If I had to boil my value to my clients down to one phrase, I would say that “I provide help.” Help with career determination, help with job-hunting materials, help with relationship difficulties, help with reducing anxiety, help with lifting depression, help with boosting self-confidence, etc.
But for many clients, asking for help is somewhere between daunting and impossible. Some of them find it difficult to ask for help because of messages they may have received from their families as they grew up (“Stand on your own two feet, son!”). And most people are impacted at least to some degree by the very strong American cultural narrative that independence and self-sufficiency are admirable, and that requesting assistance is a sign of weakness. Those who hold more conservative and particularly libertarian political views may be particularly wary of seeking assistance from other; asking for help can feel somewhat socialist to them. I doubt that Ayn Rand would have agreed that “It takes a village.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, I find that it is much harder for men to ask for help than it is for women, as evidenced by the great number of calls and emails that I get from wives, girlfriends, and mothers asking me what I can do for their males; the guys are simply unwilling to ask. Frequently, in fact, the women pay for the men’s sessions. It’s considered a sign of weakness to ask for help, and men are supposed to be strong. This, to me, is a sad phenomenon, in that often the problem(s) that clients present me with could have been handled so much more easily earlier, had assistance been requested.
Some other barriers to asking for help:
- Fear of being indebted. If I ask a friend, relative, or co-worker for help, what might I be expected to provide him or her down the road? Will the help they expect be proportionate to the help they provided, or will I find myself embroiled in a difficult on-going problem?
- Fear of hurting one’s reputation. If I ask for help, how do I know that the person I ask won’t bad mouth me to others and portray me as a loser or an incompetent? Perhaps it will be in that person’s best interest, down the road, to make me look bad by revealing my “weakness.”
- Fear of losing control. If I ask for help I’m potentially ceding some of the ability to direct the effort I’m seeking help with, particularly if other people are involved and witness my enlistment of others.
- Fear of asking for too much help. What is the appropriate amount of assistance to request? Will I be a burden on the person I ask for help, and will that person come to resent me?
- Fear of receiving too much help. How do I let someone know that they’ve given me just what i needed, but that I no longer require their assistance – without hurting feelings.
- Privacy concerns. Particularly when it comes to relationship difficulties and financial troubles, many people fee that others must not see their “dirty laundry.”
These barriers, and others, stand in the way of smoother and faster resolution of a host of problems. Fortunately, enlisting the help of a professional counselor sidesteps all of these issues. ABSOLUTE CONFIDENTIALITY is both a legal and ethical requirement of professional counselors, the client is completely in control of how much and how often to request assistance, and there is obviously no requirement to repay the assistance, since the assistance is being paid for when given, by mutual consent.
But the hardest barrier to overcome is the one deep inside, the one that says something like, “I shouldn’t have to ask for outside help” or “How pathetic that I can’t solve this myself.” If that’s the voice of your barrier, think of your situation like this: two heads ARE invariably better than one, and enlisting the help of a professional is a clear indication of both your sensitivity to the gravity of the problem and your determination to solve it. Only people with vision, courage, and ingenuity take that step – so it potentially says a lot of good things about you, and certainly improves the odds that you’ll successfully tackle the challenge ahead.