“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 This phrase conjures up the outdated picture of a person lying on the couch with the therapist sitting off to the side distractedly stroking his beard (it was always a him back then).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used by specially trained clinicians and provides a valuable knowledge base, it is just one approach and often seen as outdated and impractical in its traditional form.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.
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.