Myths and Facts about Mental Health Counseling that Every Manager of People or Human Resource Professional Should Know

Professional truck driver entering his truck long vehicle and holding thumbs up.

Professional truck driving in North America can be a challenging and sometimes lonely profession and in these pandemic times, it can be even more daunting.  Long hours in the confined area of their cab as a solo driver. It’s not unusual due to their erratic schedules that many truck drivers suffer sleep disturbances like insomnia or even battle depression.  Anxiety can run high too as drivers have to wait endless hours to be loaded or unloaded, ore experience delays due to traffic and weather- especially when they are hoping to get home after several days or weeks on the road.  Then there is the ongoing daily stress that comes with driving a heavy vehicle across North America’s highways and streets. That chronic stress and difficulty getting good restful sleep can lead to both emotional and physical health problems, like hypertension (high blood pressure) and other cardiac related conditions.

At the same time, awareness of the importance of the mental health for drivers and all professions is at an all-time high. How do drivers access mental health counselors to engage in getting mental health support? Many companies are setting up mental health issues, mental health hotline to help drivers manage mental health for truck drivers.  Let’s look at some of the myths and facts that will help you be a better manager of professional drivers and others in the transportation industry.

If you are an outsider looking in, or if you are new to the world of mental health counseling, the entire process can be shrouded in mystery or cluttered with stereotypical and misleading images. You may have a lot of questions, preconceived notions, or reservations that make taking advantage of the service intimidating.  This is completely normal and, as with any new experience, learning what to expect can help you feel more comfortable. Whether you are considering counseling for yourself or referring someone you know, the more you armor yourself with realistic expectations the less mysterious it will feel and the more confidence you will have in its effects.

There are many false narratives out there about mental health counseling which add to the stigma and prevent people from seeking services that could otherwise improve quality of life. These narratives come from outdated notions and misconceptions and not-so-accurate portrayals in movies, TV, and other media. To get the record straight, we will examine some common myths surrounding counseling.

Myth #1: All mental health counselors are the same.

It helps to start by defining some basic terms that are commonly confused. Many people have a difficult time differentiating between a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, professional counselor, and therapist.

  • Generally, psychiatrists work across many settings with a primary goal of medication management through assessment, prescription, and follow up. These professionals do not typically offer counseling.
  • Like psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers also work in both inpatient and outpatient settings but neither prescribes medications. Both psychologists and clinical social workers may offer clinical assessment, diagnosis, and mental health counseling, but psychologists are more prevalent in research or settings that provide psychological evaluations and testing.
  • Clinical social workers are more commonly found practicing outpatient talk therapy alongside their counterparts – professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.
  • Each of these clinicians must hold at least a master’s degree and can apply for and uphold a licensure through continuing education and ethical requirements.

Bottom line: The important thing to know is that all these professionals are trained to help and, unless you are specifically looking for medication management or a psychological evaluation, it is not important to dwell on titles.

Myth #2: All mental health counseling is the same.

Mental health services, like physical health services, come in all shapes and sizes. With physical health, you have service options that range from your pharmacy’s minute clinic to a hospital’s intensive care unit. Similarly, mental health services are offered in lower levels of care such as EAP or outpatient medical counseling through the highest levels of care such as psychiatric inpatient hospitals. The level of care that is right for you depends on factors such as acuity, frequency, and lethality of symptoms. Any mental health professional you see will start services with an assessment which helps to determine which level of care you are recommended to seek.

If you seek a medical doctor to treat lower back pain, you will find that you have many options on how to proceed. Your doctor may recommend interventions such as medication, surgery, steroid injections, or physical therapy. Mental health counseling also offers many pathways to results.

Your counselor will tailor your service to you and will choose to implement one or multiple interventions based on your needs and their area of expertise.

Common evidence-based interventions include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Solution focused brief therapy (SFBT)
  • Family systems therapy
  • Narrative therapy
  • Motivational interviewing

Bottom line: It is important to understand and talk through the recommendations of your counselor – seeking services through the right level of care helps advance progress, grant access to important resources, and set your recovery on the right track.

Myth 2: Only people with mental illness need mental health counseling.

While one in four adults will experience a diagnosable mental disorder each year, there are many reasons why someone may choose to enter professional counseling. Mental health is thought of as lying on a spectrum from asymptomatic to mentally ill. This means that many people experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, stress, and interpersonal problems without meeting the criteria for mental illness.

