“Hurt people hurt people” is an adage that you’ve likely heard before. The notion behind this statement is something along the lines of, “Those who have experienced emotional pain and suffering may lash out and inflict emotional pain on others.” I’m not here to argue the veracity of this oft-quoted saying. Instead, my hope is to see it one day replaced by an altogether different assertion: helped people help people.
Every April, we celebrate National Counseling Awareness Month, a month to recognize the work of professional counselors and the services they provide to help those in need. Because helping others is the crux of the counseling profession, counselors are often referred to as professional helpers. Through building and maintaining trusting and empathetic relationships, counselors help individuals, groups, and families overcome a myriad of concerns, ranging from problems of everyday living to more severe mental health issues.
Despite the progress that has been made in promoting mental health awareness, however, a great deal of stigma remains when it comes to seeking professional help. You are much more likely to hear someone tell you that they have an upcoming dentist appointment than an upcoming counseling session. Shame exists in silence. It’s okay to need to help, and it’s okay to share that you have been helped.
To normalize help-seeking, it is essential for us to speak out about counseling. Sharing the effect that counseling has had on our lives with others serves to normalize the practice. And, no, we don’t have to share why we were or are in counseling if we aren’t comfortable doing so – that can stay between us and the counselor. Confidentiality in counseling relationships is a time-honored ethical mandate in the profession for a reason.
As the proclivity of people to “pay it forward” (or put the kindness they have received back into the world) seems to be gaining traction, it gives me hope that those who have been helped through counseling will feel a similar sense of agency. My hope is that those who have benefited from counseling will share with others how counseling has changed their lives and that they will encourage those in need of help to seek out the services of a professional counselor. In the spirit of disclosure, I am a professional counselor, but I have often spent considerable time on the couch myself. Because counseling helped me, I now help others. Helped people help people.
For more information about Counseling Awareness Month, click here.