On the greatness of counseling

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Isabella Kwai, '16
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Let me be entirely honest and open in what I’m about to say. Honesty after all, is so little found in conversations about mental health and yet so powerful when it is. I have, like 1 in 4 other young people my age, struggled with my mental health on and off. There have been times when I’ve been sick with hopelessness and misery, consumed with self-loathing and hatred. Likewise, there have times when I’ve been ecstatically happy and grateful. My emotional health is a mental rollercoaster and contains the best and worst memories for me. But it is not all of me.

There was however, a point this semester when it got a little too much. I was exhausted with faking positivity to myself every day and pep-talking myself out of bed, throwing on smiles when all I wanted to do was cry. My sense of self-worth was at an all time low and life at Duke seemed unbearably overwhelming. I made an appointment at CAPS. It was not the first time. I had talked to woman once my freshmen year, when things had gotten particularly stressful. There seemed however, a difference to me between a one-time chat and regularly seeing a counselor with the intention of understanding yourself. And I decided that I was tired of having the emotional lows but no real answers. I was tired of believing in untruths about myself that led me to think in despairing ways.

So I decided to sign myself into regular counseling sessions. It was both frightening and liberating. A part of me was angry and afraid that I needed help in the first place – what was wrong with me? Another part of me was relieved because, for the first time, there was another option, one that validated my emotions instead of dismissing them.

I’m about five sessions in now, and I think going into counseling has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has surprised me and taught me how little I really knew about myself. If anything, it’s been an independent study in my own persona, to work out how I react to situations and why I react that way. This is information I feel that anyone young and uncertain can use because it has yielded insights richer than I could have hoped. How much do we really think about our ways of coping? Or whether the way we see ourselves is accurate? Or whether we need, sometimes, to catch ourselves when we self-hate and reassess the situation?

Counseling is not simply lying on a couch and talking about how you feel, like every film Hollywood makes. It’s an intimate leap into your own mind and it’s uncomfortable sometimes and it’s confronting. It’s shown me how little I truly know about myself, and helped me determine my values and priorities. It’s showing me slowly how to be happier. And it’s great.

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