THERAPY 101: MYTH-BUSTING
There are a lot of very common misconceptions about going to therapy that keep people from seeking out the help they want or need. Many of these myths point to pervasive socio-cultural stigmas about needing help, mental illness, and the role of the therapist in our lives.
From popular media depictions of therapists (looking at you, Dr. Phil) to strong beliefs about mental illnesses, many of the myths that lots of us opt into aren’t quite as accurate as we think. And many of them are just plain wrong.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths that get in the way of folks getting the very helpful and life enhancing support they deserve:
THERAPY IS FOR “CRAZY” PEOPLE
First, let’s address this word, “crazy.” It isn’t helpful! While some people do indeed experience the world from a lens of diagnosable mental illnesses, the belief that these folks are simply “crazy” is harmful and inaccurate. In order to break down the very powerful social stigma around mental illness, the language we use is really important. There isn’t anything wrong with having been diagnosed with a mental illness. It is not a character assessment, but rather, a way to sum up a specific set of symptoms that impact someone’s life.
It is true that people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses utilize therapy as a form of treatment and symptom management. But therapy is also for everyone who identifies parts of themselves or their lives that feel sticky, challenging, or needing to be changed somehow. Every therapist approaches this differently, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
THERAPY LASTS FOREVER
Nope! I mean, it totally can, and some folks find regular visits to their therapist to be part of their total approach to wellness. However, if you’re seeking therapy to change or process something, lots of different approaches to therapy have different time frames. It lasts as long as you need it to.
For some therapeutic approaches, the timeline can be quite short! For example, Solution Focused Therapy is designed to be brief and straight to the point. Other approaches have different methods and lengths of time. It all really depends on you, your therapist, and the reasons you’re seeking out the help of a therapist.
THERAPISTS WILL SHAME AND CONFRONT YOU
If they do, leave. Ask for referrals and find a new therapist. Every legitimate therapist is under a legal and ethical obligation to serve your best interests, not their own. Trust your instincts on this, too. If that therapist doesn’t feel like a person who can hold safe space for you, you get to find someone who can.
Your therapist might offer challenges to patterns of thought or behavior, but that should never reach the level of shaming or making you feel inferior.
THERAPY IS ONLY FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE
Well, yes and no. It is true that many therapists operate from strengths-based perspectives. What that often means is that your therapist is helping you to identify all of the stuff you do really well so that you can learn to navigate the world with your strengths, rather than from a place of shame or fear.
What that doesn’t mean is that every conversation needs to be about finding the silver lining. The most skilled therapists will meet you where you are and make space for every aspect of your experience; the good, the bad, the hard, and the ugly. There are lots of different ways therapists do this! More on that in a future installment of Therapy 101.
THERAPY TURNS YOU INTO SOMEONE ELSE
In many ways, a goal of therapy can be to find you in a world that is constantly pulling us in so many directions. A world that is demanding our attention far, far away from ourselves and our needs. Therapy can be a place where you find yourself. A place where you can learn about your needs and learn how to communicate your needs.
If anything, therapy is there to help you become even more you.
GOING TO THERAPY IS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS
Some of the work that is done in the therapy room asks us to find our remarkable strengths. Therapy can be good, hard work. You will be confronting old and unhelpful patterns, working through traumas, and learning how to communicate in relationships with others. And, sometimes, really tough stuff comes up, like learning ways to forgive and trust a partner after infidelity.
Many of us have been taught to believe that talking about our feelings (or even having them at all) is a sign of weakness. But, digging down deep into vulnerable spaces takes courage. Being radically honest and appreciative of ourselves and our stories is an incredible example of strength.
THERAPY 101 MYTH-BUSTING: THE TAKEAWAY
These are only a small selection of the plethora of unhelpful beliefs many of us share about therapy. In some ways, these beliefs touch on how we feel about being helped. Lots of us aren’t taught how to ask for help, or identify when we might need it. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to need help. Yes, it’s okay to want to change something in your life and not know-how. We are human in all of the ways that humanness can be.
As always, the incredible therapists at Relationship Insights are here for you. Maybe you’ve never been to therapy before, or have previously had bad experiences with therapists. Perhaps you are an old seasoned pro, or somewhere in between. No matter where you are on the spectrum, we have space, time, and a lot of great stuff to share with you!