Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to tell your parents you want to see a counselor

There are many preconceptions in our society that seeing a counselor is a bad thing, or means that you are crazy or broken or weak. None of these are true!

Counseling can be a fantastic way to learn how to cope with stress and deal with day to day problems, as well as a great place to talk through anything that's going on in your life. Counseling isn't for everyone, and if it turns out to not be for you that's okay too. Just know that all sorts of people reach out for help around everything from social skills or relationship issues with family or friends, to self-harm, depression or suicide, and those same counseling resources could be just as helpful for you. 

Parents can be a very valuable resource when seeking counseling and can be a support system for you through the process, but reaching out to your parents to let them know you want to see a counselor is often not an easy thing to do. Here are some general tips on how to start having a conversation with your parents about looking into counseling:

  1.  Set a specific time and place for            this conversation

    • Having a time set aside will make sure you are able talk about everything you want to cover and aren't cut off in the middle
    • It's also important to find somewhere private and with minimal distractions so that everyone feels comfortable throughout the conversation

  2.  Make sure no one is under the influence 

    • It is important that everyone involved be mentally present throughout this conversation and be able to take it seriously

 3.  Tell your parents you wish to get some objective, outside help 

    • Let them know that you want some help and support around some things you are going through and you want it to be from an adult who can be completely objective to the situation and has specialized training around mental health issues/coping strategies.
    • Coming from the standpoint of wanting an unbiased, outside perspective can help clarify why you want to see a counselor versus simply talking to your parents about the situation.

  4.   Reassure your parents you are not in immediate danger (if this is the case)

    • Letting your parents know that you are not in danger will help ensure the conversation is calm and productive

  5.   Try to choose a counselor or therapist ahead of time 

    • This will make it possible for you to discuss specifics with your parents, which will give you concrete things to focus on if they have concerns
    • In most cases you can also set up a time for your parents to meet with the therapist you have looked into if they have questions
    • However, if you are over the age of 13 you have the right to decline having your parents involved in the counseling process and your counselor legally can not talk to your parents without your permission and a release of information form
    • You can learn more about choosing a counselor right for you here

  6.   If your parents do not respond well, end the discussion for the night

    • Getting in a fight can make the situation worse, so bringing the conversation to an end before it gets to this point is a good idea
    • Helpful phrases are things like: 
      • “I need additional support from another adult” 
      • “You did nothing wrong as my parent. I just need some additional help to get through this” 
      • “I need a space that allows me to discuss private things”
Having had personal experience seeing a counselor and receiving support from my family through the process, I encourage you to give seeing a counselor a shot if you think it could help and provide you with needed support.

The information show above was collected from this article (feel free to also use it as a reference).

Not all parents are supportive around counseling; if you do not feel safe discussing the possibility of counseling with your parents, or they react badly to this conversation, there are lots of resources for teens to get counseling without their family being notified (though it is much more difficult). If you want information about these counseling services, or if you just want to anonymously talk about whatever you are struggling with, Teen Link is always ready to offer some help. You can call (866) 833- 6546 any day from 6-10 pm or chat through www.866teenlink.org 

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Experience with Counseling

When I was at my end a few months ago, I had nowhere to turn. I felt alone and afraid. I did not want to die, but I did not see any other options either. 

Finding out that the guy I was with was also with one of my close family members was too much; I already have trust and physical contact issues.About ten Advil into trying to kill myself, I took a moment to think- to breathe. I am a person. I have weaknesses, but I have just as many strength. 

I stopped taking the pills then. I thought it through. In this new-found clarity, I decided I needed help. I have always been self-sufficient and I sought out help on my own. I tracked down a free/low cost counselor and began seeing him twice a week. I started out uneasy, getting to a place where you are comfortable to divulge the secrets you would not tell your best friend is difficult for anybody.

Luckily, the counselor had no problem getting me to talk, nor in making me feel comfortable. The office had toys, games, candy, and a chair where the counselor sat with a patient smile and kind, waiting eyes. I gave my secrets in return for validation that I wasn't crazy, that I had reason to be upset, and that I had made the right decision in staying alive. I was fitted with an armory of ways to communicate better, relieve stress, and handle difficult situations.
Counseling was never something I wanted to do, but it helped me. And I know it has helped many other people in my life. I recommend it. Try it before you do anything else. There are always good days and bad days, but I know where I am going and I know where I have been. I am not apt to repeat a suicide attempt. Counseling helped me find clarity and relief.  Suicide seemed like the only answer I had at the time, but now I know I'm not alone. It is okay to seek out help. Don't just try to suffer through it alone. It doesn't make you stronger. If anything it makes you more susceptible to depression, helplessness, and isolation. A counselor is a great asset; a person on your side, for you, helping you.

In my search for a counselor, I found out that there are many resources available in the King County area, including free and sliding-cost counseling services. The easiest way to find these is to call into Teen Link, as we have a huge database of resources that can be catered to when you can schedule a visit, how much you can pay, and where you live.

