3 Misconceptions about Psychotherapy

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.

Naomi Watts as psychotherapist Jean Holloway is the hot mess archetype.

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.

Sigmund Freud: A blessing and a curse to psychotherapists everywhere.

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.


Make New Year’s Resolutions that Stick

Not everyone feels excited about the New Year. Many people feel pressured to make changes at a time of year that’s already stressful.

So let me preface this post by stating clearly: no one needs to make New Year’s Resolutions.

For one thing, any of us can set goals and work towards them at any time of year.

For another thing, it’s often healthy to work on accepting ourselves as we are right now, rather than focusing on what we are not. Whether or not to make a resolution really just depends on YOU and your individual needs.

My Experience with Resolutions that Stick

With all that being said, let’s assume you DO want to make a resolution. Maybe you’ve tried in the past, but lost motivation after a few weeks or months.

Personally, I’ve had success with New Year’s Resolutions. One in particular comes to mind: Quitting smoking.

On January 1, 2017, I quit cigarettes for good. For me, something about the year mark was motivating; I didn’t want to mess up that date.

So, if you, too, are ready to make a resolution, I’d like to share what I’ve learned personally and professionally about what works. Here are 5 tips and examples for making resolutions that stick!

#5 Think Small

I know, right? This is quite a change from what we typically hear. “Think big!” “Dream big!”

Go for a SMALL change if you want resolutions to last long term. Big changes are often only sustainable for a few days or weeks. After that, most people can’t realistically keep up a big change within the lifestyle what they want.

So, scale down. Be realistic, not idealistic. You can always increase the scale of the change once you’ve adjusted to the small change.

#5 Think Small Example

Instead of… “I want to work out for 2 hours every day.”

Try… “I want to work out for 2 hours twice per week.”

Why? Well, think about it. Is 2 hours a day realistic for you? Maybe it is. But what about when you get sick? Or go on vacation? Or work picks up and you have to stay late? For me, 2 days per week is still doable under most of those circumstances… but daily? Not so much.

#4 Be Specific

In order to create resolutions that stick, you must clarify the exact action you want to take and when!

Vagueness leads to confusion and procrastination. If your goal isn’t specific, you may conveniently find a lot of excuses or loopholes.

#4 Be Specific Example

Instead of… “I’m going to talk to a therapist in 2020.”

Try… “I’m going to contact a therapist by January 10, 2020.”

Why? “Talk to a therapist” is too vague. Does it mean call, or have a session with, or talk to a friend of yours who happens to be a therapist? And “in 2020” could mean you call a therapist December 31, 2020. Be specific!

#3 Consistency Counts

Making a behavior a regular part of your routine has two benefits. First, it makes you more likely to keep doing it. Second, it increases the benefits of the behavior!

#3 Consistency Counts Example

Instead of… going to a weekend meditation retreat once annually.

Try… meditating for 5 minutes every day.

Why? Studies show consistent meditation over a period of time has great benefits… but results are mixed about short-term meditation. Plus, meditating for 5 minutes every day is much less expensive than paying for a retreat!

#2 Develop an Accountability System

Whatever you’re working towards, accountability is a big part of resolutions that stick.

Loop your family and friends into your resolution. Join an accountability group on Facebook or at a gym. Get an accountability buddy to check in with you about your progress.

You can also stay accountable without involving anyone, by tracking your progress in a planner or calendar.

Which system you choose matters less than figuring out one that works for you personally.

#2 Accountability System Example

Instead of… keeping your goal to yourself.

Try… ask someone to join you in reaching your goal (or at least, check in with you about it).

Why? Increased motivation to stay focused on your resolution: You won’t want to let your buddy down!

#1 Progress, not Perfection

So, you know how at the beginning of this article I said I quit cigarettes January 1, 2017?

I did. But in all honesty, I have had 2 slip-ups since that stop date. Hey, I’m only human.

Each time I slipped up, I quickly realized how disgusting cigarettes taste and how much I don’t want to start again. So in a bizarre way, those relapses were sort of a good thing. They confirmed my decision.

