4 Reasons to Add Counseling to Your Arsenal of Weapons to Fight Depression
For a long time, I was against seeking any outside help for postpartum depression (PPD) and later for my anxiety and clinical depression. I was ashamed and embarrassed about being depressed. I was also foolishly independent and just plain stubborn.
I thought I should be able to dig myself out of my dark hole. Except for a short period of time when I was taking an anti-depressant (with a few positive results), I tended to get up every morning with the self-inflicted heavy burden of making it through the day by relying mostly on my willpower and the ears and shoulders of my husband and mom.
It was last year when I finally let my guard down. I stopped making life more difficult for myself than depression already made it. In the middle of an especially desperate and anxious episode, I could see my kids and husband suffering from my dark moods. It seemed I had just one ounce of hope left in me, enough to somehow force my hand to pick up the phone and call a faith-based counseling center in my area. More than a year later, I can tell you that phone call was one of the best decisions I’ve made on my path to health and wholeness.
Why talk to a stranger?
Counseling or therapy (most people use these terms interchangeably) can be intimidating to say the least. Why would I want to open up to a stranger about the deepest pain in my heart? I’m at the lowest point in my life. How can I bare my soul to someone who doesn’t love me or even know me? Fair questions to ask.
It might seem that seeing a therapist is counter-intuitive in times of depression or anxiety, especially when the very act of going to meet someone new can produce so much stress. Let me set your mind at ease. Yes, going to counseling is hard and scary, but the benefits can really outweigh the difficulties.
Here are the four reasons counseling helped to raise me out of depression:
1. It gave me perspective.
One hallmark of depression is that it closes us in on ourselves. It’s almost as if we are wearing a blindfold with a mirror attached to the inside so all we can see is the “ugly” reflection of our miserable existence. We can’t look beyond it to see life as it really is. A good therapist can change all that.
In my counseling experience, hearing an outsider’s perspective on my situation allowed me, very slowly, over time, to gain insights into my thoughts, actions and desires. Her primary objective was to offer me a balance of empathy, observation and hope that would gently challenge me to live my life, and even to dare to love it again. In essence, she helped me to remove my blindfold.
2. It is a safe space.
Not only did my therapist aid me in looking at my life and myself through a different lens, she did it without expressing judgment, bias or even disapproval. A good counselor offers her clients a safe space for hashing out fears, thoughts, feelings, desires, hopes and dreams. While she won’t just leave you to wallow in the mire, she also won’t judge the motives of your heart or tell you how horrible you are for being there in the first place.
Tip: Here’s where it can be important to choose a therapist who shares your moral code. Without this common foundation, it could be harder to express your heart and be understood.
3. It’s good for your marriage.
How many hours have I spent over the last four years trying to explain depression to my long-suffering husband? Too many to count. Therapy allowed me to give my spouse a much-needed break from trying to figure it all out, from being the only one I cried on regularly and from being dragged down into the darkness with me.
My husband is a very good man, a patient listener and a great friend. Even he, as much as he loves me and as much as he wants to, can’t solve all my problems or sometimes even understand them. By going to counseling, I took the pressure off of him to be the one to “fix it.”
4. Sometimes, you just need a professional.
Truth. My husband can’t “fix” me because he’s just not trained to do that. No amount of love or understanding could have made that different. There are times when, even after talking and crying for hours with our best friends, those great listeners and the ones who just “get” us, we won’t feel much better for long. The fact is, sometimes we just need a professional.
When your arm is broken, you go to a professional. You don’t expect your husband to be able to set the bone and wrap it in a cast. When your dishwasher sounds like it’s going to die, you call a professional. You don’t expect your mom to figure out what’s broken and replace the part. It’s no different when we are heavily burdened under the weight of depression.
Contrary to what I used to believe, no one is born knowing how to counsel effectively all the time. Therapists, counselors and psychologists are trained with years of education and supervised experience. Counseling is a learned skill that takes repetition and fine-tuning, and there are many methods that can be practiced. No wonder our friends, spouses, and family-members seem to fall short at times.
A good therapist also uses her education to provide her client with tools, techniques to cope in stressful situations, to calm panic attacks, to turn away from harmful choices and to develop habits that lead to thriving. One of my own greatest takeaways from counseling was learning to manage my anxiety in fruitful and constructive ways.
I have never regretted my decision to use counseling as another powerful means to combat my mood disorders. It’s been difficult and sometimes painful, but there have been so many fruits. My friends, perhaps it’s time to consider adding therapy to your arsenal of weapons. Depression, anxiety, PPD or whatever dragon you are fighting can be conquered. Keep hope alive!