It can be difficult to make that first call for support.

Are your problems “big” enough to talk to someone? What types of questions will a counselor ask? Will it be a waste of time? Maybe things will get better on their own…

Or, what if talking to a professional is the beginning of a new mindset, better resiliency and a more connected life?

To ease your mind on picking up the phone, we talked to two mental health professionals to learn more about what counseling looks like and how it works to meet a person’s wellbeing goals. Here’s a synopsis of that conversation from our Spokesman Speaks Podcast:

When should you see a mental health professional?

Often, we may think of counseling as reserved for a person with a diagnosed mental health challenge, in a severe crisis or healing from a specific traumatic event.

Yes, there are people who have lifelong problems they access help for, says Amie Merz, a clinician with Personal Assistance Services. But most of the people she works with need help reflecting on their situation, and a conversation with an outside source can help them put things in perspective.

It doesn’t need to be something “gigantic” to make that first call. In fact, Amie says you don’t even need to know specifically what is bothering you. If something inside you doesn’t feel right, that’s reason enough.

What does a counseling session look like?

“I think people have this visual of laying on the couch and looking at abstract inkblots,” says Monica McConkey, a farm and ranch counselor in Minnesota. However, when she works with farm family members, Monica talks about what’s happening in their life, what’s fueling their emotions and what thoughts may be promoting that. When people are really stressed, she says they lose the ability to prioritize and think clearly.

By asking questions and talking openly, counselors can help people recognize disruptive thoughts, interpret them and reframe them. She says clients and counselors work together to recognize those thoughts and come up with solutions to start down a path of feeling better.

Amie describes counseling as “creating a map” to head in the direction you want to go.

Problems or disruptive thoughts can spin in our heads. And patterns we’ve long held may not have a positive impact on our lives. Counselors can help organize those thoughts, create new patterns and assist people in discovering coping strategies that work for them. “If you don’t like feeling this way, and you want a solution, that’s what we do,” Amie says.

What can we do to continue to break down the stigma surrounding mental health?  

“One thing that really helps is to normalize mental health like we normalize physical health by talking about it and to share experiences they had,” says Monica. Being vulnerable and talking about mental health struggles shows others they can access help, too.

Likewise, Amie says be an advocate for mental health services. The best advertisement is the person who has tried a service. “The biggest obstacle for people getting help for themselves is the fear of what they think it will be like,” she says. “But once they get their foot in the door they think, wow, why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Visit the Iowa Farm Bureau Mental Health resources page to learn more about the assistance available to you. For Iowa farm families, the Farm Family Wellness Alliance offers free, confidential, ongoing, 24/7 support for stress, health and life management.

You deserve to feel better, and help is a call away.

Hear more from Amie and Monica in this week's edition of The Spokesman Speaks podcast:

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