“So, what do you do for a living?” The inevitable question asked at any so..." /> “So, what do you do for a living?” The inevitable question asked at any so..." />

The Myths of Therapy

profile-of-man-looking-into-sky“So, what do you do for a living?”

The inevitable question asked at any social gathering. Though typically an innocuous question, I find myself dreading it. This is probably due to the flash of fear I often see upon the word, “psychotherapist.” Sometimes, people are even bold enough to ask, “So are you analyzing me right now?” Unfortunately, this is reflective of one of the many myths that continue to persist around this profession. So I’ve taken on the task of blasting some of those myths and hoping to provide a clearer understanding of what this therapy business is all about.

Myth #1: Therapy is For Crazy People

Granted, the use of the prefix psycho to describe the profession has not helped matters, but the truth is that most psychotherapists, including myself, see people that are generally healthy and functional. Most decide to pursue therapy because they want more for themselves, whether it is to feel better, to make sense of their lives, or to improve their situation.

Just over a generation ago, it used to be that extended family and friends played the role of counselor in most situations, and therapy was reserved for those who had serious mental health “disorders.” Today, in our busy society of broken homes and interpersonal isolation, a therapist often serves many roles including guide, counselor, and supporter.

Myth #2: Therapy is About Being Analyzed.

“Hmmm, very interesting. . .” This phrase conjures up the outdated picture of a person lying on the couch with the therapist sitting off to the side distractedly stroking his beard (it was always a him back then).

Sigmund Freud is the grandfather of the treatment and understanding of mental health and disorders. The form of treatment that evolved from his research, which at one time was the only approach to treatment, was called psychoanalysis. This became the springboard for other forms of treatment approaches, which today number close to 300. Though psychoanalysis is still used by specially trained clinicians and provides a valuable knowledge base, it is just one approach and often seen as outdated and impractical in its traditional form.

Most of today’s therapy involves a team approach toward working toward goals, not being psychologically dissected. The healing and growth in therapy offices of today usually emerge out of the relationship between therapist and client, where the emphasis is on humanity, empathy, honor and respectful dialogue. In fact, in some practices, consumer has replaced the term patient.

Finally, therapy is about self-knowledge; expanding one’s reference and perspective regarding themselves and those around them. Therapy is for those interested and invested in addressing the questions, Who Am I? How Did I Get Here and Where Am I Going?

Myth #3: Therapy is an Excuse for People to Just Sit Around and Talk About Themselves and Their Past

The truth of the matter is that you are the central figure of your life and most of us operate within narrowly and externally defined concepts of the truth of who we are. Seeking this truth can be a profoundly transformational journey that goes way beyond a self-absorbed rap session.

Today, therapy is an active and dynamic process. Though talking is an integral part of the therapeutic process, and the past can be a valuable resource for understanding present-day challenges; insight, accountability, active participation and integration are often emphasized. In addition, adjuncts to traditional talk therapies such as body-centered therapies like bioenergetics, hypnosis, and EMDR are just some of the approaches being used to facilitate and expedite the therapy process.

Myth #4: Therapy Takes Forever.

In the days of psychoanalysis, therapy required five sessions a week, often for many years. It was a rigid process based on a power differential between doctor and patient. Today, flexibility reigns. Therapist and client are generally considered equal partners determining mutually agreed upon schedules, tasks, and goals.

To give you an example, a gentleman came see me recently because he was confused about an issue regarding his relationship with his parents. He said he had a sense of the source of the problem, but needed confirmation and clarity. An hour later, he said he felt relieved and confident he could handle the situation appropriately. He also expressed gratitude for my presence as a resource should he need my services again. Sometimes this is all that’s needed. However, most situations are more complex and involve a more comprehensive treatment approach. In other cases, some people come to therapy wanting a deep level of understanding and change in many areas, which can take longer. Ultimately, the frequency and length of therapy is dependent on the client’s needs and goals.

Myth #5: Therapy Is Too Expensive.

Many therapists work on a sliding-fee scale, or can refer you to someone who does, and a large percentage of insurance companies now provide mental health coverage.

The way we feel about ourselves and our lives and the quality of our relationships all contribute to the happiness and satisfaction we experience in life. When these elements are out of balance, it can seriously compromise our physical, mental, and emotional states. Therapy can assist in understanding how things got out of balance in the first place, and help create a more satisfying way of relating to others and ourselves.

I read somewhere once: “You can’t afford not to invest in your emotional health.” It is interesting that we don’t hesitate to invest in cars and computers and what we put in and on our bodies, but we seem to resist the idea of investing in our emotional health and well-being.

