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4 Myths About Psychotherapy You Should Know Before You Go

Sitting on living room floor with phone and open laptopFor 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:

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 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.

Myth 2

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT, Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • marc

    July 6th, 2016 at 8:03 AM

    While I don’t think that there is anything at all wrong with seeing a therapist my parents feel very differently so I don’t even feel like I can talk to them about my therapy experience. They are just a little old fashioned and they are of the mindset that there are certain things that you should never bring up to someone who is not family. I have tried to tell them that this is how I choose to deal with my issues and hopefully become a stronger person as a result but they are just so anti the whole concept that it is hard to even have a conversation with them about it.

  • Alena

    July 6th, 2016 at 8:54 AM

    Marc- I would argue that you going to the therapy is making you a stronger person. Your words may not alter your parents’ reactions, but I suspect their witnessing the changes you are making in your behaviors in response to therapy will have an impact on them. Good luck. -Alena

  • Elizabeth

    May 19th, 2017 at 4:06 AM

    Marc, just do what is best for, what fits with you. There is no need to discuss with your parents, although i understand you want to share yourself, your life, health and well being with them. Do what works for you, it will all be ok.

  • marc

    July 6th, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    Thanks for the encouragement. I hope that one day they will see all of the good that came form me seeking out therapy. We shall see.

  • Sandy s

    October 7th, 2016 at 12:05 PM

    Thing is Marc, you aren’t going to therapy for your parents or for anyone else other than yourself. If they don’t agree or accept then that’s their prerogative, no need to try to change their minds. You know what it gives you and that’s all that matters.

  • Lincoln

    July 7th, 2016 at 12:09 PM

    Not everyone will agree with the choices that you make nor do they have to.
    If you know that what you are doing is helping you then who really cares in the end what someone else thinks?
    And if you have your own myths and misconceptions that you are trying to work through, then the very best thing that you can do is commit to going and you will see pretty quickly that there are a lot of untruths about therapy out there and you are one of the lucky ones for learning just how valuable a tool it can actually be.

  • Alena

    July 7th, 2016 at 5:21 PM

    Thank you Lincoln, agreed!

  • fern

    July 8th, 2016 at 10:41 AM

    That would be one very highly paid friend. I don’t need more friends, I need someone to understand the thoughts and feelings that I am having and who can help me to sort that all out. I don’t think that anyone would think of a good therapist as just someone that you pay to listen.

  • Alena

    July 8th, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    Hi Fern, a couple things: Some people propose they don’t need a therapist because they use their friends as therapist. My therapist friends and I often discuss how different our boundaries are with our friends vs with our clients. As you suggest, it’s a very different relationship! On the flip side, those skeptical of therapy surmise that people in therapy are merely paying for friendship. (I realize I am singing to the choir.) -Alena

  • Rick

    July 8th, 2016 at 7:30 PM

    We are also faced with the sad reality that SO many “therapist’s” will push/coerce people into taking their TOXIC and DEBILITATING drugs.

  • Alena

    July 10th, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    Hi Rick, yes the medications can be over prescribed, though they do help a lot of people feel better. I want to clarify that psychotherapists do not prescribe. Only psychiatrists (MDs) and psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe. While some prescribers may also provide psychotherapy, many do not. -Alena

  • Jo

    July 9th, 2016 at 1:07 AM

    I have been that person who worried I was paying for a friend, there is some truth in that especially if you don’t have any actual friends or a mother. Also the deep shame and worry of going to see a therapist, I was scared I would be overpowered and at times I was but its a very human transaction so you work it out over time. I had to ask her about what is therapy and we had to work to understand each other, she was very educated in her field and so many of her references were foreign to me. Also I never lay down on the couch, wouldn’t mind sometimes though!! :)

  • Alena

    July 10th, 2016 at 10:34 AM

    Thank you for sharing this experience, Jo! -Alena

  • Tara

    July 9th, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    i only see it as being weak if I don’t ask for help when I actually need it, weak or stubborn

  • Alena

    July 10th, 2016 at 10:34 AM

    A valuable insight, Tara, thank you! -Alena

  • Connie

    May 17th, 2017 at 6:39 AM

    Been going for years I like and enjoy having someone who there to help me deal with my issue instead of putting it on family.

  • Alena

    May 17th, 2017 at 8:30 AM

    Thank you Connie! -Alena

  • James

    May 31st, 2018 at 2:03 PM

    I went to therapists for decades and never seemed to get any better. Finally, after 4 decades, I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum disorder and learned that I had been misdiagnosed by therapist for most of my life. Why is it that in 40 years no therapist ever noticed my problem or even questioned whether more therapy was the answer? Therapy seems to be insulated against the idea that it can fail, as it certainly did in my case and when it is not working therapist seem like deer in headlights. Why are there no books or websites about what to do when therapy does not work?

  • Alena

    June 1st, 2018 at 8:48 AM

    Hi James, thank you for sharing your story. Because of your post, I have found a fair number of articles and couple books (though admittedly few!) on what happens when therapy does not work. You have a valuable perspective. I encourage you to write and share your experiences…I am certain you are not the only person to have suffered due to lack of a correct diagnosis.

  • Donna B.

    June 8th, 2019 at 6:11 PM

    I really connected with the article 20 cognitive distortions and how they affect your life. I do have a question. I just moved to FL and found a new psychologist. Since then I have been told about a therapist/counselor that deals with cognitive/DBT which I have studied and we seem to click. I also have a psychiatrist MD for med control. what is the difference between a psychologist and a therapist?

  • Josh

    September 11th, 2019 at 8:07 AM

    I was in a relationship with a therapist, and she did few things that destroyed my confidence in therapists.
    1- she shared personal and embarrassing information about me with her fellow therapist and the other therapist even humiliated me in front of her husband about it, both therapist told me “you are not multa cliente si your privacy is not protected when you talk to me.
    2. She (my partner) give me unpleasant information about her clients like “he doesn’t need therapy he is just an a**hole” so when I asked her why you provide therapy to someone you think is an a**hole? She answered “we provide unconditional support even if we dislike/disagree about that client”. For me if a therapist doesn’t support my view I need to know it, I would go to therapy to improve my behavior not to get pampered.
    3. She “helped” at least one people about his PTSD, outside her practice, then as she wasn’t his therapist she shared info that was used against that person to cancel a contract base on unstable personality.
    4. She shared information about her friends that makes me think “why I have to know this about that person?”

  • Alena

    September 11th, 2019 at 11:30 AM

    Hi Josh, Your concerns lead me to wonder if these were trained, licensed professionals, and are cause for alarm for such breaches of ethical standards. -Alena

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