“Make sure you to stop to see Susan on your way out and make a follow up appointment,” my dentist says to me without fail at the end of every check-up. Every six months, like clockwork, I am lying in his examination chair getting a kindly lecture about keeping up with my flossing.
Likewise, I get a little postcard from my optometrist about my annual check up to make sure I have the most up-to-date prescription for my contact lenses. Every fall I see my general practitioner, too. And he tells me to get that year’s flu shot.
Why is it, then, that people only go to counseling once life becomes too unbearable or their families and friends have told them that there is something seriously wrong? That’s like waiting until your arm falls off or that bump on your back looks like a third limb to go to the doctor.
Some may argue about the cost of counseling. Like those who do not keep up with their medical check-ups, many people who could benefit from a counseling check-up may not have it covered by their insurance or may not have insurance to begin with. However, there are community and collegiate resources that offer services on a sliding scale to clients who otherwise cannot afford it.
Others may say that they cannot take the time off work. Well, there are plenty of counselors who do not work the usual 9-5, Monday to Friday workweek. There are offices and community centers that have evening and weekend hours as well. Additionally, there are some counselors who offer their services online, eliminating barriers to attending sessions such as location.
So, what is stopping people from having mental health check-ups? As counselors, why don’t we offer this idea to at-risk populations as well as to the general public? Sure, some counselors’ calendars are full and they cannot find the time to have a host of regular clients come in every few months for a check-up. Perhaps, though, there are counselors who can take on a few more clients every once in a while. Some of those clients may end up needing more frequent sessions and the counselor could take them on personally, or refer them to other professionals if need be.
Maybe if counselors offered this idea to the public it would be rejected. There still seems to be a stigma against attending counseling even though it has been beneficial to hordes of people. Some clients talk about their counselors in hushed tones and tell friends that they can’t make it to lunch because they have to run errands, not that they are going to therapy that afternoon. This shame is starting to dissipate with the pop culture embracing of shows like “Dr. Phil” and “Intervention” but full acceptance is still a long way off.
I hope to one day see “counseling check-up” on people’s calendars right alongside “go to eye doctor” and “don’t forget – dentist!” With that, we may see people dealing with life’s issues long before they need a prescription for Zoloft or are struggling with unhappy spouses and children.
Tara Overzat is a counselor-in-training at Mercer University in Atlanta. Her interests include multicultural issues and acculturation amongst college students.