Teen Link
Anonymous, confidential phone and chat line for teens to talk to teens
Open 365 days/year, 6-10 PM
1-866-833-6546 (Teen Link)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mental Health: Two Sides of the Same Coin

     The swing set cast long shadows on the abandoned shovels scattered among the wood chips and shards of plastic. It seemed like any other ordinary day at recess: me and my best friend were playing witches just like always. But today a hazy cloud of anxiety floated above me, engulfing me. No matter how many deep breaths I took I could not shake it. The tears began to well up in my eyes, and just as we lined up at the wrought iron fence I broke down crying. I felt like a plastic mannequin on display as all the kids in my second grade class stared at me distantly and uncomfortably. For some reason I was convinced that my mom wasn't going to be there to pick me up from school, even though in my rational mind I knew that she would be there smiling and waiting for me promptly at 3:15, just like always.

     Every day for the rest of second grade I continued this routine. I was scared out of my mind, convinced my mom would leave me at those dreaded concrete stairs. Unbeknownst to me, this was the beginning of my struggle with a debilitating anxiety disorder. Just like everyone else, I got nervous about tests, first days of school, and going new places, but for me these things were much bigger and scarier. I was like a little kid afraid of the monsters under the bed while everyone was like an adult and knew they were just dust bunnies.
     In seventh grade this all came to a peak when my teacher shared extremely personal information about me with others. I became petrified of her - just the sight of her walking down the hallway was enough to bring me to tears. I sat in the principal's office every day, rocking back and forth and crying hysterically. The teachers hid me away, warning the kids not to go near me as if it was contagious or I was some sort of vermin. They never even phoned my parents to inform them of my violent anxiety attacks and vivid flashbacks. Looking back, I realize that if I had been suffering from anything else they would have told my parents, but because it was a mental health issue it wasn't treated with the same seriousness as a physical ailment would have been.
     After months of this same routine and days that seemed filled with nothing but tears and terrifying anxiety attacks, the principal finally informed my mom and I was enrolled in therapy. 
      I sat in the bleak and aesthetically unappealing waiting room, shaking slightly and utterly horrified by the thought of someone I knew seeing me there. Now when I sit in the waiting room I don't care who sees me or if the nurse calls my name too loudly, because honestly, it's nothing to be ashamed about.
     Therapy is a long and sometimes unrelenting process that constantly reminds me that for some reason I am meant to be here. It took copious amounts of time and sessions for me to face the monsters and to be able to see them as dust bunnies. Through this experience I have learned a lot about stigma and judgement. To be honest I don't blame the kids that ran away or the teachers that were too consumed by their own bias and stigma to fully understand the depth of the situation. Prior to this experience I too probably would have shared their judgements. Some people look at having a "disorder" as a negative thing. But that is only a social construct, and because our society perceives it that way. However, through this experience I have become a much more tolerant, self-aware, and accepting person. That is the silver lining in my dark cloud.

    This year I embarked on a six month long project about mental health in young people and have just recently completed it. I have also realized that I want to become a psychologist so that I can help people the same way that others helped me. Finally, I started a GSA in my school to help make it a more inclusive and tolerant place. I know what it's like to be stigmatized and treated like I'm contagious and I don't want others to feel that way. I spend much of my time volunteering for Teen Link, talking about mental health, and working to make my school community a better one. Now and again I still have anxiety over tests or new things, but I have come to realize that they are not big scary monsters, just dust bunnies that need to be swept away.

     If any of this sounds familiar to you Teen Link is a great resource if you want to talk about it. Teen Link is a anonymous, nonjudgmental and confidential helpline. It is run by teens for teens. It is open every night from six to ten or there is chatline if you don't feel comfortable talking about it over the phone. No problem is too big or too small. The number is (866) TEEN LINK  and the website is www.866TEENLINK.ORG

Friday, May 2, 2014

Poetry Therapy

Sample of Poetry Therapy
The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Read the poem, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver a few times and let your mind be open to what comes up for you from your own life experience. 

After reading the poem, think back to any time in your life where you had a similar experience of knowing, “what you had to do;” when you allowed yourself to take a step, even though there were other voices shouting bad advice, and there were things blocking your road, and it was late enough, but you heard your voice and strove forward anyways. 

In your journal, describe this experience to me. This is a time when you listened to your own voice and marched through the darkness into the light.  It could be as simple as a change in a job, entering or leaving a relationship, or just one of those ideas that pushed you to a new beginning, and new clarity.  These are the stories of our voice.

Consider these details:
Where were you?
How old were you?
Who else was around you at that time?
Were there people giving you other advice?
What were the roadblocks in your way?
How did it feel to honor your voice and take that step?

This is an example of Poetry Therapy. Poetry opens emotional and intellectual doors for adolescents. The act of writing helps young people express thoughts that were previously bottled up inside. Poetry can also lend to artistic growth and deep expression of thoughts or feelings that one might not want to share with a friend, family member, or counselor. If talking to someone isn’t always an effective way to communicate internal conflicts, you may consider Poetry Therapy by answering probing questions or writing a story, diary entry, or poem. These exercises can lead to a deeper understanding of one’s conflicts, stresses, anxieties, or fears without sharing deep secrets with a listener. A piece of paper is nonjudgmental so don’t be afraid to express yourself.
If you are in need of support, Teen Link is an anonymous helpline run by teens from 6 PM-10 PM every night of the week that is here to talk. Feel free to call Teen Link at 1 (866) 833 – 6546. If Teen Link is not available to talk to you, you can also call the Crisis Link at (206) 461-3222.