Counselling Was the Best Gift I Gave Myself – and My Family
By Ashley MacInnis
Photo by nullplus/Getty Images
Feb 5, 2018
I still remember sitting in the waiting room, imagining a chaise lounge waiting for me in the therapist’s office on my first visit. Instead, I found an office not unlike my own and a space that made me feel safe and empowered. Even so, I didn’t tell anyone about my appointments for weeks — not even my partner.
Despite initiatives designed to break down the stigmas associated with mental illness, openly discussing mental health continues to be an uphill battle for us as a society.
Once I got past the irrational shame and sense of failure I felt, my weekly session became the best hour of my week.
After an emotionally turbulent year spent dealing with illness and feeling overwhelmed with my professional and personal responsibilities, I hit a wall. I took a six-week leave of absence from my work after my blood pressure soared and I couldn’t get to sleep at night. I dialed into my company’s Employee Assistance Program to request counselling and felt like a failure.
It took about six weeks before I felt confident enough to share that I was attending weekly sessions with a counsellor. Once I got past the irrational shame and sense of failure I felt, my weekly session became the best hour of my week. It made me a better mom, a more loving partner, a more balanced employee and a more resilient woman.
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Every four weeks, we revisited a series of questionnaires that had initially ranked me as severe in anxiety and stress, high in depression, and moderate in confidence. On my final session, I ranked low in the first three, and high in confidence.
And I felt it.
Counselling isn’t about complaining about your life; it’s about enriching it and uncovering strength you didn’t know you had.
Contrary to popular belief — and even my own belief before I began my sessions — I rarely talked about problems I was having with my counsellor. Instead, I focused on goals, self-improvement and ways to improve the many relationships in my life. There were days I needed to vent about the challenges of co-parenting, the political power plays at work, or the fact my partner and I hadn’t been as intimate lately, but often I found my counsellor guiding me to a place where I could be kinder to myself.
Counselling allowed me to fill my proverbial toolbox with every tool for the job. It meant I could get things off my chest without necessarily burdening my loved ones. We role-played for important conversations I felt I needed to have with my ex-husband, my manager at work, my son.
I don’t attend weekly sessions now, but I know I’ll go back and, more importantly, I know I can go back.
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I recommend counselling to everyone I know now, regardless of whether they feel they’re working through something or not. Counselling isn’t about complaining about your life; it’s about enriching it and uncovering strength you didn’t know you had.
You can expect it to feel a little weird at first, and it might take a few tries to find someone you click with. Once you allow yourself to open up and make a connection, however, I promise only good things will come of the practice.