I was chatting a while ago with someone who runs a successful business. She was very open about the limits of her expertise, telling me about the several consultants she relies on for everything from human resources development to marketing and IT.
She seemed amused at my unawareness that she would seek out so many such resources, and said, “I have experts I go to for hard stuff.” She said that her expectation would be that everyone in business would do the same.
Knowing my line of work, she pointed out that each one of my clients who seek counselling are doing just that same thing, and that this is her own philosophy that makes it easy for her to seek counselling when she needs it. We all need experts for hard stuff.
I was struck by how utterly normal, and acceptable this is to her, both professionally and personally. Having heard from so many others how difficult it is for them to overcome the stigma around seeking personal or relationship counselling, it was refreshing to hear her simple acceptance and even bewilderment that not everyone sees it this way.
When I thought about it more, I became aware of how many experts we consult in so many areas of our lives—experts in car repairs or experts in will preparation. We have experts for our dental care, and experts to tutor our kids when they struggle in school. We’ll seek expert advice about our financial investments and have experts complete our tax returns. We take professional development training from experts in our line of work. And we see medical experts and specialists when dealing with physical health problems.
Yet, somehow, for so many, this acceptance of the need to turn to experts for help wanes when it becomes about our emotional, mental or relationship health. For some, there is still shame and stigma connected with seeing a psychotherapist or marriage counsellor. Yet, hard stuff comes up in these areas of our life too.
Sometimes I hear from friends that even though they recognize the need for experts in these areas of their lives, they don’t dare tell family members that they are in counselling. People tell me about lying to work supervisors about what type of appointments they need to leave work to attend, for fear that mentioning they are in therapy will hurt their reputation at work. Our fear of what others will think is part of the stigma so many of us have internalized that makes it hard to seek help or let others know when we do.
What if seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist could feel just the same as consulting an auto mechanic or financial advisor? What if we didn’t feel shame to get help for hard stuff in our emotional lives or in our family relationships? What can we do to make it easier to admit we and those around us need these kinds of experts?
Someone recently told me that he confided in a colleague about some hard stuff in his personal life, and that this colleague gave him the phone number for counselling and checked in later to make sure he had made the call.
Maybe we can do the same for those in our circles. When someone lets us know they are dealing with a problem with their car, we often recommend a known and trusted mechanic. Could we do the same when someone mentions they are dealing with a personal or relationship problem?
In some circles, it takes courage to say that we are going to counselling, but by being courageous and doing so, we start to make it safer for others to consider going as well. Because we all need experts for hard stuff sometimes.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network