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Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling

December 26, 2017

“Everyone should be in therapy”. Do you agree or disagree which this statement? Please state your reasoning

I think that long term happiness and well-being most often occurs as a result of planning, making a serious effort to address one’s issues, and this is especially true when one has the added burden of dealing with a mental health challenge. In fact, I tend to see therapy as an integral part of human development in the modern age and quite useful for achieving the fullest of lives and the highest levels of development personally as well as professionally.

I am especially excited about the prospect of using therapy for preventive purposes, like a health screening that occurs routinely, geared to the prevention of issues, just as we routinely look for indicators for cancer in asymptomatic people. Another analogy that I enjoy is that of therapy as a sort of flu shot geared towards the prevention of flair ups of mental health symptoms, to prevent potential illness. Just like Rome is not built in one day. Mental illness is not developed in one day. It will be much better to detect those distorted thinking patterns at an early stage when they are more easily and successfully dealt with.

I have always categorically rejected negative labels or stereotypical thinking about people who see a therapist. I do not see those who go to therapy as either lazy or weak, rather, it takes strength, drive, determination and most of all courage to put in the investment required for a successful therapy experience. Life is full of challenge, failures, and sometimes suffering, and therapy helps on to cope with life in all of these areas. It is important to acknowledge and account for the significance and value of falling down, being challenged, and even – perhaps particularly - facing up to failure. Untreated problems only get worse over time. Therapists help us to recognize our blind spots and overcome our negative feelings such as anger and jealousy digging deeper in a journey towards self-discovery that leads towards acceptance and greater tranquility.

It is important to note that some of our finest, most biographically significant moments, often occur when we are quite uncomfortable, not feeling happy at all. Our therapist encourages us to confront our uncomfortable feelings, take them on and work through them, thus snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by finding and implementing workable solutions.

Mental illness usually takes many years to develop in the absence of adequate coping skills and the presence of maladaptive beliefs. If we don't pay attention to what is happening to us early on, what makes us feel drained, harmful thoughts can become so deeply embedded in our minds making them resilient to change as a result of many years of reinforcement of negative behavior.

A friend of mine who is a licensed counselor once invited me to attend an art therapy session with her. All participants sat in a circle. After a brief icebreaker and introductions, we were each asked to create a fairy story and were given 30 minutes to decorate a mask for the main character we created. We then were separated into three groups, introducing our stories to group members and selecting one story to perform a role play in the form of mime: acting without using words. The author of the selected story would serve as a director, choosing actors and designing all the actions. In one of the role plays, a girl played a puppet and was controlled by another girl who played manipulator standing behind her. The puppet was forced to move her legs and hands under the manipulator’s instructions. Then, another girl playing a pair of scissors came up and tried to squeeze between the puppet and the manipulator, using her two arms. However, she failed. The manipulator pushed over the “scissors”. The puppet stood on her knees and bent her head down stiffly. At that moment, a forth girl who played a grown-up puppet wearing a colorful mask made by the author came up to the stage to fight with the manipulator and eventually beat her.  After helping the author direct the mime, the counselor asked the author whether she wanted to role-play the grown-up puppet with the mask. The girl nodded her head and went up to the stage. She fought with the manipulator, pushed the manipulator onto the floor and pretended to keep hitting her until the manipulator gave up resisting and was “dead”. When we discuss about how each role makes us feel, it is eye opening to adopt various perspectives to better understand the complex situation. How does it feel to be a manipulator, seeing the original puppet surrender to the manipulator and the grown-up puppet fight so hard against the manipulator? One of the touching moments is seeing the manipulator smiling and happy even though she was beaten down. She said it felt good to see the puppet growing even though it means she failed for whatever her purpose is. The ability of letting go is very inspiring. So is the importance of forgiveness, both of which can be taught most effectively through drama, providing a chance to explore something painful or difficult in one’s heart from a safe distance. The workshop I attended was predominantly composed of Chinese international students and young professionals. The therapy helped us to explore ourselves through acting out our thoughts and our sharing reflections.

I see my own generation as quite distinct from those that have gone before, especially with respect to Chinese culture. We are given more freedom to choose what we want in our lives. We are more willing to accept job positions that pay less but are truly what we want and feel passionate about. We care more about how we feel and we place a higher priority on being happy.

I feel strongly that psychotherapy can be highly effective in easing symptoms associated with mental health issues and generally results, as numerous studies have shown, in heightened self reporting of feelings or levels of happiness. I spend a lot of time reading in the area of positive psychology and thus I appreciate the way that psychotherapy is best not seen as a place where only troubles are discussed but also  strengths discovered, positive emotions cultivated, and gratitude and optimism are fostered. For me, psychotherapy is much more than symptom reduction, it also helps us to nurture courage, kindness, modesty, perseverance, and emotional and social intelligence.

I do not, however, necessarily feel that my generation is necessarily happier than generations that have gone before us. Perhaps we have yet to learn to fully translate our greater levels of freedom and self realization into more contentment and inner peace. I like to focus on the way that human beings are incredibly resilient creatures capable of adapting rapidly to environmental and demographic changes, at least with a little help from some kind of social support system and sometimes a positive intervention. I do not see happiness as equivalent to the absence of unhappiness and I am an advocate of positive interventions that are able to extend the benefits of psychological science even to those who are not suffering from a clinical condition. I am particularly fond, for example, of one positive intervention designed and put to use by Seligman who asked clients to write three good things that went well that day and also reflect upon why they went well, which helped clients to end their day remembering the day’s positive rather than negative events.

Many people think therapy is not necessary, since they can turn to the abundant self-help literature, including many national best sellers. However, one problem about self-help books is that they are trying to give one solution fit for everyone. In reality, everyone has unique problems to some extent and situations also vary according to te individual. Therapists can better lead you to what you want through individually tailored approaches. While self-help literature may offer numerous tricks such as ‘‘do aromatherapy once a week,’’ and ‘‘every morning repeat six positive affirmations,’’ these strategies lack scientific rigor. Self-help strategies for all may also serve to reinforce the misperception that there are quick fixes or short cuts for everything, including mental illness and personal growth. Because personal growth and recovery from mental illness require one to look deep into oneself, it generally takes a long time to finish the journey to make sense of our past and how that leads us into a future of promise.

Some people may contend that they get enough emotional support from friends and family members and thus do not need therapy. It is true that friends might provide you sound advice and invaluable emotional comfort. However, therapists are trained professionals who help one to look deep inside to find one’s own solutions. Lessons learned through therapy help many people to live more rewarding lives, including how to value and appreciate one’s friends in healthy and positive ways.

Therapists also provide a client with the all important factor of confidentiality and the benefits of a professional vs. personal interaction. Unlike some friends, who often have vested interests, the therapist is not judgmental and is open to and can help a client to come up with novel and creative ideas concerning behavioral modification. One can feel comfortable with a professional in a way that they cannot with someone with whom they have a personal relationship. While everyone is not yet ready for therapy, by working together as a professional group to help to lower the stigma attached to seeking professional help, we can contribute to making mental health services more widely available and utilized as well.

By earning my Master’s Degree in your comprehensive program at XXXX, I look forward to a long lifetime as a professional therapist working to promote well-being and personal growth, especially by fostering and facilitating help seeking behaviors among clinical populations and culture groups where mental health services tend not to be highly valued. 

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