Annie's Mailbox for July 1, 2011: Readers respond to doubt about counseling's effectiveness, Day 1

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Dear Readers: We recently printed a letter from "Problem Still Here," who asked our readers if counseling was worth it. We were inundated with replies from readers sharing their stories, and the vast majority found counseling tremendously helpful. We cannot possibly print all the letters we received, but the response was so overwhelming that we have decided to devote two days to the subject. Read on:

Dear Annie: I started counseling a few weeks after my father died. It was recommended by my faculty's office. I went in for grief counseling, but walked out with papers telling me how to properly take multiple-choice tests. A year later, I had a major breakdown and sought counseling at my new school. After our first meeting, I knew we'd have a productive relationship, and I kept seeing this counselor even after I graduated. Talking to a counselor is a lot like talking confidentially with a really intelligent, impartial friend. Your secrets are safe, your fears are heard, and eventually -- with your help and dedication -- solutions can be discovered.

— No Name

Dear Annie: I am a 22-year-old woman who has been in counseling since I was 7. I dealt with divorced parents, abuse and being socially rejected, and counseling helped me overcome these things. I found my current counselor through a Google search. What is so important is to know that you don't need to stick with the first counselor you find. I scheduled several consultations in one day so I could compare them until I found someone I liked.

— N.N.

Dear Annie: I was at a crossroads and needed help. I went to the Human Resources person at work and requested help from their Employee Assistance Program. I was referred to a counselor who helped me wade through all the muck so I was able to make clear, well thought-out decisions. And my employer paid for these sessions.

— M.

Dear Annie: I was no longer happy in my marriage of 34 years and told my wife I wanted out. She suggested marriage counseling. We went to several sessions together and separately. Halfway through my first private session, the counselor asked, "What would you miss most if you no longer had your wife?" I instantly said, "Her cooking." He considered that and said, "I think you should get a divorce." That was 12 years ago, and I only regret not doing it sooner.

— Happy Guy

Dear Annie: I had been diagnosed with a progressive medical condition that triggered an anxiety disorder. My primary-care doctor recommended counseling. The first one blamed everything on my family. Four years later, I saw a psychologist who started sharing some sordid details of her past. I tried to be supportive and kind, but I wasn't paying to hear her life story. She also answered her cellphone all the time during our sessions. She needed a therapist more than I did. I am sure many counselors out there are great, but I haven't found one.

— Tired of the Games

Dear Annie: Things to look for in a counselor: 1. Choose one who shares your core beliefs. A marriage counselor who stresses the personal rights of each spouse rather than the marriage as a whole is off track. If an addiction is involved, that must be treated first. 2. Your counselor should not take sides. 3. Expect change. It's hard. It hurts. But you wouldn't be sitting in that office if your present system were working.

— Mom of Rebellious Teen and Wife of Retired Husband

Dear Annie: Through therapy, I gained confidence, learned to take responsibility for my own actions and became empowered not to engage in anything verbally, physically or mentally with which I feel uncomfortable. I learned that we cannot change anyone by being critical. Today, I am a very happy person because I know I am in control of my own life.

— Most Fortunate

To all our Canadian readers: Happy Canada Day!

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