Figure 1: Mrazek and Haggerty’s intervention spectrum model

Life throws many curveballs and does not discriminate. We are all susceptible to adversity, major life changes, grief, trauma, tough decisions, relationship strife – the list goes on and on. Some are lucky enough to have strong support systems in place who we can lean on during times of strife while some may find themselves more isolated. Regardless of our circumstances, professional counseling offers a fresh perspective that may be the difference between growth and solutions or weeks, months, and even years of unnecessary struggle.

Bottom line: Think of professional counseling as an impetus for reaching your goals, improving your relationships, and getting back to feeling yourself. Unfortunately, people who do go on to be diagnosed with mental illness struggle with symptoms for an average of 11 years before seeking help. Just as it is unadvisable to wait until your vehicle rattles, smokes, and breaks down before investigating your check engine light, early professional counseling intervention can prevent your struggles going from bad to worse and keep you healthy, happy, and resilient.

Myth 3: All counselors are glorified listeners.

It is a common misconception that professional counseling involves laying on a couch as you vent your problems to an indifferent third party. The reality is professional counselors are much more than anthropomorphized diaries. We all go through life with a tangle of thoughts and feelings that can sometimes be hard to unravel when we live at the center of it all. Active and engaged listening is just one tool in a counselor’s toolkit. The counselor’s role as an impartial third party allows for a fresh perspective that is unclouded by bias and preconceived notions – something that is nearly impossible to get from friends, family, coworkers, or other acquaintances.

Counselors are also trained in the art of problem solving – but with a twist. No one will ever be the expert on your life; only you can hold that title and counselors know it.  Instead of solving problems for you, a counselor helps you think through your current circumstances, see from new vantage points, determine realistic solutions, and come up with your own plan on how to implement said solutions. Working through tough decisions and problems with a counselor can be empowering and a good reminder that you are more resilient than you know.

Professional counseling can also offer tools to help you cope with situation. Counselors understand that each of us our individuals with our own personalities, strengths, likes, and dislikes. There is no one one-size-fits-all tool for managing stress, anger, sadness, grief, anxiety, etc. Even those who have established healthy outlets such as exercise and hobbies find themselves needing new tools when under added stress. Counseling can help teach you practical, easy to use, and versatile skills for coping with difficult feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and situations.

Education is yet another valuable benefit of professional counseling. Counselors have the education, background, and experience to keep you informed on all things mental health. Because there is a stigma surrounding these topics, many people shy away from talking about their emotional, psychological, or interpersonal wellbeing. Understanding the role of emotions, the art of communication, and the mechanics of our own thoughts can be immensely helpful not only when moving through a crisis, but in navigating our everyday lives.

Bottom line: Speaking with a counselor can be like holding up a mirror that reflects our own way of thinking, feeling, and responding to situations so that we may step back, see the bigger picture, gain tools, and make adjustments as we see fit.

Knowledge is power.

Each of us has the power to influence our emotional, psychological, and wholistic wellbeing. The first step towards healthy living is to arm yourself and those around you with knowledge. Educate yourself on the resources available, ask questions, be persistent. To seek help, or encourage help for others, means having the courage to embrace a full life.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II, US DOT Qualified SAP is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr, a behavioral health company based in Atlanta, GA that serves the logistics industry. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, and Employee Assistance Program practice settings.  He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations.  An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional. He can be reached at: nwinegar@espyr.com  www.espyr.com

References

  • Mrazek, P and Haggerty, R. (1994). Reducing risks for mental disorders: Frontiers for preventative intervention research. Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders, Division of Biobehavioral Sciences and Mental Disorders. Institute of Medicine, Washington, National Academy Press.
  • Mental health disorder statistics. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics.
  • Mental health by the numbers. NAMI. (n.d.). https://www.nami.org/mhstats.
Norman Winegar
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, ACSW, NCAC II, DOT Qualified SAP Mr. Winegar is the Chief Clinical Officer of ESPYR, a Marietta, Georgia based behavioral health company. Mr. Winegar has over 30 years of professional experience in the mental health field. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a nationally Certified Employee Assistance Professional, a U.S. Department of Transportation Qualified Substance Abuse Professional, and a Nationally Certified Addictions Counselor, Level II. Mr. Winegar is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. He has been a Member of the National Academy of Certified Social Workers for over 25 years. A published author of four books and numerous articles concerning behavioral healthcare, Mr. Winegar is a frequent presenter at professional conferences and meetings. Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP| Chief Clinical Officer Espyr 1850 Parkway Place Suite 700 Marietta GA 30067