Skip to content

Mental health: What is counseling?

By Hiyawkal Gizachew

“Why would I want advice from a stranger? All counselors do is nod their heads and ask questions.” These are some of the myths people have about the counseling profession. The dictionary describes {www:counseling} as the provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties, especially by a professional.

Counseling helps to alleviate mental health problems. It presents a way to gain perspective on behaviors, emotions, and relationships. It also provides individuals with a means to express their feelings and process their thoughts. Essentially, counseling empowers the client to come up with solutions that are suitable for them. Counseling gives people the opportunity to talk about their issues with someone who is objective and non-judgmental. Furthermore, any information disclosed during client contact with a counselor will be kept strictly confidential. Client’s written permission is required before any information about client contact is released to anyone. The {www:counselor} cannot even acknowledge to any one that he/she knows the client. However, there are three situations where a counselor is required by law to break confidentiality, and they are as follows: If client is in imminent danger of harming self or others; If there is suspicion of child or elder abuse or neglect; and if there is a court order issued for the information.

In a community where it feels like everyone knows everyone, or knows someone that knows someone, I understand why one would have concerns about seeking professional help, especially from an Ethiopian counselor. However, it is essential for us to understand counselors are required by law to keep everything confidential except for the three conditions listed above.

One might believe that seeking counseling is a sign of weakness. However, it is a sign of personal strength. It takes courage and self-awareness to be able to reach out for help.

How does one know when to reach out for help? There are no right or wrong answers but typically persons come to counseling when their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors interfere with their daily life activities. Examples may include disturbances in sleep, appetite, or employment and/or difficulties in relationships. Periods of prolonged sadness, anger, helplessness, or grief may also be an indicator that one should seek counseling.

Counselors will educate clients about healthy ways to cope with problems and adjust to the world around them. Clients have the right to participate in all aspects of counseling such as developing treatment plans and deciding when to terminate services. Once a client initiates services, s/he can choose to terminate services at any time.

(Hiyawkal Gizachew, Mental Health Counselor at Northern Virginia Family Service, can be reached at [email protected])

8 thoughts on “Mental health: What is counseling?

  1. Whatever you do , do not go to an Ethiopian counselor. From personal experience most Ethiopian counselors will tell your secrets to your family and friends. Specially if you are young like I was when i went to the so called counselor my gebena case was the talk of the town at bars and lekso bets.

  2. counseling IS something we as people not used to it and needs openness and trusting relationship with total stranger to address precipitating issues that caused crisis or stress.

  3. Hi Hiyawkal,
    Thanks for this inightful article. you right counselling is to give opportunity to explore concern in a safe and confidential environment. it is a mmyth to say that people who seek counselling are people with problem. To maintain a healthy mental life, our mind needs to understand things, like our body needs food. so, if one wants to grow and develop interally, one has to undersatnd life in a mature way and this can only happen when we supresss our fellings, thoughts and even assumptions.

  4. Being sick is not a crime. I have seen Americans taking their depression or Anxiety medication in front of their co-workers, but Ethiopians are the opposite and they do not want an Ethiopian to know they are sick, which is very awkward and uncivil manner.
    If you are sick you need to talk to professionals and family members as well otherwise, if you choose to hide your problem, you would suffer and later you would die miserable, which is very simple and clear. Even dogs and monkey understand this fact and scream to get help whenever they are sick.
    We should liberate ourselves from such decadency and get professional help if we are sick.
    We are acting as if we know, but the truth is we do not know. Ignorance is not a crime, but not able to understand your own ignorance and search for help is a crime, which most Ethiopians have.
    Depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, Post traumatic disorder, addiction and other psychiatry problems should be well addressed in our community and those who have the problem should encourage to come forward and get help, otherwise, if we ignore it the consequent would be devastated.
    It is as simple as get help, take medication and talk to the professionals.

  5. #1 T. M..
    I am sorry for what you went through. You should have sued that sob for betraying you.

    For Americans seeking advice from counselors or therapists is a wise thing to do, and millions of Americans visit their therapists regularly in their life time. For most Ethiopians it is hard to have a normal patient-counselor relationship with non Ethiopian therapists because of cultural differences.

  6. T.M I am sorry to hear that, I believe there is code of ethics that one signs on before doing counseling or therapy and in that confidentiality has priority. that should have not happened, having say that please do not generalize all of us for someone mistake or insensitivity.
    I hope all is well

  7. We have it hard in Diaspora. As a science student one thing i understand is about our genetic make up and the environment we live in. our body is in a lot of stress with out we realizing it. This physical stress, as in oxidative stress, comes out wards as emotional imbalance. We have not developed a resistance to defend western environmental toxins. This Defending genes turn ON and OFF with the environment. Since we didn’t grow up in toxic environment there is no need for our body to turn these genes ON or it may completely deleted it. As for example people who grow up in malaria region may have malaria resistant red blood cell in a expense of weak oxygen carrying blood cells. These people face problem when they change environment, diet and altitude. The same is true what our ancestors eat and what we eat now in the west. Study show in USA immigrants who lived 30 or more years are susceptible to many metabolic diseases than non immigrants. My point is our body is very smart but it needs our help to listen to it. Before running to a psychiatrist and popping up pills it is advisable to see a family doctor(GP) to get a general work up when you feel unbalanced emotionally and physically. Your body is the temple of your soul. Cheers!

Leave a Reply