Final Thoughts

The final truth is that people that call themselves psychotherapists are just that, people. We do not have all the answers, we cannot read minds, and we are not gurus or sages.  We have education and training in mental health and we have a desire to assist others in healing emotional pain and removing obstacles to achieving a higher level of happiness and satisfaction in their lives.

So it is my hope that by dispelling some of the myths around psychotherapy, I have provided a better understanding of its history, purpose, and potential for healing.

© Copyright 2008 by By Julie Simon. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Maggie

    October 13th, 2008 at 3:18 AM

    I have to say that I giggled a little when I saw this entry because it is so true! There are a lot of times that I feel like people are a little put off with me when they realize that I am in the psychotherapy field and they automatically think that I am trying to “analyze” them when that could not be farther from the truth! I try to explain to them that I entered the field as my small effort to help others but I do see how they could misundersatnd the job and what all is entailed with it. Thanks for the insight and hopefully this will help others make more sense of the field.

  • Caroline

    October 13th, 2008 at 4:19 AM

    I have one word for u. WOW!! This is probably everything I needed to know as I feel I need psychotherapy. I am going through a very hard time giving up someone who I loved with all my heart. I am still holding on to all the broken pieces and nothing makes my day more than chatting or talking to this person. I feel like I am two timing my partner at an emotional level and that’s affecting everything in my life. I feel that is the source of my unexplained rage and depressive spells. I was worried to take therapy as I felt ashamed about being a mental patient. Thanks for pushing my foot to therapy.

  • Carson

    October 14th, 2008 at 2:58 AM

    That’s great Caroline that you were able to find the motivation to do what you know you need to do from this article. The fact that the author is able to see this lets everyone know that this site is really working for so many people. I along with you and I am sure numerous others have found inspiration from the readings here and I can only hope that the submissions continue. Thanks to all of you who have a hand in making this happen.

  • Lisa Brookes Kift

    October 14th, 2008 at 5:51 AM

    As a psychotherapist myself, I have the same experience as Maggie in that a lot of times when people find out I’m a therapist – they’re afraid I’m going to pick them apart and analyze them. There has been a very detectable fear response by some people which I find interesting. I’ve joked to my husband that maybe I should tell people I’m a teacher.

    The reality is, I’m human. Yes, I’m a therapist and when I have my therapist “hat” on, I’m passionate about trying to help people get relief from whatever individual ar couple issues they bring in. But when I’m not in the therapy room and I’m at a party, for example, – I’m just “Lisa” and I might even crackle with an ironic wit, laugh really loud or enjoy a few glasses of wine.

    Thanks for casting a more realistic light on our profession. Maybe I won’t tell people I’m a teacher after all. = )

  • Maggie

    October 15th, 2008 at 2:59 AM

    Be proud Lisa! :-)

  • Howard

    October 18th, 2008 at 9:01 AM

    Yes these are all supposedly myths but I think it is important to stress to those who begin the therapy process that it can be a long process and that change will not happen overnight.

  • Starla

    October 20th, 2008 at 4:41 AM

    But well worth the time and effort!

  • Angela

    October 21st, 2008 at 7:20 AM

    How do I know that therapy would be the next logical step for me? I have been through all of the self help books and done reading online and think this would be the answer for me. Can I just go a few times and see if I think this is the right step for me?

  • Lisa Brookes Kift

    October 22nd, 2008 at 4:41 AM

    Angela – you absolutely can go to therapy a few times to see if it’s the right step – and if the therapist is the right match. Some people get what they need from the self help route – it really depends on what kind of change you’re looking for. You can learn a lot via books, etc but not be able to implement the change part. The other thing is that a good therapist will be able to see things that you don’t – in other words, we live in our own heads and own bodies. It can be hard to get a birds-eye view on our behavior, why we are functioning the way we are and how to change it!

  • Tudy

    November 11th, 2008 at 4:22 AM

    It’s nice to know that not all therapist “analyze” people and really do want to help others. We need to remember that we are all human, no matter what our profession is.

  • Beverly Mason, LPC, PC

    November 16th, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    I have heard all the old wives tales about therapy. It seems that they come from people who have never BEEN in therapy. How they know is amazing. I too have been asked by others if I am analyzing them – even people I have just met. I work when I’m with a client, not when I’m buying groceries or shopping.

    I hear the same things about hypnosis: it’s mind control, what if you don’t come back, it’s a sin, they will make you dance like a chicken, it’s dangerous, etc. It’s not magic, not hocus-pocus, not mind control. It soothes your Soul. It’s total relaxation. My clients ask for hypnosis because hey know it works.

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