What It Was Like Going to Counseling for the First Time

My counseling story

My wife told me she didn’t love me anymore and asked me to leave our house. I begged her to stay so we could work on this; work on our relationship and if she wanted to go to counseling together, we could. She said no.

She had been to counseling on her own and over the last few months things had become more tense and anxious, especially when the first Covid quarantine had happened, and many employers like both of ours sent their employees home for the first two to three weeks while the country tried to understand how to cope with the pandemic.

I didn’t know what to do or where to go? I knew this problem was larger than me though and I had to do something. She had asked me before about going to counseling by myself because she felt I had things to work out, but I can honestly say that I was against it.

I was a man, and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my problems with a stranger or anyone. I would have rather suffered in silence and muscled through it than deal with this with someone else. I was ashamed and I didn’t want to share that my family was broken or that I couldn’t fix it or know how to.

I went to my sisters in Virginia to stay with her for ten days to try to give my wife the distance she asked for. In the meantime, I used my company’s E.A.P. (Employee Assistance Program) that was available to us at no charge.

Each midsize to large company usually offers a E.A.P (Employee Assistance Program) that is free to their employees and offers counseling and legal services as part of the employment. These services are free and confidential.

They offered four free counseling sessions to anyone in the family dealing with loss, divorce, family or marital issues. The process wasn’t hard once I figured it out and they let you choose a counselor from a list of approved counselors the insurance company does business with.

Each counselor I reviewed had different attributes or skill sets or specialties they had. Some dealt exclusively with children and trauma, some were drug and alcohol related, others were for marriage. From there you could also choose if your counselor was a man or a woman.

I chose an older man who was based out of Gaylord, Michigan which was about 45 minutes from my house, but he also offered online video sessions. He specialized in the Gottman Method for Couples Therapy for relationships and marriage. He was also married.

I felt like maybe from his profile he could empathize with me in my marriage and being a man. Over the course of the next six to eight weeks we had about eight sessions together. The first session he asked questions about me and what my goals that I wanted out of these sessions? I explained to him about the separation and that I wanted to try to fix my marriage and my relationship with my wife.

His questions explored things about how I viewed myself and if I liked myself very much. He also wanted to make sure I wasn’t a danger to myself. Later sessions involved him teaching me about what values and desires men and women separately have and what drives them.

There was even a specific way to apologize to someone that involved five steps. I took pages and pages of notes through all of this. He was very kind to me and understanding. Overtime though I felt like he could see certain things that I couldn’t. He knew that was the end for my wife and I and he was carrying me though and preparing me for the other side of life.

Later I would think of him like the Ferryman carrying the dead across to the next life after you pay him your two coins. His job wasn’t to fix my wife and me. His focus was on me and making sure I was safe and prepared if the worst happened.

Sometime later I would find out that my wife was having an affair, and this wasn’t her first affair either. There wasn’t anything to fix at that point and I needed to learn how to move forward. I needed to learn to be a better father to my kids and be present in my life.

I am grateful I had this counseling and others after. It helped me heal. I learned about being present in my life. I learned about journaling and meditation to help get the poison out and reflect on my decisions and triggers.

When the panic attacks at work came, I learned how to breathe. I also learned how to forgive myself and create healthy boundaries. I wish I could say the path to healing was a straight line, but if i didn’t have these tools or understanding I would not have made it. 

Do I have to be sick to see a counselor?

No, you don’t have to be sick to see a counselor. You can even see a counselor when you are feeling fine just for guidance or if you are at crossroads.

How can I choose the right counselor?

Pick a counselor that you feel may share your value system. Find out what they specialize in for treatment. They may have a profile page on psychologytoday.com that you can read about and reviews from their clients about their service and how they helped.

You still have to be your own advocate though and if it’s not a good fit try another counselor.

What actually happens during a counseling session?

The first session each of you learn about each other. You might be asked what your goal is or what you’d like help solving through counseling.

There is no wrong answer. All of the questions are about you. You will be faced with answering a lot of tough questions about yourself that you may have never faced though.

Will I have to talk about my childhood?

