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 your feelings, you almost certainly know and care about someone who is currently in therapy or has been at some point.
Psychotherapy can be an instrumental tool for growth and healing. The mental wellness community is making tremendous strides to educate the public on the truths about therapy. If you have been wondering about therapy for yourself or someone you love, here are four myths to be aware of:
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 grief and loss. Isn’t it tiresome?
The truth: Some of the healthiest people I know are in therapy.
A therapist’s office is a place where you can float ideas to a trained professional who will not judge your decisions or desires. If a pattern of behavior is a problem for you, your therapist 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.
Therapy takes a long time.
You may have heard about people who have been in therapy for years. This prospect can seem daunting to someone considering seeing a therapist for any reason.
The truth: Some complex issues may require time to sort out. Some people choose to stay in therapy for extended periods to better understand themselves and their thought processes, even after the issue that brought them to therapy has been addressed. And 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.
Many people considering therapy want to work through a specific problem or 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 self-worth over a short period of time.
Going to therapy 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 may improve your life.
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.
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.
The 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.
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?
The 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 the people they serve a priority.
That means 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 may improve your life.
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