SUMMARY: Kathleen Mills and Phillip Crum talk with Kim Smith about the stigma of seeking counseling for mental health issues.
Episode #58 |Kim Smith | Mental Health Disorder Treatment
Kathleen Mills-Proprietor, Counselor at Life Tree Counseling
Phillip Crum-The Content Marketing Coach
Kim Smith-Life Tree Counselor
Phillip Crum: Do you know what time it is?
Kathleen Mills: Yes, I do.
PC: It’s 8:25. It’s time for It’s Just Coffee.
KM: It is just coffee. How are you, Phillip?
PC: I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m still Phillip Crum. You’re still Kathleen Mills.
KM: Kathleen Mills. Absolutely.
PC: Of Life Tree Counseling.
PC: Yep yep yep.
KM: It’s showcase time.
PC: Did you put the coffee on?
KM: Mmm hmm. It’s right here, buddy.
PC: You’re swilling it already, aren’t you?
KM: Einstein’s. Love it.
PC: It’s your first gallon.
KM: Yeah, I’m tanked up, man. Ready to roll.
PC: Well, good. Speaking of tanked up, who have we got in the office with us today?
KM: Showcase girl, Kim Smith, LPC. How are you, Kim?
Kim Smith: Hello! I’m well, how are you, Kathleen?
KM: I’m good. I’m really good.
PC: I understand we’re going to talk about the stigma of mental disorder today.
KM: Right. And there’s a lot of people who don’t seek counseling for a lot of reasons, isn’t there, Kim?
KS: There are. Basically, I’m surprised, or maybe not so surprised, at the number of people that tell me it was hard for them to come into counseling, or they had a fear of coming into counseling. And one of the main reason that I run into on a regular basis is people telling me, “I should have been able to do this by myself,” or, “There’s nothing so wrong with me that I feel like I shouldn’t be able to fix it.”
PC: Where does that thinking come from?
KS: I think basically society has kind of been programmed in a way to be self-sufficient, independent individuals – at least here in our society. So I think they feel that a mental disorder of any kind is something that you should be able to fix on their own, or they should be able to fix on their own. Not necessarily something that they might need help with. They don’t look at it as an illness, which is technically what it is. They see it as a life problem that should be solvable in their own way.
PC: Mmm hmm. Watching people at school that perhaps are not as gifted as one may be in the upstairs department, and they get made fun of and teased and taunted and by gosh, that’s the last thing we need. So we don’t want to make it public and again, “I should be able to fix this by myself. It’s just the way I’m thinking, right?”
KS: Right. Exactly. And people think that they should be able to reprogram their thinking, which I will preface this by saying that that is part of helping themselves but until they understand how to do that it’s very difficult for them to problem-solve on their own. So coming to counseling is a big component in taking that first step and learning how to readjust your thinking in order to problem-solve and get to a better place mentally.
KM: So there’s a period of time where they literally are stuck.
KM: Do you think they know they’re stuck? Or, they’re trying to be self-sufficient.
KS: I think they do know they’re stuck. And that’s a lot of times what does motivate them to come to counseling because they realize that they don’t know where to go from there. They become stuck because when you’re in an emotional place that is very difficult and you’re struggling, it’s very hard to rationally think your way out of it.
PC: It’s kind of like the sixth time you make the same New Year’s resolution to lose weight and realize in February this ain’t going to work?
KS: Absolutely. Right.
KM: Your feelings are overriding any rational… you’re not rational. Your feelings kind of take over.
KS: They do. And also I find that people don’t trust themselves to be able to be able to help themselves. I think sometimes coming to a trusted professional as part of getting them over the hump of being able to readjust their thinking. They might be able to do the same thing at home, but because they don’t maybe understand how to start that process or because they don’t trust their own knowledge of how to do it, coming to see me and just kind of me helping validate what they’re going through and some of the steps will help them immensely. And it’s funny that I find, people are pretty intuitive most of the time as to how they need to get on the right track, they just don’t always know how to start that process. And it’s very overwhelming for them so whenever we break it down into smaller components and I give them ways of –
PC: Eating the elephant one bite at a time.
