Investing in Yourself: Knowing When to Seek Counseling

May 15, 2017

Post written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, Ph.D,. Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Office of Intramural Education and Training, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

When our usual ways of coping are not working, it may be time to find a counselor. The reality is that most of us could benefit from professional counseling at various points in our life. I know for myself, the stresses and strains during my doctoral program was a time when going to counseling made all the difference. Since then, I think of obtaining counseling resources as investing in my own well being.  After all, we routinely take our cars in for tune-ups, our pets to the vet, and our bodies to the doctor for physicals.  Holistic self-care means investing in our own mental and emotional health, as well!

From talking with NIH fellows in wellness workshops and individual appointments, I know that many face a number of challenging life situations. For example, adjusting to being in a new geographical area in a large, competitive work environment without your usual or familiar supports.  Or trying to determine your own career path when what you’re interested in pursuing differs from the vision of parents, PIs, or mentors.  Or trying to excel at work while finding time to give to partners, spouses, children or other important people in your life.  Or struggling with trying to make your own health and wellbeing a priority when receiving messages that nothing matters but getting the work done.  And sometimes beginning to realize that patterns of behavior that you’ve used in the past just aren’t working anymore – and, in fact, may be making the situation worse.  All of these circumstances can be managed better with the help of focused and supportive counseling.

Some people are comfortable with the prospect of seeing a mental health professional, but others are not open to the idea. They may have an internalized belief that going to a counselor means that something is really wrong with you or that you are weak or that you are avoiding responsibility for your life.  These ideas often stem from 4 prevalent myths about counseling:

Myth #1: Only “crazy” people go to counseling.

Truth: Very few individuals receiving outpatient therapy fall within the “severe mental illness” categories. Most people seek counseling because of everyday stressors or difficult life situations.  A counselor can provide support and assistance in learning how to better cope with these as well as attend to any feelings of depression or anxiety that may be present.

Myth #2: Why can’t I just talk to my friends?!

Truth: Counselors differ from friends in many ways. Beyond the obvious difference of their years of training and experience, they rarely give advice or tell you what to do like well-meaning friends often try to do.  They are there to listen to you and help you come to your own decisions within a non-judgmental and supportive environment. They can also provide an important “mirror” for you to better understand what you’re going through.

Myth #3: Counselors always want to go back to your childhood and blame your parents for everything.

Truth: Counseling involves learning how to accept responsibility for your own life. Sometimes exploring childhood issues that may be contributing to your current situation is indicated, but not always.  The major focus is on changing perceptions and behaviors in your current life that are creating difficulties for you.

Myth #4: Therapy can take years – once you start, it never ends!

Truth: Most counseling is short-term (8-20 sessions) and focused on specific and attainable goals. Sometimes longer work is needed and desired, and other times people take a break for a while and come back to counseling later.  But the decision to end therapy is one you make with your counselor – you are not held captive!

The NIH Employee Assistance Program provides counseling services to help current employees with their health and wellness issues. The OITE also provides short-term wellness advising and can help you get connected with a local counselor.   We can help you understand the training and expertise of different kinds of counselors (e.g., social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists) and what to look for in a counselor.  [You may want to get started by reading this article on “How to Choose a Counselor or Therapist”: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-find-a-therapist/] We can also help you better understand the insurance process.  So invest in yourself and contact us if you think you would benefit from some counseling.  We’re here to make the process easier!

 

 

 

 


A Decade and Counting, the NIH Career Symposium Celebrates 10 years.

May 2, 2017

On May 11, 2017 the OITE will again host the NIH Career Symposium! This year is special…we will celebrate its 10th anniversary.  This event is one of our favorites, it highlights the multitude of career opportunities for biomedical scientists—and in the past decade over 7500 graduate students, postdocs and fellows have attended the event to propel their own careers.  Our invited speakers tell us about their career paths, how they got their jobs, and advice to attendees as they plan their careers.

DSC_0089 (002)

The event is open and free to everyone, both NIH and non-NIH folks. It is intended for doctoral degree students and recipients. Just register to let us know you are coming!

We have a blog on how to navigate the day here: Getting the Most Out of Your NIH Career Symposium Experience and here: Career Symposium 2015 – #careersymp (Note our twitter handle will stay the same this year if you would like to follow along!)

We could not run the career symposium without the dedication of the over 700 speakers that have taken time away from their jobs to share their career insights. We have learned that many careers are a function of planned happenstance (FYI: never let a speaker tell you luck lead their job search). This year 99% of the speakers are NIH alumni.

We are also grateful to the over 200 postdocs and grad students who have helped plan the event since 2008. 125 of these former committee members are now alumni, in all career sectors (23% are in academics, 41% are in government, 34% are in industry and 1% are in non-profits). Committee members have blogged on how the career symposium has helped them on their personal career paths: Serving on a Committee: Make the Most of the Opportunity (watch for the call in September if you would like to help plan for the next event)

Since 2010 we have created a newsletter to share the highlights of each panel—each article was written by a grad student or postdoc. Read the synopses here: https://www.training.nih.gov/nih_career_symposium.

We culled out what we think are the best pieces of advice from the past decade of the NIH Career Symposium:

  • It’s not luck—you have to work at finding a job to make sure you are in the right time at the right place.
  • Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith that all is going to work out.
  • Any career you chose is the right decision, and is therefore not an alternative, may be the most liberating thing you do as postdoc.
  • When choosing your career path, it is important to remember that the only opinion that matters here is yours.
  • Good communication skills will not only advance your career in science writing but will also provide opportunities within science policy, grant administration, or to oversee research at universities.

So, we hope you can join us on May 11 for the NIH Career Symposium.  It just might be the catalyst to get you to the next stage of your career!