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Six Lies You Might Believe About Therapy

Debunking misconceptions that may be holding you back from seeking help.

Photographee eu/Shutterstock
Source: Photographee eu/Shutterstock

Therapy is helpful for anyone experiencing mental health symptoms. Yet, there is a lot of misinformation out there about the process that you may hear and believe. These stereotypes, misconceptions, and lies can be monstrous obstacles inhibiting people from seeking the help they may need.

I’ve tackled some of the following misconceptions with clients throughout various stages of their journeys, but I’ve also heard some of these statements from family, friends, students, and strangers. This list isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but it’s an attempt to debunk false ideas that may hinder you or a loved one from seeking help. I can’t speak for all mental health professionals, but I hope that sharing my perspective will help tear away some of the stigma around mental health care.

1. “All therapy is the same.”

While there may be familiar elements in the first few sessions—like discussing confidentiality and explaining your concerns—therapy varies from one session to another and from one clinician to another. Even between two psychotherapists trained at the same institution and using the same theoretical approach, there are many variables that can cause them to be different, such as an area of expertise, personality, personal experiences, etc. Along those lines, you may be change over time, if your course of therapy is in months or years. Since you are the main factor, if you have changed, your therapeutic experience is likely to change as well.

2. “Just talking about my problems won’t do anything.”

On the surface, this can be true—and yet psychotherapy isn’t just talking. Therapists are trained in the art of language, and with your goals in mind, clinicians can have intentional discussions around your concerns. If you’re in therapy and it seems like you’re just talking, you may not be detecting the carefully crafted conversation allowing you to discuss key elements of your presenting problem, brainstorm solutions, and create a plan. If the conversation feels effortless, this may be due to an excellent therapeutic bond. Such rapport is critical in fostering the ability to grow in therapy. Nevertheless, if therapy feels like chatting with a friend and nothing more, and you're not seeing growth over time, it’s possible that your selected helper isn’t the right fit for your therapeutic goals.

3. “I already have a good support system. Therapy won’t add any value.”

Social support is definitely an influential aspect of mental health. I spend a lot of time helping clients create support systems. But therapy doesn’t end once we build those connections. Our loved ones are not trained professionals. Psychotherapists are specifically trained in the art of listening, problem-solving, and displaying nonjudgmental, unbiased attitudes.

Perhaps your loved one is a therapist. But due to the difficulty of being unbiased and balanced, therapists should not provide services to their loved ones. Therefore, even if you have a psychotherapist in your life, they really shouldn’t be serving in that role for you. On the other hand, such handy professionals can be excellent resources if you’re seeking a referral.

4. “Therapy is for crazy people.”

This cringe-worthy statement is riddled with stigma, but it’s also the most common misconception I hear about therapy. Our image of therapy is so skewed: Needing mental health care does not mean someone is “crazy"; it means they are brave enough to ask for help when they need it. Society’s perception of those who seek mental-health care often involves images of someone who lacks the capacity to think clearly, hold a job, live independently, be a loving parent or partner, and so on. Yes, individuals dealing with those concerns are in therapy—but so are thousands of others who don’t fit that picture. This distinct, black-and-white, “functioning versus non-functioning” view of mental health care can cause real symptoms to go unchecked, often making things worse. Just because a person is “fully functioning,” doesn’t mean they can’t also grow in therapy.

5. “Therapists only tell people what to do.”

The truth is that a good therapist will often avoid giving advice, as they are obligated to honor and foster your independence. This may vary based on different therapists’ expertise and methodology, therapy is typically a collaborative process. A skilled psychotherapist will help you learn how to make decisions for yourself, so you don’t have to come to depend on them to give you direction during challenging situations. They will help you build on your strengths and keep you moving in the right direction.

6. “I’ll be forced to take medication.”

There are different types of mental health professionals. If you’re thinking you'll be prescribed medication, odds are you are thinking about a psychiatrist . Talk therapy can be provided by psychologists, counselors, and/or social workers. Depending on the presenting problem, a psychiatrist might indeed become a helpful part of your journey, but for many diagnoses, talk therapy may serve as the primary treatment method. Whether medication is necessary depends on your presenting concern and its severity—and incorporating medication into your treatment plan is a conversation you will have with your therapist. If you have concerns about any medication, you should feel encouraged to share and explore them within your therapeutic setting.

These misconceptions show the strength of stigma. If you or a loved one believes any of them, consider learning more about therapy and mental health. To get people the help they need, we need to talk openly and honestly about therapy and challenge notions like these that act as dangerous barriers to care.

If you’re considering seeking therapy, the Psychology Today directory may be a helpful tool to find the right practitioner for you.