4 Myths about Psychotherapy You Need To Know Now
by Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT
For many people, going to therapy is a hot-button issue. The idea somehow implies that a person in therapy is weak, unable to manage their problems, downright crazy, or just seeking attention. But regardless of where you live, you undoubtedly know someone who is currently in therapy or has been at some point in their lives.
Therapy can be an instrumental tool for growth and healing. The mental wellness community is making tremendous strides to educate the public on the real truths about therapy. If you have been wondering about therapy for yourself or someone you love, here are four myths you should know:
MYTH 1. If you go to therapy, you must be unstable or weak.
As a therapist, I am frequently asked how I can sit with people all day talking about their problems, depression, anxiety, trauma, and loss. Isn’t it tiresome?
TRUTH: Some of the healthiest people I know are in therapy.
A therapist’s office is a place where you can float ideas by a trained professional who will not sit in judgment of your decisions or desires. If a pattern of behavior is a problem for you, your therapist is someone who can help you explore and uncover the underlying cause(s), and support you enthusiastically as you build more productive habits and work to reach your goals.
So if you have considered therapy but are worried about the stigma that comes along with it, please keep in mind that looking in depth at your responsibility to your health is hard work and takes courage and strength. It is the opposite of weakness. And the payoff, your ultimate well-being, is its own reward, both for you and your therapist.
MYTH 2. Therapy takes a long time
You may have heard about people who have been in therapy for years and years. This prospect can seem daunting to someone considering seeing a therapist for any reason.
TRUTH: While some methods of psychotherapy such as psychoanalysis do emphasize a prolonged process of exploring unconscious desires and family dynamics, many proven therapeutic interventions are short term.
Most people considering therapy want to work through a specific problem or they seek support for a particular situation in their lives. There are evidence-based psychotherapy interventions which are time-limited, and proven to help improve mood and overall self-worth over a short period of time.
Some of my therapist friends joke that we are constantly talking ourselves out of a job. But in all seriousness, if we are doing our jobs properly, the people we work with feel better and eventually move on.
MYTH 3. You lie down on a couch and talk to an anonymous person who takes notes
There is a common misconception that if you go to therapy, you will lie down on a couch, stare at the ceiling, and talk while an emotionless professional sits near you and writes on a notepad. This is often the sort of image conjured by Freud and the origins of psychotherapy we learned about in Psych 101.
TRUTH: Most therapists do have couches in their offices. But many people in therapy choose to sit and talk to their therapist who, as it happens, responds! Psychotherapy is a relationship and a dialogue, and in its best case scenario, one which is comfortable and safe.
MYTH 4. A therapist is just a paid friend
After all, who needs a therapist when you can go out for a glass of wine or a cup of tea with the people who know you best?
TRUTH: Indeed, a therapist should be someone you come to trust will hold your sentiments in confidence. Hopefully your skilled therapist will be someone whose company you enjoy, as finding a good fit is probably the most important component to successful therapy.
But make no mistake, your therapist is a professional. Rigorous clinical training is required in order to become a licensed psychotherapist. Qualified therapists of all disciplines are bound by a strict code of ethics requiring them to keep the best interest of their clients a priority.
That means that your therapist generally won’t be disclosing a great deal of information about themselves, a major component of friendship. If they do share a personal anecdote, it is not to be a friend so much as it has been considered by the therapist to use as an illustration to assist with your growth.
Making the decision to go to therapy is not one to take lightly. But it is important to keep in mind that choosing therapy does not reflect negatively on you in the least. Rather it signals that you are strong, willing to take a hard look at your thoughts and behaviors, and prepared to be challenged in a safe environment to make adjustments that will improve your life.