Monday Musings…Where Can I Find a Competent Driving Instructor?

I remember back in the mid-1980s when I bought my first brand new car. I had scrimped and saved money for years from my part time job as a Customs Officer and the funds given to me as payment from research grants. It felt so good to be able to ‘adult’ and graduate from public transit to my own set of wheels. I had a certain amount of money to spend so my options were limited – which translated into settling for the standard transmission model. The only problem was I had never driven one before.

The man who would become my husband, test drove it first. This was hilarious, since he also had never driven a standard, and to see him stall it repeatedly in major intersections in north Toronto was a good eye opener into how he handles stress. After two hours contemplating the decision, the commitment was made to take this car off the lot.

I knew that for me to understand how my car worked, and to reduce my own embarrassment of stalling and anxiety of getting into an accident in an intersection, I needed some help. The first thought was to ask a friend, my soon-to-be husband. Now before you say anything out loud, you are absolutely right – that is NOT a good decision at all. It’s an excellent test measure to predict future marital conflict, but let’s say those things are best left discovered over time. We don’t need to jump start issues that don’t exist. So, point number one, your friends are not always the best choice when you need help. Their intentions might be good, but they lack the expertise to get you off the lot, operating with confidence, and moving in the proper direction.

One of the barriers to seeking help that was mentioned last time, was the fear of embarrassment or being judged. These thoughts that swirl in your head space paralyze you from opening up about your issues. But as you lie awake at night hoping things might get better on their own, or trusting yourself that maybe you can come up with a solution, you realize you are placing your trust on possibilities that could slow you to a standstill, right in the middle of the intersection of life. This is what happens for many who sink deeper into thoughts of suicide; they have run out of options and they are stuck. As they remain immobilized, the realization hits that the next day is no better than the last; nothing ever changes; and now they are more afraid to live than to die. This internalization of pain is very real and is compounded by the belief that “I can figure things out on my own.”

We’ve already established that a good friend may not be the answer to your problems. The fear of embarrassment or judgement that holds a person back can be removed, however, when you muster the strength to contact a professional. Most often, the professional does not know you. There are no preconceived notions of who you are. They are the paid instructor who can help you take the wheel of your own life unconditionally, so you can learn to navigate and master various road conditions that you will encounter along the way. Point number two, to remove the fear of embarrassment or being judged, it is easier to reach out to a professional.

What we noticed in the data from the high school students who had reached out for support was that many felt that those people did not care, that they didn’t understand their problem, or that whoever they reached out to minimized their issue. These experiences made the students very reluctant to seek help again and I don’t blame them. I would do the same. What is the point of going to someone who makes you feel like you are not important and neither is your issue? As an aside, I don’t think this has anything to do with the label we place on millennials that they feel entitled and that nothing we older adults do for them is ever enough. No, the expectation from everyone, young and old, is to receive caring, competent, non-judgemental support.

So, how do you find that support for mental health or for learning to drive a car? Well, the way we are wired today is to Google the answer. If Google has existed in my day that is exactly what I would have done. Instead, I used the yellow pages at the back of a large phone book and physically turned the pages to find the heading “Driving Instructors”. (Ah...those were the days when we didn’t have instant resources at the click of a button!) I chose the one that was closest to my location and who had some qualification listed, like “25 years in the business”. To the novice consumer of this kind of service, I thought that length of time meant a good success rate a.k.a. survival rate! So I signed up. The problem with that method is that I was placing my life in the hands of a stranger who I have no clue actually will be patient with me or who can help me maneuver this vehicle through the obstacles of city driving.

The better option in trying to find help is to gather some information about who has helped other people successfully. I have heard repeatedly in the last while that people have gone for help (often through an employee assistance program at their workplace) only to feel worse after they have gone. That’s important information to gain and to share. So talk to people who have received help, or Google reviews on this person. In fact, what I would encourage workplaces to do, who offer that assistance, is to elicit feedback from their employees in an anonymous fashion to create a data bank of helpful providers that can be shared with staff and with other agencies, especially those with similar personnel. Point number three, go beyond the webpage, and find out more information about the person you are going to receive help from.

When you are reading through a website or online review make note of the credentials of the person. Every counsellor should have a focus. If it reads that they specialize in anxiety, depression, addictions, eating disorders, trauma, children, youth, adults, and seniors, this is way too broad of a practice. Much like a family doctor, these individuals are generalists who may be great at assessing a person’s symptoms, but who should refer the person to another professional for specific treatment, especially for more complex cases. Point number four, your mental health is just as important as your physical health so you want someone who is knowledgeable and experienced with your specific issue to give you the optimum assistance.

So now let’s assume you have been brave and you go for your first meeting with a counsellor. In that meeting you should expect certain things: the counsellor should tell you their name (you may think this is obvious but you would be surprised how many people walk out of an appointment not even knowing who they were with), their credentials (degrees, years of experience, areas of expertise), and the focus should be on you and the reason you are there. The counsellor should ask you what led up to this particular issue (so a bit about your history). They may want to know a bit of your background including you work and family dynamics. Essentially, they want to get a larger view of you and what led you to this point in your life. This will help the professional to assess what the fundamental issue(s) is. The counsellor should be listening more than talking and you should not feel rushed in telling you ‘story’. You should be noticing how the counsellor is responding to you with their eye contact and body language. Is it warm and welcoming or cold and clinical? What we do know about people is that in 90 seconds of being in the room with a counsellor, will you sense whether this is a person you can trust and open up to, and who you feel will be able to help. It happens that quickly. So, after your initial reaction, and certainly after the first meeting, you will know if this person is a good fit for you. If they are not, change! Your connection with them is critical to your success. You don’t want to waste your time and money. Point number five: ensure that you connect with the counsellor. If you don’t, switch.

Now I lucked out and got a kind, competent driving instructor. He was seasoned enough that I knew he had no fear taking me out on the road. That was comforting to me. And all it took was three lessons. Was I a little shaky after that? Yes! Did I stall the vehicle ever again? Yes! But I felt I could do it on my own. Look at therapy the same way. You should not need therapy for the rest of your life. You will need to get in the driver’s seat of your life by yourself at some point. Research tells us that whether we go for short-term or long term therapy, the results are the same. Generally, people peak in gaining control of their symptoms after only a few sessions, the rest is gravy. And because time is money, I’m not sure that most people are able to afford therapy for years. Most insurance companies have a limit. All bank accounts do too. This is why it is critical to get the right ‘instructor’, who can equip you with tools so you can now fix your own problems. So the final point, and your end goal, is to be able to manage your own mental health on your own in a reasonable period of time. A good counsellor is a conduit to wellness. Just like my driving instructor, you should not need someone

helping you steer your life forever, unless you have a complex set of serious symptoms.

Maintaining your mental health is the foundation for your overall wellbeing. Treat yourself well, by receiving the right help, from the right person, and you will be ready to drive a Nascar! (And, yes that is me in the picture :) )

This week’s song is “Life is Highway” by Canadian Tom Cochrane. Interestingly enough, the song was based on his experience travelling to Mozambique with World Vision. The upbeat song became his coping tool for the images he saw relating to poverty.

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