You don’t have to talk about your childhood unless you want to or feel it is relevant. The counselor may ask, but they may only go at the pace you feel comfortable with. 

How long will I have to go to therapy?

There is not a set time for how long you have to go to therapy or counseling. You may feel you have arrived at a solution or feel confident to move forward on your own.

There also has to be time between sessions for any assignments or lessons given by your counselor though before you move onto the next session even if it is just time for you to have some self-reflection.

For me there was a point after about five or six sessions where my counselor had told me he had given me everything he could at that point, but he was available if I needed him to confide in or for support. 

My advice though is to be honest, be raw and be open. The more you hold back from the counselor the less he or she can help you. The more you hold back the more it will cost you in sessions over time also.

Is meeting with a counselor over the phone or by video chat just as effective as meeting in person?

I think like anything you get what you put into it. I have never tried counseling over the phone, but I imagine it could be therapeutic also like in a Catholic confession where you don’t see the priest and it makes it easier for some people to talk.

If I had the opportunity I would have chosen in person, but the pandemic was just starting. I was fortunate in this day and age that we had the technology to meet virtually though. It was still difficult and raw feeling seeing my counselor eye to eye even by screen and sharing so much of myself.

If distance and time are an issue though I would highly recommend meeting virtually. I think it is a blessing to people living in rural areas that they have access to mental health professionals like I had to be able to meet virtually. 

Why see a counselor? Why not just talk to a friend or someone in my family?

If all you have to talk to is a close family member or friend, then do that. The reason though I would talk to a counselor instead of a family member or friend is because they may not be equipped to deal with how to properly counsel you.

They may love and support you, but the advice may be biased and not really help you or your best interest. When you talk to a counselor, they are able to be unbiased and professional. They can see the problem from the outside where family and friends may be a part of the problem even inadvertently.

Counselors are also professionally trained in different forms of therapy for specific problems whether it is marriage, drugs, or family. 

I am not standing on a soap box to proclaim how great counseling or therapy is. I fought it until my marriage ended. I was ashamed and broken. Once I did it though I wish I would have done it sooner.

Men don’t always if ever have a place they go to for counsel or advice. We have the highest death and suicide rates compared to women. According to Psychology Today men are nine times more likely than women to commit suicide after a divorce or separation, we carry so much on our shoulders to be providers and protectors of our family. 

Psychology Today did a great job of painting the picture I feel like I helped paint for myself.

Now suppose a second man throws himself into his work, to the detriment of his social relationships. His friendships gradually fall away. His wife and children feel ignored or worse, that they are regarded by him as inconveniences. He works late at night and on the weekends, drawing a quiet satisfaction from his steady advancement and his growing purchasing power (not that he encourages the “waste” of his hard-earned money on vacations or entertainment). At some point, he is genuinely surprised to be handed divorce papers by his wife or by a sheriff’s deputy hired to do the deed. Hadn’t he given her everything a woman could want? Never mind that he had not so much as touched her or looked into her eyes for a matter of years.

After a divorce, such a man is bereft. There are no friends to offer solace; there are only co-workers (and they are seen mostly as competitors or as means to an end). Trying at this late date to build a relationship with his now distant children is futile; they are strangers to him. He is wary of dating other women, convinced as he now is that women just intend to rob him of his property through means of the family court. Isolated, friendless, without a single companion — surely this is a fertile ground for suicidal planning and execution.

A final hypothetical divorcee wasn’t surprised at all that his wife wanted to divorce him; it was a bit puzzling to him all along why she ever married him. He spent most of their marriage feeling low, and not really having the energy or motivation to improve his situation. He was his own worse enemy, he knew, and he would spend hours a day, reminding himself of what a “loser” and “failure” he was. This, of course, made him feel even worse about himself. His wife begged him once to get some kind of help, but what would be the point of that? The divorce just proved the point he had been making to himself all along. He was just a burden to everyone around him, he thought, and people would be better off without him around.

Divorce Is a Risk Factor for Suicide, Especially for Men | Psychology Today


Men please, if you are struggling get help. Please talk to a professional. I can understand how hard it is to ask for help. I understand the shame you might feel like you let yourself or your family down but reach out to someone and be strong again.

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