Finding A Mountain Guide For Life

Katie Young
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Wednesday - December 13, 2005

The climb looked treacherous and the path riddled with dangerous obstacles. An Everest in anyone’s book.

You really had to watch your step, that’s for sure. This is where the mountain climbing guide came in handy. He knew the terrain - had spent years becoming an expert on every twist and turn.

There was no shame in asking him to explain things along the way. No one judged travelers for not knowing exactly where to go or how to climb. The guide was necessary to keep hikers safe - his job was to help people climb mountains.

Just as we might need a guide to help us maneuver a mountainous trail, in life we also sometimes need professional help to overcome obstacles in our own life’s journey.

But when my parents asked me to go see a psychologist eight years ago while they were going through a divorce, my first response was, “Why? There’s nothing wrong with me.”

A little bit against my will, I went to seek professional help - if nothing else, just to serve as “damage control.”

In all honesty, it probably did help me quite a bit, but I really didn’t want to tell anyone I had seen a “shrink” for a long time.

There has long been a stigma associated with seeking therapy. It’s born out of the idea that you are somehow weak if you need help from anyone else - if you aren’t strong enough to overcome the problems in your life by yourself.

“People think it’s a weakness when it’s really an illness of the mind just as much as there are illnesses of the body,” explains Dr. Thomas Cummings, a psychologist with the Waimanalo Health Center and president-elect of the Hawaii Psychological Association (HPA). “It’s not because of weakness, it’s because of imbalances in our lifestyle, in our brain neurotransmitters or imbalances in the expectations put upon us based on certain situations.”

Cummings sees his role as a psychotherapist much like that of a mountain guide. “Patient/psychologist relationships are collaborative in most cases,” he says. “We work together. Everyone has their own mountain to climb in life. I know where we have to watch out for landslides and big crevasses, and I help people avoid those. But only the patient knows where they want to go and at what pace.”

Cummings says many people who come to see him for the first time think that he’s just going to pick their brain, tell them how sick they are or make them blame their parents for all their problems. The reality, however, is that they often leave feeling that what they’re going through is normal, they are not alone and there are ways to make themselves feel better again.

There is more of a stigma associated with seeing a psychologist for men than for women, says Cummings, and while there are still barriers, seeking help is becoming more acceptable.

The American Psychological Association points out that nearly half of Americans have had at least one person in their household seek mental health treatment. That’s one out of every two people.

APA also notes that many more people would seek mental health services but the cost of going, if they don’t have insurance, is too high.

So how do we even know when we are in need of professional help? When what you’re feeling interferes with your day-to-day functioning, says Cummings. When you have thoughts that are so intrusive it starts to interfere with your concentration. When you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or when you find it difficult to enjoy the things you used to.

But Cummings also adds, “What’s wrong with going to see someone just to run a few things by them such as how to manage the brief moments of depression we all have? We go to our physicians for regular physical checkups. Why not be able to go to our mental health professionals for the same kind of prevention?”

We are all responsible for our own lives and how we want to live them. Psychologists have the same goal for us that we should have for ourselves: to live more fulfilling lives by being able to handle all the obstacles that life will most certainly throw our way.

Too many people I know have become experts at burying their problems instead of dealing with them. This dooms you to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again in your life, never learning or growing.

Emotions are tough. Facing the ones that make us feel uncomfortable is a task too difficult for many to handle.

This is why we need people who will challenge us to make a change, to look at things in a new way. That’s the kind of psychologist to look for. Someone who makes you feel comfortable but who will also push you to the top of the hill - part coach, part expert, part mountain guide.

Looking for a psychologist? Call HPA’s referral line at 521-8995.

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