Lessons from a Counsellor

Last Updated on July 15, 2020

Six months ago, I decided that I needed to talk to someone, professionally speaking.

I had seen a counsellor a few times before, as there was a counsellor available right on my university’s campus, that was included in our student health plan. But when it came to finding someone to talk to in a new city, I had no idea where to start.

My health plan would cover a certain percentage for a psychologist, and another amount for a social worker. But whenever I’d type “psychologist” into Google, I’d be bombarded with a variety of titles and qualifications. I didn’t really know what the difference was or who my plan would cover.

I decided to call a local counselling centre to ask if they’d be able to help me figure out what my plan covered. After talking with them, they were able to get me into a program where I didn’t have to pay at all! (Thus saving me $90/session!)

I knew early on that we didn’t exactly click – but it was free! So I felt obligated to stick with her. And she did provide/recommend a lot of really useful resources.

Yesterday, while sitting in my appointment struggling to find something to talk about, I mentally decided that this would be my last session with her. I think she could sense that because she started to ask a lot of wrap-up questions. It was great to reflect on how much I’ve changed since my first visit back in March, but I was completely stumped when she asked me what I had learned from her. I sat there for an embarrassingly long and awkward long time in silence.

I could barely think of anything positive about her to say.

Most of my leaning had been on my own by reading the books she recommended. I could have given her credit for that, but my Twitter friends had suggested the exact same titles. She often asked me the same questions and/or suggest the same resources session after session. She interrupted me a lot and usually made false assumptions in the process. And she was always glancing at the clock. Not exactly the profound insights I was hoping for.

She was, however, significantly more helpful than my doctor was. He told me that he doesn’t deal well with “psychological things” and wrote me a prescription for antidepressants, even after I told him I wasn’t interested in being medicated. If I didn’t need him for referrals and doctors notes, I would be quitting him, too.

One lesson I learned from my talking doctor was that I am suffering from anxiety, and not from depression. I have been diagnosed with depression before and I knew back when I first started seeking professional help for whatever this was I was going through, that labelling it as “depression” wasn’t accurate. I had drafted so many “what my depression feels like” posts that sit unfinished because of this:

“My current depression can (somewhat facetiously) be compared to getting a really bad haircut:  I know that somewhere inside I’m still an awesome person – but there’s this ugly thing masking it. I try to cover it up and pretend that everything’s normal. It makes me feel angry, sad, embarrassed and frustrated – sometimes simultaneously.  Some days I don’t want to get out of bed and show my face to the world, while other days things don’t seem quite so bad. In short, it makes me not like who I am anymore.”

I highly doubt someone suffering from actual depression would compare that feeling to a bad haircut! More importantly though, was the fact that I could see that my situation was only temporary. I knew I just had to work hard, learn how to cope with the anxiety, and trust that I would get passed this. And I eventually did.

In hindsight, this is another perfect example of me not following my gut. I knew after the first session that she wasn’t the right counsellor for me, but instead of admitting that and trying someone else, I kept seeing her. Maybe I wouldn’t have found anyone better, but then again, maybe I would have someone amazing.

I guess this is something else she inadvertently taught me.

Do you tend to follow your gut? Has it lead you in the right direction, or does it get you into more trouble?

Amanda Kay

Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.

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13 thoughts on “Lessons from a Counsellor”

  1. I always regret not following my gut. I’ve seen counselors on/off for many years and most of it good. My last one and I didn’t fit too well and it was just redundant and not very helpful. I was really depressed and it’s not like a bad haircut, it’s like a living hell that you can’t crawl out of. On one hand, the hard work has to be done by you, but the goal of the counselor is to give you (and guide you to) the tools to do it. Glad you are done with that.

    • People like to throw the term “depressed” around far too loosely… I knew I wasn’t depressed, but that’s what I was labelled by my doctor, so that’s what I kept telling myself, even thought my gut knew it was wrong. I’m glad I’m done with it too, and hope that next time (if there is a next time) I’ll find someone who will guide me. Hope you’re feeling better.

  2. I have seen a lot of “talking doctors” (I’ve never heard that term and I love it!) over the years. I have found that fit is really important in order to feel safe and comfortable enough to really get into the messy stuff. I, too, have spent months and months in doctors’ offices who I knew weren’t right for me and I didn’t want to make them feel bad by telling them that. I hope there doesn’t have to be a “next time” for you, but if there is, you walk right out after that first session and don’t go back. There are good talking doctors to be found, and even if they cost more, a good talking doctor is worth their weight in gold. Glad it sounds like you’re feeling better!

    • Thanks Deena!
      Maybe that’s why I’ve never stuck it out once my “crisis” was over… it would be great to find someone to form a long-term relationship with, but like you said, that “fit” needs to be there!!

  3. I haven’t seen a lot of psychologists but I the ones I have seen I always feel like I end up finding out information on my own because of the questions they ask or statements they make. I wouldn’t like a clock-glancer for a “talking doctor” either but at least it was free for the time being! I hope where you go next works well for you.

    • I know that there’s a large “homework” element to therapy, but why charge so much if that’s all it is? Why not browse the self-help section of a bookstore, since that’s essentially what I did anyways… I’m hoping I won’t need to talk to anyone regularly for a while now, but if I do I know who NOT to see. 🙂

  4. That must have been one awkward silence with your counsellor! In the past I didn’t often follow my gut and because of this I’ve ended up in situations where I wasn’t happy but struggled to get out of. Like my last job for example (which led to depression)! I’m trying to do more of what my gut wants to do these days.

  5. Almost without exception every time I do NOT follow my gut I end up regretting it. I was forced to go to anger management when I was younger (people today think I’m joking when I tell them) so I’m not too keen on psychologists. Ironically I married one : 0

  6. I go with my gut more and more as I get older, because I can think of so many times in the past I didn’t and regretted it. I’m sorry this doc didn’t work out. And I get so frustrated hearing about how doctors just throw any old meds at their patients, whether they really need them or not. It’s an epidemic!

  7. About a year ago, I fired my therapist for similar reasons. I would leave sessions feeling worse than when I went in. She pressured (read: forced) me to talk about topics I really didn’t care to bring up. She spent more time interested in my marriage than me. She was never on time. She was rude.

    Basically, she sucked. It was a waste of time and money for me to go so I stopped. I took matters into my own hands, read some books, developed some good habits, found a great support system, and I have been so much better since. While my depression and anxiety aren’t gone, I can actually manage them now and I feel better than I have in a long time.

    It’s important, especially with something like that, to trust your gut. It’s more damaging to stay with someone like your former therapist than to let them go.


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