I’m not saying that you should try to mess up. But if it happens, go easy on yourself, and return to your original plan.

#1 Progress, not Perfection Example

Instead of… “I failed. I’m a loser. I might as well give up.”

Try… “I made a mistake. I’m only human. I’m going to get back on the horse tomorrow.”

Why? Because being hard on yourself does NOT help you stay consistent with your goal. Negative self-talk decreases self-confidence and hope, which makes you less likely to work towards your goals.

By the way, you can read more about the relationship between perfectionism and procrastination here, and more about self-compassion here!

Do you have any other tips for making New Year’s Resolutions that stick? Have you tried any in this article that worked for you? Comment your answer below!

If you found this article helpful, please give it a “like” below, and share it with a friend.

Have a Happy New Year!


Where to?

Read more about my thoughts on quick fixes.

Start therapy today.

Check out this APA article on how to make resolutions stick.

Set Boundaries with Family during the Holidays

Establishing good boundaries with family during the holidays will help you stay grounded.

Even the most put-together, well-adjusted families in the world lose their s#*& during the holidays. There will be interrupted travel and burnt food and crying children… Still, there are ways to be prepared for the chaos.

Today, I’ll discuss boundaries with family during the holidays that often get crossed, and ways to set limits.

Take from this post what makes sense for you. If you read something you don’t think would work, trust that. Remember, it might work in someone else’s circumstances.

And as always, blog posts are NOT the same as clinical therapy. To see me for therapy, contact me.

My family’s questions and judgments cross my boundaries.

  • Assert yourself by saying things like…
    • “I feel stressed out by your questions.”
    • “Asking about when we’ll get married [have a baby, etc.] is putting pressure on my relationship.”
    • “My sexuality is my business.”
  • Or, change the subject!
    • “How ’bout them Colts?” (as we Hoosiers would say)
    • “Seen the new Star Wars movie yet?”
    • “Who made this pie? Yum!”
  • Try not to take it personally. Your family’s questions may indicate…
    • They want to get to know you
    • They’re concerned about you
    • Their biases/beliefs about your life likely have to do with their upbringing, not with you

My family’s gift giving traditions are too expensive.

  • If your family does a gift exchange, clarify the price range.
    • If you’re not able to contribute something in that range, ask if it can be decreased.
    • Or, opt out altogether.
  • If everyone exchanges presents and you’re unable to afford it…
    • Make something homemade, like cookies or cards.
    • Or, opt out.
  • If your family is disappointed that you aren’t participating, explain that you’d love to, but money is tight. Accept that they have a right to feel disappointed, and you have a right to still say no.
  • If your family offers to help financially and you’re okay with it, accept the help. If you worry they’ll hold it over your head or don’t want to take their money for whatever other reason, say no.

My family demands too much time from me during the holidays.

  • You are not obligated to spend the holidays with your family.
  • If you’re taking time off of work, ensure that you’re taking off as much or little time as you want to / can afford.
    • If your family gives you any guff, say something like, “I know you’re disappointed, but this is the time I can feasibly take off right now.”
    • Just keep repeating your phrase of choice until they get bored of arguing.
  • You are NOT obligated to spend all the time you take off with your family.
    • You can take a few hours, a day or two to yourself.
    • If they ask about this, say, “I need some time to re-charge. Trust me, I’ll be much more fun to be around after my alone time!”
Whose kitchen looks this perfect? No one’s. But this was the best stock photo I could find…

Hosting family stresses me out.

  • Only agree to host or cook if you’re okay with it.
    • If you are specifically asked to host and don’t want to, say, “I’d prefer not to.” You don’t necessarily have to give an explanation.
    • Suggest an alternate solution, like staying in an Air Bnb.
    • If you’re hosting (voluntarily or otherwise), delegate! Ask specific people to do specific things. For instance, instead of, “Can someone help me clean up?” say, “Rebecca, would you help me load the dishwasher?”
  • If family is staying at your place, clarify how long they’ll be staying before they get there.
    • If they suggest a time frame that seems too lengthy, state what works better for you. For example, “I can’t commit to a full week, but I’d love to have you for Friday – Sunday.”
    • If they overextend their welcome, say something like, “I’ve enjoyed hosting you, and we had agreed to 3 days. I have things to do tomorrow. Can I help you pack?”