KS: Exactly. Exactly.
PC: Makes it easier.
KS: It does.
PC: I wonder how the idea- because I think everybody has had a problem, whatever that is, in which they thought they were the only one on the problem that had it. I know I did until I had that little tail surgically removed but then find out there’s lots of people that have that. But just the idea that-
KM: The great isolation.
PC: Not the idea, but the fact that you find out that there are lots of people that have the same problem you do makes it easier somewhat for some people to go get help rather than hide in the closet because you’re the only one.
KM: You kind of make new friends in a weird way.
PC: Yeah! My shrink and I are drinking buddies now. I mean, this is great!
KS: I can’t imagine the problems that would come out of that! (Laughs)
PC: We just limit it to two beers. We’re okay.
KS: Hopefully I don’t drive them to drink after a session. That probably wouldn’t speak well for me professionally. Now I find, too, you’re absolutely right in that its kind of human nature for us to think that we’re the only one experiencing something I believe. But I’m also a little bit surprised when I tell a client, they’re going through something, and I say, “Well, that’s pretty common.” And they look at me with surprise and say, “Really?” As if they’ve thought that really something was wrong with them. So that is somewhat refreshing I guess to help validate that they’re not the only one going through a particular issue.
PC: Do you find that the people that come through your front door seeking help, the ones that waited awhile are the ones I’m talking about, they waited because they had internal struggles or was it because they were worried about what everybody else thought?
KS: Actually, it’s a little bit of both. So I’ll kind of address both of those issues. Most of the people that I see, what they tell me when they come through the door, is, “I should have been able to fix this myself,” or, “I was trying to do this on my own but I’m just not getting anywhere.” So I think a lot of it, a big chunk of it, is the internal struggle. I think you’re absolutely right, though, as far as being concerned about what people think. Because people don’t have any issue with discussing with their friends going to the dentist or going to the doctor for medical issues. But when it comes to psychiatric things, that’s something they don’t disclose to very many people because there is shame in it unfortunately. And I find that people are now more accepting of mental health disorders because it’s such a wide spread dilemma. It’s very rare to find someone who hasn’t been to counseling for something. So I think it’s become less of a stigma, but certainly it’s still there.
PC: Mmm hmm. I had a great thought and it just left me.
KM: If you had… well, you have the platform today because we’re doing this podcast to talk to the people who are thinking, “Maybe I do need to talk to somebody.” What kind of things can you tell them to encourage them to take that risk and be brave and give you a call or a provider in their area a call? What can you reassure them about the process I guess?
KS: Well, I could first tell them that it’s a safe place to come. Secondly, obviously it’s confidential. I don’t talk about their issues with anyone else because that’s legal reasons and obviously ethical reasons. It’s confidential. But also, what I tell people when they’re a little bit nervous about counseling is that this is mostly a brainstorming session. I’m working with you. We’re just talking about things. I’m not there to lecture them. I’m not there to judge them. They’re just coming to get some ideas about how they can move forward with an issue. And the most important part of that is they have, they’re in the driver’s seat. I help give them a little bit of direction, but they get to control the vehicle. They get to decide how to help themselves. I just am there for support.
KM: That’s a great point.
KM: Honestly, I think some people think counseling means I need to surrender completely, and that’s a very fearful place because they’re already scared.
PC: I know guys think, a lot of guys – most of them… okay, every one of them – thinking that talking about it is, well that’s what girls do. They get together and they talk and they share and they whatever. But there’s something – what a big word? – that works about talking. When you say something out loud-
KM: It’s powerful.
PC: Forget mental health for a minute. When you have an idea that you’re struggling with for weeks, and it’s a good one and you’re just thinking and struggling with it and it’s coming a little bit at a time. But then you sit down with somebody and you explain your idea to them and you say it out loud, all of a sudden the solution comes to you almost every time. It’s just crazy.
