Stength over Stigma

According to the American Counseling Association, counseling is an inherently strengths-based, professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.  Professional Counselors develop individualized strategies with their clients to help them overcome personal obstacles and challenges.  The core of this unique professional relationship is always a strengths-based empowerment toward the attainment of each client’s personal goals.

Despite the emphasis on strength and empowerment in the very definition of counseling, our society maintains a salient stigma towards the receipt of mental and behavioral health care.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  To feel shame or disgrace about one’s need for mental health care certainly adds insult to injury, however, the real cost of stigma should be measured in the lack of treatment received, as all too many individuals and families struggle in secrecy, shame and silence.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year, which is the equivalent of one in five adults. 10 million adults live with a serious mental illness, or one in ten adults. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.  Nevertheless, over 60% of adults and 50% of children and adolescents with a diagnoseable mental illness never receive any treatment. 

Stigma and lack of access explain this egregious treatment gap, and the impact is staggering: serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion dollars annually in lost earnings, depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016 suicide became the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

Counselors understand stigma and struggle tirelessly to undermine its pernicious effects. One of the chief ways we do this is by not pathologizing clients.  Instead of labeling from a problem-focused perspective, counselors adopt a strengths-based and solution-focused approach to client-centered care.  By promoting and preserving the autonomy of every client, counselors work more like a swing coach in golf or tennis.  We start by understanding our client’s goals and values, we work hard to view the field of play from our client’s perspective, and then we work collaboratively with our clients to promote their strengths and develop their skills.

If you or someone you love and care for are confronted with a serious mental illness or simply struggling to adjust to changed circumstances, please do not let stigma or fear of judgment prevent access to treatment.  Professional counselors stand well-prepared to come alongside to strengthen and empower you to achieve your goals, without judgment or reproach, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you believe or value.  Counselors can empower you to leverage your own strengths as you confront areas of needed growth.

Remember, too, one doesn’t need a diagnosis (or suspected diagnosis) to benefit from professional counseling or psychotherapy.  As Carl Gustav Jung wrote: “your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Consider taking a strengths-based approach to your own awakening and contact a counselor today to help empower your personal vision.