Six Lies You Might Believe About Therapy

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

Posted Apr 15, 2018

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 that can inhibit you from seeking the help you 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. Although this list isn’t all-encompassing by any means, it’s an attempt to debunk falsified facts that may be hindering you or your loved one from seeking the help you may need to thrive. Though I can’t speak for all mental health professionals, I hope that sharing my perspective will help tear away some of the stigma surrounding mental health care.

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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 if two psychotherapists were trained at the same institution and use the same theoretical approach, there are many variables that can cause them to still be different, such as an area of expertise, education, personal experiences, etc. Along those lines, you may be different (if your time between therapy is in months or years) in terms of age, awareness, development, etc. You are the main factor, and 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 accurate—but psychotherapy isn’t just talking. Therapists are trained in the art of language, and with your goals in mind, clinicians have intentional discussions around your concerns. If you’re in therapy and it seems like you’re just talking, you may not be able to see 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. This rapport is critical in fostering your ability to grow in therapy. Nevertheless, if therapy feels like you are chatting with a friend and growth isn’t seen over the course of time, it’s possible that your selected helper isn’t the right fit to help you foster 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. In fact, I spend a lot of time helping clients create support systems. But therapy doesn’t end once we build those connections. Your loved ones are not trained, professionals. Psychotherapists are specifically trained in the art of listening, problem-solving and nonjudgmental, unbiased attitudes.

Now perhaps you’re reading this and your loved one is a therapist—so there! Due to the difficulty of being unbiased and balanced, therapists should not be providing services to their loved ones. Therefore, even if you have a psychotherapist in your life, they really shouldn’t be serving as your helper. On the other hand, these handy professionals can be an excellent resource if you’re seeking a referral.

4. “Therapy is for crazy people!”

This cringe-worthy statement is riddled with stigma; however, it’s 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 just 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 real concerns 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.”

A good therapist will often avoid giving advice, as they are obligated to honor and foster your independence. Although this may vary between therapists’ expertise and methodology, therapy is usually a collaborative process. A skilled psychotherapist will help you learn how to make decisions for yourself, so you don’t 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 about medication, odds are you are thinking about the role of a psychiatrist. Talk therapy can be provided by psychologists, counselors, and social workers. Depending on the presenting problem, a psychiatrist might indeed become a helpful part of your journey. For many diagnoses, the power of 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 the medication you are 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.