KS: That happens with my husband a lot. He’s a computer programmer and obviously when he talks about his profession, it all goes over my head and my eyes kind of glaze over. But I’ll find him coming home and he’ll be bouncing things off of me about an idea or an issue that he’s got working through some programming situation. And he will just be talking out loud and I know that he’s not actually expecting me to understand what he’s talking about. He’s really just verbalizing it so that he can figure out the answer.
PC: Please don’t respond.
KS: Exactly. Exactly. But yes, you’re right. And men in particular are very logical and they have this idea of, “I’ve got to fix everything,” typically. So fixing mental health issues is something that they feel like they should be able to do as well. So a lot of times they are more reluctant than females to come in for counseling. And I have more men probably than women say that it was a hard step for them to take. And one thing I explain to them is, “You know, this is really just a meeting. Consider that this is a work meeting but you’re just trying to work through a problem.” And generally explaining it in those terms helps them to feel like it’s a little bit less of a weakness. It’s not a weakness. People see themselves as having a weakness if they have to get help.
KM: It takes the pressure off of thinking that there’s great embarrassment or shame when you say it that way. It’s like, “Oh good, I’m not in trouble.”
KS: Exactly. Or I’m not inept at fixing an issue. I’m just getting some assistance in figuring out how to do that. And one thing I do tell people when they say, “I should be able to do this on my own,” I tell them, “You are doing it on your own. You’re coming in. This was the first step in helping yourself,” and I help them figure out how to do that.
PC: It’s like building a work bench without a hammer.
PC: You can beat the nails with your hand all you want. The right idea, right goal, wrong tools. You need the right set of tools to do this. And the counselor is just a tool.
KM: Makes the job go much easier, doesn’t it?
KS: Exactly. It’s like putting together some furniture from Ikea without the diagram. You might kind of know what you’re doing, but if you don’t look at the diagram, you put it together and something’s backwards and you have to take it all apart again. It’s so frustrating.
PC: If you don’t look at the diagram, how will you know which parts they left out of the damn box?
KS: Right. Or what extra ones they put in. So yeah.
PC: Which always makes you think you’re missing one because they put three extra in when you needed four.
KM: I’m sensing some frustration on your part.
PC: Christmas is coming, dammit.
KM: I know it. (Laughs)
KS: I’m right there with you, Phillip.
PC: Okay, here’s one. Here’s a question for you. The pills. I know you don’t prescribe pills – shrinks do that and if you get to a point where it’s obvious they need something, you’ll send them up the street to a shrink. And shrinks are made fun of on TV and whatnot, blah blah blah. I don’t have a problem with it. I never did. I was riding in a car with my mom once and I was in a mood and we were talking. We always got along very well. She said, “Why don’t you go see somebody, hun?” She had just told me that my grandfather had suffered with depression all his life. And said, “Why don’t you go see somebody?” So I did. Now between, “Why don’t you go see somebody,” and I did, 20 years went by. I know why, but that’s irrelevant discussion here. But I went. I don’t have any preconceived problem with what other people think about me going to see somebody and getting a pill to make me feel human. I don’t care what somebody else thinks about that. Some people do. And some people have a problem – this is where I was going – with pills. Oh, for crying out loud. Pills are chemicals. Your food is chemicals. The water you drink is made up of hydrogen and oxygen – chemicals. It’s just another form of something that your body needs. That’s the way I look at it. You know, when you have a headache, what do you take? Say, “Aspirin.”
PC: There you go. See? You take something for it. You don’t just lay around and moan in pain because we don’t take pills. Well, maybe some people do.
KS: Some people do, actually. It’s very surprising. Well, there’s multiple reasons people-
PC: What do they do when they get hungry?
KS: Hopefully eat.
PC: Do they take some chemicals? Do they eat something? You think so?
