MY COUNSELING Story: Being on the other side of the therapist’s chair

Noemi J. Mullins

When I say, “I understand it’s difficult for many of us to seek support” (especially when it comes to our relationship insecurities and emotional intelligence), I personally really mean it. I can understand the reasons why counseling is uncomfortable. I also appreciate the perception that counseling represents weakness.

Some may be surprised to learn that I am a strong advocate of counseling services. This is because I believe in my work and, most importantly because I have done my counseling work, which has had a significant impact on my personal life.

For a good year after I heard the requirements, I didn’t seek out a counselor. I focused on my studies, and while the first year of school prepped me for the emotional vulnerability I was ultimately avoiding, I finally decided to see a therapist “for school.” I found myself at that moment, even as a therapist-in-training, reluctant to sit down with a total stranger and open up about issues I knew were there and felt myself not wanting to touch.

Every other week, I would sit down and briefly discuss my stressors. I felt extremely resistant to letting my guard down. I felt myself holding back, and it was like I was in some virtual reality. The goal was to get through the session with no pain or difficult emotions. The goal was achieved, but I felt more confused, tired, and temperamental at home.

After 12 sessions, I felt discouraged and questioned my career path, myself… em>everything/em>. After 12 sessions, and with 8 to go, I was feeling really discouraged. I questioned myself, my career, and everything.

After some more reflection and time, I decided to seek out another therapist.

I did not trust the therapist, and therefore, I could not establish the necessary safety to heal and move forward. I “shopped” around for another therapist who would join me on my healing journey. I felt ready to be open and more trusting. It was obvious that there was something I was not aware of and desperately trying to avoid. At this point, I realized I needed to do more than document that I had attended 20 sessions. I had to find out what was really bothering me.

I was introduced to another therapist with whom I instantly connected. In the beginning, I was still hesitant to open up to her. However, as I began to trust her more, my guard slowly started to drop, and I felt better after each session.

Later, I realized that this was the biggest problem. I was afraid to let anyone into my life because I did not know how. It was because I had turned my suffering into something that I wanted to hide from others and not something that I shared. This is why I found counseling so uncomfortable at first. My therapist taught me about trust, self-awareness, and emotions. She validated my experience, and I stopped self-sabotaging and protecting my story (which I had not realized I was doing). I was able to let go of my past pain and start to live my life again without it.

I admit it vulnerably and with pride that I “practice what I preach.” I’m the first to admit that my journey is still one of growth and that homework and constant learning are part of that journey. I have my feelings, insecurities, and confusion. I am human, too. I will continue to promote counseling services because they allow people to bond on a personal level that is not possible with just passing acquaintances or family members.

This is also a way for me to show my relevance to my profession and to share my passion with you in an authentic and personal manner. I believe that we are all humans on a similar path to self-discovery and fulfillment, no matter what our past experiences or circumstances may be. Although we may approach this path differently, I believe that we are all the same when we strip away our egos and societal expectations. We can all experience emotions we don’t understand; we may struggle with addiction or other unhealthy outlets to feel safe; we may have insecurities and unmet needs in our relationships; at times, we might hide our true selves.

But… we also have the option to work through them effectively, and, at times, this requires outside assistance to teach us how.

My counseling story is meant to show that I understand the personal discomfort associated with seeking therapy. This isn’t something I tell my clients in the session. Because I’ve been on the other end of the chair, I understand the confusion and conflict of being in the position of a therapist. It was a great experience, and I continue to use it whenever I need it.

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