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Published December 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Going for help is a sign of self-awareness, growth

Life can be tough. A sense of well-being depends on thoughts and emotions. People can be overwhelmed with persistent and unrelenting problems that create tension, anger, frustration, depression, fear, anxiety and other disturbing emotions.

By: Val Farmer, INFORUM

Life can be tough. A sense of well-being depends on thoughts and emotions. People can be overwhelmed with persistent and unrelenting problems that create tension, anger, frustration, depression, fear, anxiety and other disturbing emotions.

Problems with low self-esteem, disappointment with one’s own competence, significance or worthiness can be overwhelming. When a person doesn’t live up to his or her own internal standards of what is acceptable, self-judgment brings suffering and discomfort. It may be difficult to identify exactly what is wrong, other than the fact that feelings are negative.

Difficulties can surface in relationships. Hurt, loss and disappointment that accompany a lack of understanding or unfulfilled expectations, disagreements and differences crop up in important relationships. Despite one’s best efforts, problems don’t get solved.

Sometimes the problem lies in a lack of control over behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse, an eating disorder, losing one’s temper or a persistent inability to relax. Other troubling issues can be worry about children, job related stress or continuing problems such as headaches, chronic pain or other health concerns.

Going for help. With these and other instances of distress and pain, the important and sensible thing to do is get help. It is a not an easy step. People don’t turn to others with their problems unless there is considerable distress and unhappiness and after they have tried their best to solve their problems themselves.

Heroic self-sufficiency can become just plain stupidity. It takes sound judgment and courage to know when additional help is needed and then seek it. Just because it is hard to do doesn’t make it any less sensible.

Where to go? The best referrals are word of mouth from people who have had similar difficulties and found a counselor who helped them. The enthusiasm and confidence others place in the counselor help make the decision earlier. There is a wide range of people who can help. Counseling help can come from a family member, relative, family doctor, mental health professional, clergy, or a trusted friend.

Going to a counselor doesn’t mean giving up personal responsibility. Consumers have to be knowledgeable and judge whether the expert’s definition of what is wrong and how to correct it is working. Giving credibility to the counselor is an important factor in compliance, motivation and follow-through.

The personal qualities of the counselor are a major factor in the success of the counseling. Trust is a significant factor in being willing to follow through with their suggestions and ideas.

Counseling is not a manufactured experience. The seriousness and genuineness of the difficulties and the distress of the people seeking help make counseling work. It is not a substitute for friendship nor an intellectual exercise. Dependency is not encouraged. When the need no longer exists, counseling loses its focus and energy.

What is counseling like? Counseling is a special type of teaching in which the relationship itself plays a role in the learning process. It embraces a curious mixture of love and separateness, freedom and authority, relating and teaching, acceptance and responsibility, independence and direction, and support and confrontation.

Counseling is temporary yet powerful. It is an experience in elemental honesty, openness and courage. There is no room for falseness and pretense. It is also difficult, and can be unpleasant. Growth is sometimes painful. Truth is hard to face. The old ways are hard to give up. To be that open to change is a big risk.

The counselor takes time to listen and understand the client’s point of view and values, gives hope and relief, redefines the problem, identifies alternatives, expects commitment, insists on application and monitors results. New skills are taught and modeled. The responsibility for providing the solution is left in the hands of the client, as is the credit for the change. Competence and control are not undermined but enhanced.

Is going for help a sign of weakness? If people knew how powerful and growth inducing a counseling relationship can be, there would be a lot more willingness to try it.

People who seek help are special. By seeking help, they demonstrate the desire to improve the quality of their lives and the hard work to accomplish changes. They are true enough to their goals not to let pride or possible stigma prevent them from getting help they know they need.

They go because they are highly motivated to learn something new and humble enough to recognize the value of ideas originating outside of themselves. They are honest and willing to face themselves with their problems with no punches pulled. They are growing people who want to develop their inner resources and coping abilities.

As a counselor, I admire and respect the people who care enough about their lives to seek help. It is a sign of strength.

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo., and can be contacted through his website