Finding a Counselor is like Finding your Favorite Ice Cream

For the past 7 summers, my son and I venture out to Whistler, BC and spend a few wonderful nights there staying at a hotel playing boardgames, hanging out at the pool, watching movies at their tiny old underground theatre and of course eating. Our favorite spot for dessert is a place called Cow’s Ice Cream. There’s always a lineup that stretches out the door and sometimes in front of neighboring stores but believe me, it’s worth the wait. The sweet sugary scent of the waffle cones could be sniffed out from a hundred feet away and the signature cow that stands in front of the storefront is a picture to post on your Facebook wall.

My favorite flavor is Bubblegum. Blue Bubblegum to be precise. Sure, it’s most likely an artificial blue #2 color but let’s just enjoy what’s in our food and not tear it apart. I just simply love the sweet taste of the ice cream with that resounding taste of bubblegum…the ones we used to eat as kids. Nostalgia is the word. Great word…it generates a sensation of fond memories whenever I taste it. However, it took me years to find my favorite flavor.

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Bubblegum ice cream from Cow’s

Growing up my favourite ice cream flavour was strawberry. My sister loved chocolate and my brother loved vanilla. Whether it’s by default that I picked strawberry (since I’m the youngest in the family and was last to pick) or Neapolitan ice cream was destined to live in our household.

As years went by I still wanted bubblegum as I curiously pressed my nose onto the glass counter hoping for a closer look. My parents forbid me from buying it…I’m not 100% sure why other than having them tell me that “it doesn’t taste good!” – so I was left with strawberry. As I got older and could pay for my own ice cream, I subconsciously heard my parents’ voices sounding like Orson Welles saying “dooon’t buy bubblegum.” So I didn’t and would end up buying chocolate, vanilla or maybe got adventurous with a swirl cone. I eventually mustered up the courage to buy Tiger Tail flavor, Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip. But it just didn’t quite satisfy my lingering tastebuds. My search for satisfaction finally ended in my 20’s when I was out with my friends and finally bought my first ever Bubblegum ice cream cone. They were repulsed by it because “it has chunks of bubblegum in it?!” – It was everything I hoped for and more.

There’s hundreds or maybe even thousands of different ice cream flavors to try. Just like many things in life, there’s so many options to choose from to get our complete satisfaction and value for money such as: your favorite hair stylist, doctor, dentist, car mechanic and cellular phone plans.

But what about your favorite counselor? First off, how many of us voluntarily go to counseling? I do and I support the idea 110%.

Counseling is often times stigmatized and feared. There are far too many MYTHS about counselling that we all need to overcome.

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Years ago I was just like most of us out there and thought of counseling as the following:

  1. It’s for losers! People who are losers in life go to counseling.
  2. I don’t need help. I’m perfectly fine as is. You’re the problem!
  3. Ok, I admit I’m not perfect and I recognize that. But I still don’t need help!
  4. Talking about problems is over-rated.
  5. My friends, family members and colleagues might think less of me if I tell them I’m going to counseling. They might judge me for having problems and I’ll feel embarrassed and small.
  6. I’m not quite there yet. counselling is the last resort when I truly need help.

I eventually learned that these are myths that we need to overcome as a society. We go to our mechanic when our car is broken. We visit the doctor when we have the flu. We see a dentist for our regular cleanup. But what about when we’re not feeling well mentally? How do you manage that? Some people drink, some people mindlessly binge eat and some people like myself years ago would take it out on others. flu

Just take a step back and observe this objectively: When we’re having a hard time coping with depression, work stress, relationship issues or family matters, it’s typical to generate a lot of overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Most of us have a hard time articulating and admitting that we’re having difficult feelings because it’s usually “the other person’s fault”, right? Well, objectively, that can’t always be the case. So why don’t we take care of our minds? Is it because we’re a bit afraid and uncomfortable to address what’s underneath the issues?woman-1733891_1280

