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When Reaching Out Does Not Go Well

Mental health. Boy, it affects us all in one way or another. Sometimes you have to reflect and say, "I think I need a bit of help in coping right now." Recently, I found myself in just this position.

My diabetes was making me nuts. I struggled with weight gain after maintaining a healthy weight for years, and it was constantly on my mind. I was tearful. I was grumpy.

Seeking mental health services through my employer

I have some coverage for counseling through a work program referred to as FEAP (Family Employee Assistance Program). The service is negotiated by my union and paid for by my employer. The counseling sessions are confidential. The only information shared with my employer about FEAP are statistics such as reasons for requesting the services, who attended, etc.

A change in service providers

I had used counseling services through the FEAP a couple of times in the past. Since then, the counseling service provider has changed. I had great short-term support through counseling, so I contacted for services again. Well, things did not go great with this new service provider. As a matter of fact, it was a disaster.

Needing support due to diabetes stress

I called the intake line to make an appointment. I was clear that the reason for the appointment was about needing support for my mental health while living with diabetes. I was scheduled with a counselor for the next week. They sent me all the information I needed for the call. I searched for the mental health counselor I was scheduled with online to get more information. She seemed like a match!

Well, I found out quickly that we had very different goals. My goal was to have some support in helping me deal with the stress of diabetes, for someone to listen, discuss how I was coping, and explore ways that I could enhance my coping skills.

The details of a disappointing counseling session

Instead, what I experienced was 50 minutes of unsolicited exercise advice. My counselor told me multiple times how I needed to exercise and get a gym membership. I explained that I walk for exercise and that a gym membership wasn't right for me.

Before I had even finished my thought, she interrupted me and informed me emphatically that walking is not considered exercise; it was for relaxation. She asked me what other activities I do. I said I was trying yoga. Again I was informed that yoga was not exercising; it was for relaxation. Where does she get her "facts" from?

Receiving unsolicited advice

She proceeded to give me advice about what she does for exercise and insisted that I should do the same. I wasn't averse to hearing some of her advice, but I expected that she would listen to me with empathy and explore more options together. Instead, I interpreted the discussion as her having all the answers. I realized then that I wasn't dealing with a professional counselor; I was dealing with someone who didn't know how to listen.

Feeling deflated

Throughout the session, I lost patience and became blunter in my responses to her. I informed her she was not hearing what I was sharing. I repeated back her advice and why it was not the reason I called for support. She persisted.

After I repeated my argument yet again, she stopped. Her response in a deflated tone was, "Oh, I guess I don't know much about diabetes." True.

Unaware of the impact of diabetes

She did not know anything about diabetes, the impact of chronic disease on mental health, or how to properly counsel. I was so frustrated that I ended the session after 50 minutes.

"No, I do not want you to keep my file open; thanks." I felt worse after that session than before I started. I decided to plug along and hope my mental health would come out of the slump I was in on my own.

How I managed this experience

I have always believed you "dump the counselor, not the counseling." In other words, find another counselor before giving up on mental health support.

I wasn't ready to try to find a new counselor again for a few more weeks, but I still needed support. I called the intake line again, informing them briefly of the disaster. My request was for them to find me a counselor who had an accurate knowledge base about diabetes or, at the very least, understood chronic disease and the mental health issues that can accompany it.

I asked them to call me back if they didn't have a match for me. You know what? I never heard back from them.

Different kinds of support are available

Diabetes still sucks. And so did the counseling I received. I guess sometimes you have to figure it out on your own or keep trying to find other avenues of support. There are many mental health resources available to assist you.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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