KS: Usually. Yeah. People have a preconceived notion a lot of times about medication. They have subscribed to some mythological things which are inaccurate most of the time. And there are multiple reasons they have a little bit of fear of medication. But I will tell you – and this is something I explain to my clients as well when I think that they might benefit from seeing a psychiatrist and getting medication – is that if you had an illness like high blood pressure, diabetes, or something as simple as the flu or a cold and you took some Tamiflu or if you were taking insulin for diabetes, you wouldn’t- this comes into another one of those, “I should be able to fix it on my own without medication.” Well, what I explain to them is you can’t just think about diabetes and fix it in your mind. You have to take medication, insulin for that, because it’s something your body needs to adjust to-
PC: It’s a chemical problem, not a cognitive problem.
KM: Chemistry. Your chemistry.
PC: Yes. Big word.
KS: Right. And the same thing is true for psychiatric medication in that it’s a biological thing. And it may have come from something that happened to a person where they began to experience depression because of a situation, but when you experience that anxiety or any other mental health issue, your brain chemistry changes. And oftentimes counseling of course is going to help, but sometimes to, as I tell people, “Get them over the hump,” medication can help in regulating those brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. And generally depression is caused because of a lack of some of enough of those chemicals. And anxiety happens because the receptors are not transmitting those chemicals correctly and there also is a lack of them. So medication is used to fix that and some people have a biological predisposition for these illnesses. It’s not just something that happened out of the blue. It may be very genetic. And if that’s the case, then medication is a way to help them.
PC: I have decided in the last few years that probably everybody on the planet has some sort of a challenge from the neck up that is not what we might want to call, “normal.”
KM: Well, we’re human, my friend. We’re imperfect.
PC: Well, I know that, and without getting down the religious road – which I’m there – but without going down that road, it’s just a fact that nobody’s perfect. There’s some physical imperfection about every body on the planet except Heidi Klum. But everybody else has a physical imperfection of some kind, and sometimes that physical imperfection is in the head.
PC: It’s in the brain. Those little chemicals you mentioned aren’t floating around properly. Things aren’t firing properly. That’s a physical problem that manifests itself in you. How you present yourself.
KS: I’ll disclose about myself. I actually have anxiety – generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve had it probably since I was a child, not knowing it really until I was in my late twenties, early thirties. It wasn’t really diagnosed until then. I just went around thinking that’s the way people felt. I thought that was the way you felt all the time, except I knew there had to be something different about me because I didn’t see other people reacting to things the same way that I did. That being said, I was prescribed medication for it and found the right medication for my particular chemistry and I’ve been on it for a number of years and it’s the best thing that could have happened as far as that’s concerned. And I may be on it for the rest of my life. I may not. But either way, if it’s helping me, I don’t care.
PC: Exactly. I’m on double cheeseburger the rest of my life, and that, you know, as well as my- it’s something you got to do the rest of your life. Big dang deal. Big deal.
KM: But sometimes the worry with clients, “You mean I have to take this the rest of my life?” question.
PC: No. Just today.
KM: Just we’re going to do one day at a time. Sometimes the answer may be, “Yes,” and sometimes the answer may be, “No.” But if it is, “Yes,” you will feel so much better and then come back and tell me, “Why didn’t I do this five years ago? Oh my goodness. I had no idea.” And that’s when it really all helps validate like, “Okay, I get this part now. It’s not as bad as I thought it was.”
KS: Exactly. And another issue I’ll bring up, or actually a couple of things that I’ll just touch on them briefly, is that people think sometimes when they take a medication and they start to feel better, they think, “Oh well I don’t need it anymore.” That’s something that I run into a lot and have run into in all of my experience in the mental health field. And then they don’t really understand why they suddenly slide back into where they were in the past, and it’s because they stopped taking the medication. It’s not that you can’t stop at some point, but you have to do that in a regulated way with your physician helping you taper off a medication properly.
PC: If you’re one of those people that can get off of it and be okay, but if you’re not you might be taking it the rest of your life.
KS: Right. And that could be very true. And people discover if it’s helpful to them, they don’t mind taking it as long as it’s helping them.
