The American Counseling Association (ACA) names April Counseling Awareness Month. Counselors deserve their own awareness month. It is very easy for them to suffer burnout (PDF). The ACA wants to limit that by using this awareness month to remind its members of the importance of self-care.
I think, on the whole, counselors are amazing. I owe my life to at least one of them, which is not an exaggeration. Most times, in my experience, talk therapy is what has helped propel me forward in my mental illness recovery. In my opinion, had I only been prescribed meds without talk therapy, I would not understand my illness and myself as well as I do.
I want to honor one particular type of counselor: the therapist. I tell you from experience that a therapist can be a vital support for your mental health. No matter the origin of your difficulties in getting along in the world, there's a therapist out there who can help you overcome them.
I hope all therapists get the message this month and take care of themselves so they can continue their vital work. We need them.
Kinds of Therapy
There are more than a few kinds of therapy. Here are a half dozen of the better-known ones (via the Mayo Clinic page on psychotherapy).
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you see where your beliefs and behaviors are holding you back by replacing those beliefs and behaviors with ones that move you forward.
- Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of CBT that helps you learn behavioral skills for managing your emotions, stressors, and relationships.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to help you cope with and adjust to situations by accepting your own thoughts and committing to changing them.
- Psychodynamic and psychoanalysis therapies give you insights into your own motivations and inner conflicts by identifying unconscious thoughts and behaviors.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy targets your relationships and interpersonal skills to improve how you relate to family, friends, colleagues, and others.
- Supportive psychotherapy tries to strengthen your ability to deal with stress and tough situations.
This scratches the surface of the therapy world. A Psychology Today web page on different types of therapy lists 68 varieties. It includes the big ones, such as those described above, as well as the lesser-known ones, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, bibliotherapy, gestalt therapy, and equine-assisted therapy.
Not Better or Worse, Just Different
You might wonder how there can be so many different kinds of successful therapy. I have an idea about that.
I think when it comes to therapy, the process — whether it involves eye movement, discussing novels, or the presence of horses — may be less important than the relationship the client forms with the therapist. For many therapy clients, the experience of spending time with someone who focuses exclusively on them (even if only for 50 minutes at a time) is powerful. And it encourages them to get a perspective on themselves, their underlying beliefs, and what stresses them.
Some of the most at-peace times I have experienced have been walking out of my therapist's office. She has a way of allowing me to ask myself questions while guiding me toward finding my answers, which is a green light for much-needed empowerment to keep going and continue my efforts to be even better than I was before. Therapy has been a journey into myself, one I had been avoiding for many unhealthy reasons.
Find Your Therapist
On the Psychology Today page, you can link to a description and a brief discussion of each therapy. The descriptions are clear and concise. That makes the page a good place to start exploring the idea of therapy if you have no experience with it. There's even a function that will find therapists in your area. I have used this often and all you do is enter your zip code to get started!
Of course, as it stands, we are experiencing a mental health services shortage. It may not be as easy as a quick google search and phone call to book an appointment with the therapist of your dreams. With the barriers we still face to attain mental health care on top of the pandemic, human rights, civil rights, war, stigma, financial distress, and more, we are more likely to spend hours trying to find the care we need while keeping our minds and emotions balanced throughout.
Finding the care you need may seem like a chore at first. But don't let that stop you from seeking the care you need and deserve. Sometimes you have to push, push, push to get through. It may not take one phone call; it may take three therapists before you are comfortable. That's ok, and it's all part of the process. During that time, you learn about yourself and do what is best for you, seeking the care you need to improve your quality of life. Sometimes we have to take one step at a time and congratulate ourselves for doing so.
I cannot close out this blog without mentioning online therapy services.
With so many barriers to traditional care, online therapy has opened up a whole new world for those looking to improve their mental health, find guidance, medication therapy, and more. Since I have a therapist, I have not yet tried a therapy app, so I cannot have an opinion. However, I have heard great things and if it works for you, do it. Period. A quick google search will pull up lists of mental health apps. If you have used these apps, please share with us in the comments how they worked for you!
As it happens, April isn't just Counseling Awareness Month. It's also Stress Awareness Month. I don't know if it was accidental or intentional that these two awareness observances fall in the same month. But it certainly is apt. So while you're thinking about the importance of counselors this month, consider engaging a therapist to help you handle the stressors in your life. Spending time with someone who is professionally nonjudgmental, accepting, and patient can often mean the difference between mental health and mental illness.