Knowing when to seek help (and that it exists)

Feb 20 2012 Published by under Grad School

I know virtually all universities have counseling centers and readily make them available to undergraduate and graduate students alike, but feel like these resources are not readily known about.  When I was orientating I think I heard this topic broached for under three minutes and watched as my incoming grad student cohort (and I) rolled their eyes in feigned attention.  But that was really the last I have ever heard about the counseling program.  Now heading into the twilight of my graduate career I can honestly look back and say I should have made use of the counseling.

Graduate school can place an immense amount of physical stress on you what with all the long and strange hours (3:00 am time points suck).  But you are also under so much mental stress at some points in your training that it feels like the weight of the world rest upon your shoulders and one of them is about to pop out of socket from all the pressures.  Honestly it would have been nice to have someone to talk to (outside your normal circle of friends) to just open up to them when life gets too hard sometimes.  I know there is a stigma to seeking counseling and it sucks.  I have heard the quiet whispers about the folks who do and seen the damning stares that others have given them.  It is not fair to put these resources in place to aid those who are hurting and then condemn them for seeking help.

The purpose of this point is to remind folks that these resources do exist, and people are using them, and if you feel the need, you should too.  We all feel the weight of stress but we shouldn't feel alone.

6 responses so far

  • labrat says:

    I went to counselling during my finals, simply because I got to the state where I was crying, continuously, about everything (which is not a productive way to do Science). It was incredibly helpful, and really useful, but I can't remember anyone at any point during my undergraduate year telling me about it (I only knew it existed because a friend of mine went there). Most universities do have very good counselling services, although at the time I remember wishing that they focused a little more on the prevention than the cure.

    Stigma to do with counselling is not a grad-student, or a science student thing. It exists everywhere.

  • Dr 27 says:

    Absolutely agree. When I was in undergrad I has this friend who went regularly to counseling. In my mind I called her crazy, weak ... a wimp that couldn't suck up and keep on going. Same thing in grad school ... until I failed the qual and the stress in my life (and how it was affecting my relationship with honey) was sky high. I talked to my boss and said that I thought I should seek counseling, to which she readily agreed. And oh it was so good to have someone to talk to, vent and just lay it all out and not dump all of that on honey or my friends. I can't remember if during O-week we got anyone from the psych centre to give any sort of presentation. But when I was looking for an apartment I did meet someone that worked there and gave me their card. Years later, when I found their card it reminded me that these services and resources were available.

  • Alyssa says:

    I saw a therapist for the last 1.5 years of my PhD and I think it was the only thing that got me through to completion. I don't know why there's such a stigma surrounding talking to someone about your own problems, but unfortunately that's the case.

  • Ruth says:

    At my grad school we do have free counseling. I went when I was crying every morning because I didn't want to go into lab and felt like a complete failure. Experiments that worked perfectly hundreds of times before no longer worked and I was on an exceptional streak of unpublishable findings. Logically, I kept telling myself that I had to stick with it, but having someone else not involved listen helped pull me out of the slump. An advantage of counseling, is that the counselor isn't part of your circle of fellow grad students/friends, so there isn't the worry of appearing weak or having too much of your plight go on the grapevine. Yes, I thought about that. I look back on it as akin to getting a massage or yoga, a treat for myself.

    I think for grad students, it is hard to admit that we can't live up to graduate school demands, and as we fail to, they become more menacing. I think I was lucky enough to realize that my thinking and associated emotions was so warped that I needed some way to stop, either seeking help or running away from grad school completely. It helped to know that these bumps in the road are shared by many, and that, despite being cliche, you are not alone. Was counseling necessary? Maybe not, but it was discreet, free, and quicker than me wallowing and sorting myself out, if that would have ever happened.

    As for the stigma, I feel it and have not told any of my classmates. I have mentioned the free counseling to others who happen to find themselves in my particular situation. Maybe after I feel like I have truly triumphed I could casually slip it into conversation, "Thank goodness for the free counseling, or I would not have finished grad school..."

  • renee says:

    My advice to anyone who is concerned about having a big red C branded on them for going to see a counselor is to wear it with pride. Because you will be a well-adjusted, personally and professionally happy individual with great relationships and the ability to weather the most difficult situation with grace.

    And all those critical schmucks? Well, you'll be waving at them in the rear-view.

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