PC: What’s the alternative? Going back to the way you were miserable before.
KS: Right. And I tell people, “Why suffer needlessly if there’s something that will help you?” But another thing I will bring up quickly is that people also sometimes will be prescribed a medication and they either feel like it doesn’t work for them or they may have a reaction to it that’s not pleasant. And I explain to people, too, sometimes it takes a couple of tries to find the right thing for you because mental health-wise, every medication affects different people in different ways. What I take that works great for me may not work at all for someone else because their chemistry is different and the brain is a lot more sensitive chemically than a lot of the other chemicals in our body. So it sometimes takes a couple of trial-and-error cases to figure out what works for you. But people will get discouraged because the first thing they take doesn’t work and they think, “Well, this is just a waste of my time,” but it’s really not if you can find the right thing.
KM: The quality of life.
KS: Exactly. And medications are improving all the time to where side effects are less than they were at one time. So people are concerned about side effects obviously, and that’s understandable. But often the mild side effects of some medications far-, or I should say the benefits far outweigh the side effects.
KM: Well, there are side effects if I don’t take medication, which is be miserable.
PC: Or be alone.
KM: Or be alone.
PC: We have about two minutes left, so tell me, address, talk a little bit more about the other group of people. The ones that don’t show up because they’re worried about what other people think. What would you advise people who are worried about what their neighbors think, or the people at work, or what their boss is going to think?
KS: Well, for starters, I’d say, you don’t have to tell anybody anything you don’t want to. If you need to schedule an appointment and you’re worried about what your boss thinks, first of all, your boss probably isn’t going to think anything because he or she has probably had counseling or may be seeking counseling or going to-
PC: He’s seeking counseling because of you!
KS: Right. (Laughs) And second of all, they want, your boss wants you to be productive. And if you’re having an issue then that’s going to affect your productivity.
PC: But what if he’s one of those people that thinks because I’m taking a pill, I must be a “crazy” and the guy is what he is. He’s liable to turn me loose. Isn’t he going to find out what I’m doing because I’m on the health insurance plan at work?
KS: No, because insurance has confidentiality laws as well where they might disclose yeah, this person’s using their insurance plan, but they’re not going to disclose what you’re using it for. Your employer is very unlikely to have access to your medical records. That just doesn’t happen unless some sort of extenuating circumstance. So, no. The worrying about what people think, like I said, most of the time they’re not going to know unless you tell them. And secondly, most people don’t really have the opinion of going to see a counselor that maybe people in older times might have had.
PC: So your boss is not going to know. Your spouse is going to be overjoyed that you have returned. And nobody else matters.
PC: Or as Les Brown used to say, still does, “Don’t be telling people your problems. Or don’t worry about what other people think. Half of them don’t care and the other half are glad it’s you.” So go get yourself fixed.
KM: And find some new friends who can help champion you.
KM: Sometimes it’s all about who you hang with.
PC: I’ll tell you what, Kimbo, if somebody has this problem and they want to talk to you some more, where are they going to find you?
KS: They’re going to find me at Life Tree Counseling Center, and we’re located on Midway Road in Addison, specifically 14679 Midway Road, Suite 200. And they can call 972-234-6634. I’m at extension 305. They could also go to our webpage at Lifetreecounseling.com.
PC: What about you?
KM: I’m right there next door to Kim.
PC: All right, good. I’m still Phillip Crum, the content marketing coach. I can be found at Contentmarketingcoach.us and don’t let the stigma of mental health disorders keep you from getting your life back. It’s yours. Who cares what they think?
KM: Use your insurance. Use your employee assistance program.
KS: Mmm hmm. That’s what it’s there for.
KM: That’s what it’s there for.
PC: Everybody in the world’s got a problem. Fix yours. All right, thanks for listening everybody. We’ll see you next week.
KM: Thank you, Kim.
PC: Thank you, Kim.
KM: Thank you, Phillip.
PC: Bye bye, y’all. On we go.