by Andrea M. Darcy
What do you think of when you think of therapy? Do thoughts of Freud’s patterned sofa fill your thoughts? Or is it rather the anxiety and worry of how long it will all take, and more importantly, how much it will all cost?
Both counselling and psychotherapy have for years been blighted by misconceptions which have inadvertently painted therapy as only feasible for the rich and famous, or useful for those deemed “crazy”.
The truth is that counselling and psychotherapy have enormous potential to benefit many of us struggling with a whole spectrum of issues.
10 Common Myths About Therapy
This article hopes to clear up some of the most common urban myths surrounding therapy and help you to make a more informed and beneficial decision regarding your treatment.
1. My therapist will know what I’m thinking and/or can read my mind.
Although counselling and psychotherapy are often connected with exploring some of our deepest emotions and experiences, your therapist will only be aware of these if you tell them! They work mainly on what you disclose to them as well their subtle observations of your behaviour.
For example, someone who is discussing something very painful may behave in a way that shows that recalling this experience is hard for them. They may sit with their arms crossed, turn away from the therapist, or look at the floor.
It is important to note that your therapist is not trying to catch you out or detect if you are lying, they are just trying to get a better insight into your situation and consequently how to help.
2. I will have to lie on a sofa.
The reality is that in most modern therapy settings, both the client and the therapist will sit facing one another.
3. I will be encouraged to blame my parents for everything.
While in some cases childhood issues may be relevant, therapy can be more about looking at your thoughts, feelings and behaviours in current everyday life rather than uprooting aspects of the past.
That said, in some therapies such as psychodynamic therapy or psychoanalytical psychotherapy your past is given more focus than other therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy. So it is important to discuss with your therapist whether you are comfortable doing this. (For more on how these different forms of therapy compare, see our article on CBT vs psychodynamic therapy).
It also matters that you choose a therapy that suits you and your needs.
4. Therapy can go on for years and years and….
When looking at how long you may need to see a therapist, it is important to take into account your own individual situation and personal goals for therapy. This conversation usually takes place in your first session and can be discussed through with your therapist.
For some, a series of short term therapy sessions (between eight to twenty sessions) is all that is needed to achieve the goals you have set in place. Others may require long term therapy that can go on for several months or more. This length of therapy is usually reserved for those trying to work through several ongoing issues or more serious and complex issues such as personality disorders and/or a difficult family history.
Regardless of which length or type of therapy you choose, you are in charge. So you have the option to end therapy if you do not feel you are achieving what you want or making progress with you goals.
5. Therapy just isn’t as effective as medication!
Both therapy and medication have their benefits and their disadvantages and it is important to take into account the individual and their specific needs when considering which form of treatment will bring about positive change.
Medication is not necessarily the gold standard of treatment for all types of human problems. For some issues such as depression and anxiety, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been found in studies to be as (and in some cases more) effective than traditional antidepressants.
And in other cases, it is a combination of therapy and medication that yields the best results for an individual.
6. My therapist is only interested because they are getting paid.
Although it is easy to see how this misconception has taken hold (therapy has been known to be very expensive) the reality is that there are plenty of occupations that your therapist could have picked which would pay a lot more money.
Those who choose a career in counselling, psychotherapy, psychology or psychiatry are generally driven by a want to help those around them. And many have dealt with psychological issues themselves before seeking this occupation.
Other therapists may have a theoretical interest in human problems and will want to extend that theoretical interest into practical support. Either way, your therapist will sit in front of you with a genuine interest in helping you overcome your problems and not simply because they are paid to be there.
7. Therapy is only for those who can’t deal with their problems and are weak or ‘crazy’.
In truth it’s the exact opposite sort of person who chooses therapy. It’s the sort of person who is ready to face their problems head on and is brave enough to take the step forward and invest in their future.
There are many reasons why someone would seek counselling or psychotherapy. Relationships, stress, grief, jobs, trauma, money, appearance, friends, drugs, anger, depression, anxiety, weight, smoking cessation… The list is endless when we think of the issues that face us as human beings and the issues of which we might gain benefit in dealing with by talking them through with someone else.
8. Therapy will quickly fix all of my problems.
While it is true that therapy has proven very effective in helping individuals lead happier lives, therapy is not about providing a quick fix. It’s taken you a lifetime to get to where you are, it will take at least a bit of time to unravel where you are at and find a way forward.
Your therapist is not there to wave a wand and solve all of your problems but rather to help guide and support you to gain insight and understanding for yourself and your situation. It’s about devoting the time, the care and the self-reflection to better understand the life you lead and to develop the skills useful in facing the difficulties live throws at you.
9. Being with my therapist face-to-face is the only way of doing therapy.
Actually, there are many different forums in which to conduct therapy. Counselling and psychotherapy has had to adapt to help individuals fit therapy into to their modern lives. For example, telephone therapy and email therapy, and online therapy are all a great way of reaching out to people who live in smaller communities or may be too shy at first to meet face-to-face.
10. Talking to someone who doesn’t know me won’t help and they might judge me.
While our friends and loved ones can provide enormous support, sometimes it can be difficult to be completely honest with them for fear of offending them or because they may innocently tell others of your problems.
Your therapist not knowing you personally is what allows them to be neutral, objective and non-judgmental as well as bring a fresh approach to the issue you are facing.
During therapy you are talking through your problems in a safe and confidential environment with a trained professional who has spent years learning and practicing their trade.
Do you know another myth about therapy we forgot? Share below, we love hearing from you.
Andrea M. Darcy is a writer and mentor who helps people plan the therapy journey that will work for them. Find her @am_darcy