Many people talk about their “state of mind”, where we are, how we feel. People who talk to a counselor for the first time may discuss being overwhelmed, confused or just plain stressed out. Such feelings are normal to the counselor but not to the individual who is wrestling with conflicting emotions. Unlike a cold or a sprained ankle which an MD treats based on an examination or x-rays, the exploration of feelings and what caused them requires a dialogue or discussion between the patient and the counselor. When I come down with a cold, I want a pill to stop it now! Unfortunately such medicine does not exist in most cases of physical or psychic pain.
Our client does not come to a counselor at the first symptom or sign of conflict. Sadness, the blues, stress, or deep depression rarely stem from a specific situation. The counselor will help the client determine the beginning point or situation that may have brought on the current state of mind. There may be a specific cause of the pain and therapy can relieve the emotional pain. The time that it takes is determined by the client and how they work through their feelings. I try to push the client to work at gaining control of their state of mind and ultimately their emotions. It does help to figure out if there are specific things or situations where the emotions come from.
The client is often asked to give an example of situations that bring out the feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness. Emotions come from the thoughts that we have. What we think is translated into emotion and in many cases become an automatic response. With intense emotions, like anger they can come from being cutoff on our drive to work. A near miss or aggressive driver can elicit a profane shout or signal with one of our fingers to the offender. Do we laugh it off or do we chase the person down the street. Knowing what caused the reaction does not make us feel better, but handling it in a more positive manner and avoiding the pain in the next encounter shows growth or improvement.
Sadness or depression are seldom connected to a random situation but are usually part of a much larger aspect of life. Our career issues, family conflict, or accumulated stress over a period of time may lead the client to feel powerless and overwhelmed with negative feelings about their life. If these strong emotions took a period of time to develop they usually take some time to get better. Such feelings may be connected to thoughts of hopelessness or suicide. Such thoughts are painful and difficult to share with another person. Trusting a counselor is extremely important in the process of therapy. Physical and psychological therapy do work. Skilled practitioners work and use their experience to the benefit of their patient or client. Therapy is a form of teaching skills to cope with such strong and painful emotions.
The goals are always:
- Do no harm
- Listen to the person
- Provide consistent caring support
- Be non-judgmental
- Know when you are done