My family’s addictions or abusive behaviors ruin my holiday.

  • Again, you are NOT OBLIGATED to spend the holidays with your family.
  • You can set limits around how much time and what type of events you attend.
    • For example, go to the mid-day supper, but skip the competitive game night.
    • Or, come to the first 2 hours of the gathering, and leave before everyone gets drunk.
  • Decide in advance of the event what type of behavior you’ll tolerate from family members. Is yelling okay with you? What about name-calling, or throwing objects?
    • When someone crosses your boundary the first time, state, “I’m not okay with you yelling at me [or whatever behavior they’re doing]. Please stop.”
    • If they don’t stop, either give them one more chance, or leave the room.
    • Stick to your guns, even if it makes people angry.
    • If there’s a possibility you might have to leave somewhere you planned to stay overnight, arrange for somewhere else to stay ahead of time, just in case.

Remember, you do not have to tolerate mistreatment from anyone – family included. You choose when to end the conversation or the night. Others may not like your choice, but that’s out of your control. Your well-being and mental health is your responsibility, and it needs to be protected.

You may want to check out the free, holiday handouts on my resource page. Tiny Buddha also has a fantastic article on boundary-setting at this time of year.

Setting boundaries with family during the holidays is tough. If you struggle with it, show yourself lots of kindness and patience.

Have a boundaried holiday!


When You’re Too Angry to Forgive

Too angry to forgive? Many people feel too angry to even think about the concept of forgiveness!

What does the word “forgiveness” bring up for you?

Just reading it may trigger feelings of resistance, and memories of the ways you’ve been wronged, or wronged others.

Notice – right now, as you read this – how your body is responding to the word “forgiveness.” Do you feel a pit in the bottom of your stomach? Tension in your jaw? Pressure in your throat like you want to scream?

Perhaps you don’t feel angry or tense at all. The topic of forgiveness may bring about feelings of relief, a lightness in your body.

However you are responding, there’s no need to change it. Just observe, and read on.

Why does forgiveness trigger anger?

Well, there could be one or more different things going on…

  • The harm done is too fresh. Perhaps it is still happening, or happened recently.
  • Anger has built up for a long time, perhaps years.
  • You are caught in ruminating thoughts about why what happened, happened, or why it sound never have happened.
  • No one has validated the difficulties you have been through, which may be a reason for the ruminating thoughts – you are trying to figure out why it impacted you so deeply.
  • What happened ruined your life.

Allow yourself to grieve.

In order to forgive, you first have to allow yourself to grieve what happened. That means not only thinking through the harm done, but also, FEELING it in your emotions and body.

This is a big step, and it can be really difficult. Before starting, I recommend developing a relationship with a therapist, particularly if you have a history of trauma or suicidal ideation.

You might try some of the following suggestions to feel your feelings:

  • Telling your story to a trusted loved one and/or therapist
  • Writing it down
  • Reading about others who have gone through similar difficult experiences
  • Joining a support group or network
  • Crying it out

Decide what you want forgiveness to look like.

You may be hesitant to forgive because you worry it will mean…

  • Letting a toxic person back into your life
  • Compromising your values or beliefs
  • Opening yourself up to more hurt down the road

Those worries are valid. That said, YOU have the power to determine the boundaries around your forgiveness.

So here are some possibilities for how forgiveness can look:

  1. A regular practice of letting go of anger and resentment in your own heart
  2. Calling, writing, or meeting the other person to state that you forgive them, and…
    • Don’t want to talk to them ever again (if true, re-consider option 1)
    • May want them back in your life someday, but not now
    • Want them back in your life in some, specific ways (for example, seeing them at holidays, or talking on the phone occasionally)
    • Want them back in your life completely
  3. Both

Remember: what you decide might change over time, and be different in response to different situations. That is perfectly okay!

Did this post help you? Still have questions about forgiveness? Let me know in the comments.

– Rebecca