I love my counselor, but I hate walking into his office.
Real quick…it’s a quaint waiting room on the second floor of a nondescript building in the heart of Dallas/Fort Worth. My counselor shares the small “lobby” with several other counselors and therapists. There are a handful of places to sit and a small water feature that someone probably purchased from Hobby Lobby; it constantly trickles. There is a mini-fridge full of mini-waters and a knockoff Keurig with off-brand K-Cup pods – one breakfast blend and one decaf. There might be a hot tea option. If you are assuming that there are a stack of magazines addressed to each of the providers who practice there … you would be correct. My favorite is Caribbean Travel and Life.
The waiting room is nice. It has a comfortable vibe – mainly because of the before-mentioned plug-in water fountain and the artwork probably purchased at Hobby Lobby at the exact same time.
It’s not the ambiance that I hate. It’s the people.
Hold on … that sounds horrible. Strike that. I don’t hate the people. I don’t know the people.
Let me see if I can rephrase that…
I hate the demeanor of the people.
Every time I walk into that waiting room, there is a sense of embarrassment and shame. Everyone gives off an undeniable vibe: “I’d rather be anywhere but here!”
Eye contact is non-existent and gawd forbid anyone speak. I learned that real quick. On my first couple of visits, my simple pleasantries were greeted with death stares or fear. Other non-verbal responses screamed:
“I don’t think we’re supposed to be talking to each other!”
“Please don’t say anything else!”
“Oh shit … he’s going to ask about my trauma…”
“I hate you!”
After those waves of awkwardness during my first few visits, I would sit down in one of the faux-leather chairs and ask myself: “What the hell is going on?”
The tension in the room was always thick, and it quickly reminded me that we were all there for counseling or therapy. That is when the shame and embarrassment stepped into the spotlight. I had forgotten that there was still a stigma associated with all of this.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are three types of stigmas associated with mental health: Public Stigma, Self-Stigma and Institutional Stigma. They’re all negative and discriminatory, and all three are on full display in my counselor’s waiting room.
Unfortunately, that "lobby" is a microcosm of the world we live in.
The good news: It’s getting better.
The bad news: We still have a long way to go.
I’m reminded of that every time I walk into that waiting room. It’s on the faces of the people sitting there. I see it in their eyes and sense it from their body language.
It’s like walking into the vestibule of an adult bookstore and a funeral breaking out. I can’t say this enough, embarrassment and shame are in full effect! (And I’m totally assuming that this awkwardness is prevalent in other counselor offices too.)
Unfortunately, the mindset for a lot of people is still: “I don’t want anyone to know that I’m going to a therapist.”
That phrase is usually supported by destructive narratives and lies, like:
“I don’t want anyone to know that I’m broken and flawed…”
“I don’t want anyone to know that I’m not perfect…”
“I don’t want anyone to find out what happened to me as a kiddo…”
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m weird or a freak…”
I’m familiar with this negative self-talk, because I used to be that guy. I was a card-carrying member of the Secret Therapy Society (not a real thing, but also very real).
I saw my first counselor about seven years ago. Before each session, I would park on the opposite side of the building and make a couple laps to ensure no one saw which door I entered. I never asked my therapist if there was a secret tunnel to access her office, but deep down in my depths, I always hoped she would voluntarily reveal the covert passage.
If someone asked me where I was going, I would be extremely vague, “I have a meeting” or “I’ll be out of pocket.” I never uttered the words “counseling” and/or “therapy.”
But over time, my outlook on mental health has changed.
I’m not embarrassed that I currently see my rock-star counselor twice a month. I don’t care if anyone sees me walk into his office. I talk about it with my family and friends, my clients and even strangers. I don’t hide it in any shape, form or fashion. There is zero shame.
“I can’t meet at 2 pm, I have a counseling session … what about 4 o’clock?”
“Sorry I’m late, I just met with my counselor and it ran a little long.”
“I’m excited about meeting with my counselor. I’ve got some things to work through.”
Why do I do this?
I totally realize that something has to shift in our society, and I’m determined to be part of the solution. I want to be a catalyst for that necessary change.
It starts with normalizing it. Therapy can’t be like a cloak-and-dagger, black ops mission to rescue our inner child. It can’t be a secret. We have to talk about it.
We also have to stop minimizing our challenges, and stop telling people – and especially ourselves – to “suck it up,” “rub some dirty on it” and/or “stop being a puss.”
Because this mental health epidemic has its lethal teeth in our society – and it’s ripping the flesh off our bones with fury and disdain.
I’m firmly in the camp that every single person needs to see a counselor or therapist at some point. You don’t have to see them once a week – or even twice a month – for the rest of your life, but a regular check-in will start to combat the mental health issue that is devouring the world we live in.
Everyone needs to be equipped with the tools to work through their challenges – big or small.
Do you need some “fun” facts?
One in five Americans has experienced some form of mental illness, with one in 25 experiencing serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
– University of Southern California
When I produced my six-part podcast series focusing on mental health, I learned there are a multitude of challenges and the severity of these challenges varies from person to person. I also learned there is not a silver bullet, or magic pill, that will “fix” everyone.
We’re in the middle of an ongoing assault, but we can only focus on our individual battles.
One of the big “weapons” we can utilize is simply remembering that we’re not alone. (Please re-read the stats above.) Everyone has their stuff, their shit, their struggles and challenges. I’m not saying you have to climb to the highest rooftop and scream, “I’m depressed!!!!” and/or “My anxiety paralyzes me!!!”
But a simple, matter-of-fact statement goes a long way: “I’m dealing with some stuff, and I’m doing something about it. I see my therapist every other Wednesday at 2 p.m.”
According to the research, 20 percent of the people you share that information with are going to say something like: “I’m dealing with some stuff, too. I’m actually headed to see my counselor right now.”
We’re not alone in this struggle. Realizing that truth is powerful.
Real quick ... I need to reference those stats from USC again. I'm very aware that one in 25 people suffer from a severe mental illness, which could play into the social gaucheness of my counselor's waiting room. But I also know that every person who walks through that door does not fall into that demographic. They're simply ashamed to be there.
And I'm not sure why! Again, we're not alone in this battle!
I wish the majority of people sitting in my counselor’s waiting room recognized that. When I drop a "howdy" on them, what if they simply smiled and said hello back? They don’t have to throw their arms around me, but they have to stop giving off this vibe: “damn it … another human being!”
I want to remind them that I’m not there to sell subscriptions to Caribbean Travel and Life. I’m there to work on my challenges so I can be the best version of me.
Trust me, I’m not going to see my counselor because I’m thinking of changing my name to Happy Golucky Myers, everything I touch turns to gold and my sweat smells like pears and pomegranate.
I have my own stuff, which means…
I am not going to judge them.
I am not going to inquire about their childhood trauma.
I am not going to dump my stuff on them.
I guess I’m craving all the feels when I walk in the door, and I don’t want to hate any part of my counseling experience.
Again, I love my counselor, and I’m excited to reset when I go back and see him in two weeks.