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10 Reasons Why My Struggle With Mental Illness Will Make Me a Better Counselor

Right now, I’m three years into a program to become a mental health counselor. I’m working in our campus counseling center and counseling college students. I used to see my struggle with mental illness as a weakness, but more and more I am seeing it as something that will help me in my future career. Here are ten ways my struggle with mental illness will help me as a counselor.

1. I’ve been there, so I can empathize with clients.

I know what it feels like to be depressed and feel hopeless — like life has no meaning and nothing brings happiness or joy. I know what it feels like to have extreme anxiety and panic attacks. I know what flashbacks are like. I know what bipolar disorder mood swings are like, and I know what dissociative problems are like. So, I am uniquely able to understand and encourage people who have struggled with things like me. If it’s something I haven’t personally struggled with, I’m still better equipped to relate. I feel deeply and can connect with my clients’ emotions.

2. I’ve met people with different mental illnesses in support groups, so I have some insight into what it feels like to have various conditions.

As someone with mental illness, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of support groups. I have met some wonderful people there, with all different experiences of a variety of mental illnesses. They’ve shared their stories and I’ve made some deep friendships. I have classmates who struggle to imagine how someone with an illness like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder (BPD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might think and feel. We read about illnesses in our books, but it’s not like meeting someone who has that disorder. My life experiences in befriending people with different mental illnesses will help me understand clients who have different illnesses and different perspectives.

3. I know what it feels like to have a mental health crisis.

I’ve been in crisis. I’ve been hospitalized three times, I’ve lived in a halfway house for women with mental illness and I’ve been in an outpatient program. So, when a client talks to me about these experiences, I will be able to empathize. It is so hard recovering from a mental health crisis. Since I’ve been there, and I know what the recovery process was like for me, I will be able to understand my clients better. I know things that helped me while I was in crisis and while I was recovering. I can bring this knowledge to help my future clients.

4. I know what the therapy process is like, and what has been helpful and unhelpful for me.

I’ve been in therapy off and on for 10 years. Plus, I was in therapy while in crisis. I’ve seen a variety of counselors with different counseling styles. I know which things helped me and which didn’t. I know intimately what the counseling process is like and I can adapt it to my personality and the needs of my clients.

5. I have lots of coping skills that I can pass on to clients.

Over my 15 years of recovery, I have learned about an enormous number of coping skills, which I constantly practice. I will be able to share this knowledge with my clients. I have coping skills I’ve invented myself and have been effective for me. Coping skills are how I’m able to manage my illnesses and be high-functioning. Sharing this knowledge with my clients will be of such benefit to them.

6. I am resilient since I am a survivor.

I am a believer that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The obstacles I have overcome through managing my mental illness will help me deal with the stress of the counseling profession. Being a counselor is a very stressful job, but I believe I will be able to handle the stress in the same way I’m able to handle the stress of a chronic mental illness. I care very deeply about people and I know that the stress of the problems my clients share will weigh on me. But I believe I will be able to go to work every day and do my best to help people since I have developed resilience.

7. I can be an advocate for people with mental illness.

Right now, I am able to advocate for people with mental illness by writing these articles for The Mighty, in order to raise awareness, fight stigma and encourage people. As a counselor, I will have a broader platform and a stronger voice. I plan to use that voice to speak up for those of us with mental illness.

8. I know the importance of self-care.

In order to stay stable, I have to constantly work on taking care of myself. As a future counselor, I will be able to share the importance of self-care and how it works. I can also make sure I stay healthy by practicing self-care for myself. I have a lot of experience with self-care strategies and can keep using them.

9. I have unique wisdom and insight.

I have a unique perspective due to years of dealing with mental illness. I have my own way of viewing things that I will be able to share with clients. I understand mental illness in a different way than our textbooks might teach us. I will share my viewpoint with clients and I think it will be helpful.

10. I can tell my clients that there is hope.

I am living proof that there is hope, even with severe mental illness. When I was first diagnosed, 15 years ago, I was told that due to the severity of my mental illnesses, I would likely never be able to have a normal life, work a normal job or go back to school. I was placed in a halfway house for women with chronic mental illness and constantly told I would have to hide who I am in order to survive in the world. I was given a very dismal picture of what my life would be like with my diagnoses. But I never have let those words get me down. When someone tells me I can’t do something, it convinces me to prove them wrong.

It took me a long time to get better, but I was eventually able to go back to college and graduate with honors. I have always worked as a caregiver or nurse’s assistant. I am currently in grad school to become a counselor and excelling in the program. Despite my daily struggle, I am able to have a stable marriage and friendships. I am proof that it is possible to recover from mental illness and have a fulfilling life.

More than anything, I want to instill hope into my clients. No matter your circumstance, there is hope that things will get better. I believe in all of my clients. I believe that they are able to overcome obstacles and find peace, drawing on their own strengths. I believe there is hope for all of us.

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Getty Images photo via Jovanmandic

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