It’s ludicrous that we don’t seek professional support when it comes to our inner health. We wait until the tipping point of stress gets so overwhelming before we do anything about it. I benefit by seeing my counsellor every few months to get my inner health checked, just like how one would benefit from getting their annual checkup with their doctor. Once I began to see counselling this way, it became much easier to embrace and it made perfect and logical sense. My son goes to counceling regularly and also finds it helpful. Afterall, it’s your time and you can talk about anything with them. And I can assure you will walk out of there with a clearer mind, a bit more enlightened and maybe even smile. I sometimes go not because I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed but because I just want to check in on myself as preventative self care. But, just like my ice cream, it took me some time to find the councilors that I connected with.When you’re ready to benefit from working with a counselor, here’s some Useful Tips:

  1. Shop around! That’s the great thing about online shopping…you can just read about counsellors in your area by clicking a few links. Read up on the counsellors and email or phone them if you’d like to get a feel whether they can address what you’re looking for. I was looking for a councilor that did CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and not all are trained or experienced in that.
  2. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If you’re fortunate to have one at work, give them a call. They’ll connect you with a councelor in your area and most likely it’s free of service that’s offered by your company. But, like point #1, shop around.
  3. Ask questions. One mistake I made going to couples counselling years ago was that we went to a councelor that had zero experience working with couples. I could not connect with her and it was a bad experience that I felt frustrated with. Ask before you go what their portfolio and years of experience have been. Do they work with teens? Do they work with couples regardless of gender or sexual preference? Do they work with suicide and depression? What are their hours of operation? If you’re not comfortable with them, you’re not committed to them and can find another one that works for you. 
  4. Don’t let one bad experience prevent you from trying another. To point #3, find a connection. Keep trying different counsellors until you find one that works well for you, just like you would going to doctor or hair dresser. Don’t let a counsellor tell you differently by trying to convince you that “they’re all the same” and guilt you into working with them (although I’ve never experienced this). Just because you’re not connecting with them doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily being difficult. It might just mean that you need to find a counsellor that you can feel safer and more comfortable with. I’ve worked with about a dozen different counselors through the years…about 4 of them have worked really well for me and the rest haven’t. It’s your time and your money and you have every right to work with a different cousellor if you choose to.
  5. Allow yourself time to find a connection. Keep an open mind because it sometimes takes a few visits to build a bond and connection. One of my first counselors was a man named Guillermo who had a gruff looking face and not a particularly warm smile. In fact I felt meek when I first met him, but after a couple of meetings and slowly easing my way into conversations, I realized he’s the counsellor I love to work with (and continue to do so). At the same time he also enjoys working with me very much. I now see him as a man who I can look up to as a role model and in fact I can see us evolving into friends after he retires in a few years. Be patient with yourself and also with your counsellor that you intend to work with.
  6. Talk, talk and talk! It’s your time! In return, you will gain clarity, enlightenment, a bit of wisdom and compassion with validation. Validation is immensely powerful when you have challenges. Validation doesn’t tell you that you’re right, but it tells you that you are heard and that your opinion matters. This is when some of the most powerful healing can take place. 
  7. One session doesn’t solve all. There’s no miracles here. Be prepared to make subsequent visits.
  8. Tell your friends, family members and colleagues. I tell mine I have a counseling appointment this weekend and I don’t feel stigmatized. Some may show concern, but all of them have been encouraging and inspired that I talk about it so openly. By openly telling people, you’ll feel less shame and fear about the stigma.
  9. Just make the appointment. That’s the toughest step. After that you’ll likely feel relief that you did because you’re doing something to look after yourself. Take a proactive approach and make an appointment when you feel a pattern or onset of overwhelming thoughts and feelings in your mind. Here’s a cautionary tale I wrote on listening to your body.

..so…what are you waiting for? Go find a counselor that works for you and get your inner health checked up…and maybe go for an ice cream afterwards.woman-with-ice-cream-2004777_640

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