Reaching out and working on your mental health can mean overcoming barriers such as cost, access, and stigma. Not discussed enough is the barrier of uncertainty. What’s interesting, is this challenge isn’t exclusive to you or me, worry caused by uncertainty impacts counsellors too.
What is uncertainty? Some scientists believe it may be one of our core fears as humans, the fear of the unknown. Not an uncommon fear, every day, you and I worry about all sorts of things from job interviews, first impressions, and what to expect during our next counselling session. In his book, Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard Psychologist, writes, “the human brain is an anticipation machine, and ‘making future’ is the most important thing it does.” In other words, the feeling of uncertainty is a normal part of being human.
Often full of unknowns, uncertainty is a frequent experience in health care. However, a little worry is natural. It’s our worry that keeps us on our toes and encourages us to ask questions to ensure we fully understand the care we receive. But what about when that worry starts to get out of control?
For counsellors and other mental health service providers, uncertainty may give rise to disempowering feelings and accountability issues that can disrupt the efficacy of care delivery.
For you and I, the fear caused by uncertainty may prevent us from accessing the care we need and deserve.
According to Jack Nitschke, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, “uncertainty lays the groundwork for anxiety because anxiety is always future-oriented.”
When anxious, our body can go into a state of hypervigilance, a form of increased alertness. Although a natural response, at a time such as when working with a therapist where we ideally need to feel calm, open, and safe; anxiety caused by uncertainty may have us on the defensive before our counsellor even says, hello.
Uncertainty and worry are a normal part of what it means to be human. In the right circumstances, these feelings can help us recognize and defend ourselves in unsafe situations. In healthcare, our goal is to bring these everyday worries into balance so that uncertainty no longer controls the effectiveness of the care we deliver or inhibits or ability to access the care we need.
Whether delivering or receiving care, here are four ways you can decrease worry:
Focus on the present. As previously mentioned, uncertainty, and the anxiety that stems from it, is future-oriented. By focusing on the present, we can break out of the vicious cycle we may find ourselves in when ruminating about what could happen.
Give mindfulness meditation a try. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment. Before your next session, take 2-minutes to focus on your breath.
Permit yourself to worry. That may sound counter-intuitive, but acceptance can be a powerful tool for regulating our emotions. Rather than letting uncertainty run rampant, pick a time and allow yourself to worry.
For counsellors, take note of what worries you and find ways to bolster your confidence in these areas through professional development.
Reduce the unknowns. A significant driver for uncertainty in mental health is unpredictability. What will a client or counsellor say, and how best can I respond?
If you are seeking care, consider adopting a digital tool to record your thoughts and feelings and then share this information with your counsellor to bring clarity and direction to your next session.
Counsellors, consider adopting practice management solutions that support collaborative care by integrating client insights into your practice.
Feelings of uncertainty in mental health don’t need to hold us back. By recognizing it, finding balance, and utilizing collaborative technology; together, we can work to foster calm, open, and safe spaces for care to occur.
Aidan Scott is co-founder and CEO of Speakbox, a therapeutic support platform helping clients and therapists work better together.