Over the winter holidays, I was talking to some of my extended family members about what I do (I’m a clinical social worker / therapist). The conversation reminded me of all the misconceptions about psychotherapy out there.
Most people’s first or only exposure to therapy is on T.V. And on T.V., therapists are typically portrayed as three things: lazy, a scam artist, or a hot mess.
There are starting to be some better portrayals of therapists in the media, but I’ll leave that for another post.
The other association that most people have with therapy is Freud. Admittedly, Freud laid a lot of the groundwork for psychology. But the field has changed so much since the turn of the last century. I mean, think of how much the medical field has changed in the past 100 years – the same is true for mental health treatment.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy is still practiced today, but even that approach has come a long way, baby.
So if you’ve been hesitating to seek therapy because you don’t want to lay back on a couch and talk about your mother, hold onto your hat! Here are 3 of the most common myths about therapy, explained.
Misconception #1. Therapy is only for ‘crazy’ people.
I’ve been trying (admittedly, without much success) to eliminate the word ‘crazy’ from my vocabulary.
‘Crazy’ is a word that we use to label people whose behavior that doesn’t make sense to us, or seems out of control.
But when you get to know people, there IS an explanation for their behavior like, 99% of the time. We just don’t always know what it is.
Many people with mental illnesses DO go to therapy. But people with mental illnesses aren’t ‘crazy.’ They’re just people. And mental illness is just a part of the complex people that they are.
Fine, then: Therapy is only for mentally ill people. What makes that a misconception?
People seek therapy for a huge variety of reasons; mental illness is just one of them.
People also go to therapy to cope with grief, marriage, divorce, career changes, moves, adjusting to life with a new baby… the list goes on and on.
Life is tough, and the ways we respond to stressors can be weird and confusing. Having a therapist to talk everything over with can be really helpful.
Misconception #2. All people talk about in therapy is their childhood traumas.
This misconception definitely stems from Freud. He theorized that all of our problems in adulthood can be traced back to unmet needs in our childhood. There’s some truth to that theory.
The point of therapy is to focus on your goals, and what is helpful for you. Talking about the past is helpful for some people, but not everyone.
No therapist worth their salt will force you to talk about things you don’t want to talk about. That could be re-traumatizing.
You may start out not wanting to talk about your past, but be more open to the idea once you trust your therapist. That happens all the time. The point is, it’s up to YOU and your therapist to make that decision.
Then, what do you talk about in therapy?
Your life. Your career, your relationships, what you’re struggling with, what’s going well…
Many people spend their therapy hour learning about different emotions, or how anxiety works, or learning a breathing technique to help them cope. Again, it all depends on your wants and needs.
If you’re not sure what your wants and needs are right now, that’s okay! That’s something you and your therapist can figure out together.
Misconception #3. Therapists give advice.
Advice is telling someone what you would do in their situation, or what you think the best course of action is.
Therapists don’t do that.
Why? Well… because we know that we’re not you. We know that you are an entirely separate person with different goals and a different perspective than us.
Our goal is to help you towards what you want, not what we think is best for you.
So what do therapists do?
We help people weigh the pros and cons of decisions they have to make. We ask key questions to get people to consider different facets of a decision. We reflect back the logic and emotional reactions we’re hearing from them.
Most importantly, we give people a safe space to make decisions without judgment. If you’ve never experienced that before, let me tell you as someone who’s been in therapy before, it’s pretty valuable.
What other misconceptions about psychotherapy come to mind? Comment below. I bet there are enough out there that I could make a few more posts.