Recently I had two experiences which made me view again this question. Does counseling really work and where or why does it, when it does and why not when it does not.
My experience stems from both personal experience of receiving and offering counseling to others. What I find is that when a person who offers counseling to another, it usually momentarily props up the person and possibly puts them on a new path of gaining self confidence or clarity about their current situation. But in that momentary clarity they often think that they have gained all the clarity they require to navigate through all that they are going through, just because the person who is counseling them is also offering them verbal advice ‘only’ which in any case they are smart enough to suggest to themselves as well.
Is that really the case?
A person who takes on the role and responsibility of being a therapist, counselor, psychologist or collaborator is someone who is ‘outside’ of the situation faced by who they help. But that is not the only reason for their insights, also years of preparation to don the role they are now taking on.
Equally true they work with many people at a time and their knowledge may be constantly augmented due to those exposures, or some (like me) who are also studying/working in research. That gives people more perspectives, not to mention the lived experience of mental suffering.
Why people do not seek help easily
Experience tells me that most people who go to counselors and therapists believe that ‘professionals’ are talking from common sense wisdom, which they (who seek help) also have in abundance. So why should they go and pay for common sense wisdom? This reminds me of an experience with a friend long ago, who needed help and I referred to my own psychologist at that time. When she came back from the counseling session with her, she responded, “Why should I go and talk with her, what she had to say is pretty much what you have to say!”. But that is the whole point- when you pay someone you value their wisdom. But then she was a psychologist who my friend had gone to meet and I was training to me one- so it was not a bad thing that I had ideas identical to her. But naturally those ideas were not something which everyone in society is holding. When we see an outsider of our situation to seek their guidance it is an act of reaching out to a pool of wisdom which is universal and a source of insight, outside of our knowledge.
Of course I have to say this, that in my family we were always taught and made to believe that when one has a problem, one needs to go and seek its solutions in the world outside, because the cumulative wisdom of the world or even two other people is going to be more than our own singular knowledge or wisdom. In seeking help we become humble, and invite others to share their ideas with us, even guide us to a certain extent and that is a good sign. Nobody is so unique that their suffering is above or beyond the grasp of suffering of another- yet we closet ourselves in little spaces and freeze emotionally. Time to see that we are humans and we are connected to other humans and if we can establish our connections with others around us, it will stop being a calamity for us and connect us with the flow of life, which has momentarily ceased, due to our withdrawal.
There are two things about common sense I must share in this context. According to Bernard Shaw, ‘common sense is most uncommon‘, and apart from that, common sense wisdom about one’s own situation is not an easily gained sense– so if someone else were to be struck in your situation what you can recommend to them is not what you will recommend to yourself. In our own problems we are also coloured by our subjectivities, whereas an outsider in not. Whatever they can offer is something which is coming from a faraway perspective, not daily living with you.
As a result what a therapist says becomes meaningful, because you do not go and walk through all your problems with them. I always believe that unless people develop help seeking attitudes they can never get out of their immediate situation, because the aggregate knowledge of a system, even if it be a collaboration between two individuals only, is always more than the knowledge and experience of one person.
Of course the path of taking medicines is always available, and that gives a false sense of security that you have addressed the problem in the correct way, as best as you could. People forget that even after taking medicine you still have to act and take responsibility for your life and actions. And for that you still need to go and meet a person who is outside of your situation, to assist you. If your parents, caregivers or friends could do it, you would never land yourself in such a spot, in the first place.
We all need to learn and gain from each other’s knowledge and wisdom. So do not hesitate to seek help and identify who can be of real help, and who not. The faith people have in modern medicines makes them turn towards psychiatry, without realizing that psychiatry cannot solve anyone’s issues of life and survival, often without seeing where the suffering stems from.
Faith in modern medicine
Like I wrote in the recent article, if our faith in psychiatry stems from our faith in the ethics of science and we assume that science is always ethical and scientific progress is always intended for the best outcomes in society, then we would never have seen the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, due to the atom bomb. Neither would we see so much war, hunger and disease all over the world. We already have enough resources for the whole planet earth- but do they really get where they ought to be reaching? In reality however, notwithstanding our belief in the ethics of science, it has become a slave of the market. Wherever there is profit to be made science becomes a method using which people do diverse acts to suppress knowledge and help others. People do not need so much medicine for mental suffering- they just need dialogue and communication, which was fractured in their lives long back- there is a need to re-establish the relationships we have with the world and with ourselves, honor our needs and those of others around and in general live a life of relative peace.
Even if you consume medicine, does it address the underlying causes of your suffering, and tell you that now the suffering will be taken care of? People who do not want to go the counseling way, need to ask themselves this seriously or else face a life long dependence on psychiatry, with not much progress.