to me. After I spent two weeks unable to leave the house without having a panic attack. I decided to stop seeing that counselor. We couldn't find an appropriate new one in the area, though, which meant I had to cope on my own. I managed to get through it because of a) the force of my own will, b) a couple of friends who were able to ease me back into leaving the house again, and c) my bishop at church, who acted as a makeshift counselor during the last few months before I returned to school.
As I've mentioned before, at BYU - Idaho, I was able to get in for free student counseling right away. I was assigned to Brother Walker, who diagnosed me with OCD during our first visit. This was a shock to me, but once I got past the initial upset, Brother Walker was able to do what no one else had: he explained why everything in my life had always felt so wrong. Throughout that semester, though I struggled, Brother Walker gave me the skills and knowledge I needed to handle the OCD on a basic level. He was probably the most chill counselor I've ever had, which was exactly what I needed. He had a calming effect, and he made it okay, for the first time, for me to make mistakes.
I returned home again after that semester to get it together after all of that. I found a new counselor, Mike, who was very different from Brother Walker but who clearly knew what was up. It was a difficult time, with me having a lot of new information to process. We were basically combining my previous counseling on my other traumas with my counseling on OCD, which was necessary and good but also hard. Mike got me through a ton of tough stuff, and it's thanks to his support that I was able to get myself prepared for college, for real this time.
Now I'm at the end of another semester in which I've had counseling with Brother Walker. As of this week, I have been officially discharged! Brother Walker believes I've come far enough that I can handle things on my own. But that wouldn't be possible without the professional help I've gotten. In my next post, you'll get an even better look at what a difference good counselors can make, but for now, here are some tips on finding such a one yourself:
I hope this was helpful. If you think there's even the slightest chance you could benefit from counseling, don't be afraid to seek it out! It truly changes lives. And don't give up if you run into bad apples. Keep going, and get the help you need, friends.
Do you have any advice to add?
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