When going through a difficult time, whether it’s a stressful life event or a mental health condition, a common first response is to seek support from close family and friends. This is a much healthier choice than deciding to internalize or even ignore your negative feelings and inner thoughts. However, one important branch of a support system may go untouched if you’re not accustomed to reaching out to them.
A mental health professional is a crucial part of a person’s support system. With recent advancements in health care and technology, connecting with a therapist in person or using an online service like MyTherapist has become increasingly easy and affordable. In many cases, though, these resources still aren’t used by those who may be experiencing challenges in life. Here are ways your support system and therapy, while both helpful, are fundamentally different in supporting your mental health.
Talking vs Treatment
Opening up to a close, trusted friend or family member is certainly an important part of good mental health practices. Regularly discussing your feelings, difficulties, and inner thoughts can help establish a stress-relieving outlet. Your support system should consist of individuals that allow you to express yourself without worrying you’ll be judged or chastised.
Going to therapy isn’t just paying someone to listen to you rant for an hour – if you end up being the only one talking during the whole session without getting any feedback or professional insight, this isn’t normal and you may need to find a new counselor. Instead, mental health professionals are trained specialists that are there to not only determine if you need a condition diagnosis but provide personalized guidance on how to work through your daily stressors and challenges.
Personal vs Objective
Friends and family have most likely known you and your personality for years, giving them the ability to notice your low points and needs. Having the support of people that have known you for years can help you feel more comfortable in communicating increased feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. They may also be able to point out patterns that you fall into when experiencing these low points, providing you with personal symptoms you can identify if you’re concerned about burnout or an overwhelming project.
As an objective party, a mental health professional has the advantage of seeing your life from a new and experienced point of view. It’s going to be a few sessions before your therapist gets to know you anywhere near as well as your friends do. However, as long as you’re open and honest about your background and inner feelings, you’ll reach a similar level of understanding soon. Once you’ve established a trusting relationship, they can even discuss suggestions and feedback you have from other members of your support system to help you develop healthy routines and schedules.
Trustworthy vs Legally-Obligated
When confiding in your personal support system, you’re trusting them not to take your information to others that could potentially judge or spread misinformation about you. This may be easier to discern with individuals you’ve known for years, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide if someone is trustworthy or not. It’s important to surround yourself with people that genuinely care about your wellbeing and want to see you succeed in life.
Client confidentiality is a normal guarantee across all forms of therapy; for online hotlines and services, you occasionally don’t even need to provide your name and other personal information. A therapist will explain to you the circumstances in which they’re required to report information to authorities, such as abuse of an elder or child, plan to harm yourself or others, or if you commit a certain level of crime. Otherwise, a mental health professional is under a legal and ethical obligation to keep your information secret and secure.
Having a “Full” Support System
Some people may have friends, family members, coworkers, and peers they feel comfortable talking to about their daily challenges and mental health concerns. Others may have multiple inner circles that they confide in for different topics like financial advice, mental health discussions, and family or marital struggles. Meanwhile, there are others that neglect expanding their support system, sticking to only one or two people they occasionally reach out to for assistance.
Having a “full” support system doesn’t mean you have someone to talk to in each group you’re a part of or for each topic you have challenges in. Instead, it means having a mixture of mindsets, opinions, and backgrounds that can give you trustworthy, non-judgmental assistance when you’re in need. A mental health professional is a crucial part of this inner circle.
With a subjective point of view, specialized training, and experience in similar challenges you may be facing, they’re a great source of expert opinion and guidance. Your best friend and close family members may have a deep connection with you and know what you need in times of crisis. Meanwhile, it’s a counselor’s job to provide you with tested and well-support treatment that can work out those possible mental health conditions.
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