Therapy Myths Busted: 7 Misconceptions That Are Holding You Back!
Considering therapy but feeling unsure? Don’t believe everything you’ve heard. In this post, we're going to take on some of the most common myths surrounding therapy!
If you’re reading this, I take it that therapy has at least crossed your mind at one point or another. Perhaps you’ve leaned towards trying it out more than once, but always felt held back by doubt, uncertainty, or fear. If you’re currently considering talking with someone but aren't sure if it’s the right call based on what you’ve heard, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ve come a long way towards dispelling some of the key misconceptions about therapy and mental illness over the years, but some myths continue to be propagated by those with a distorted or incomplete understanding of it. These beliefs can unfortunately dissuade many people from asking for help when they need it, and they do us all a disservice in the long run.
Let’s go ahead and tackle some of the common myths about therapy that can still hold people back from seeking it out.
1. Therapy is for “Crazy” People
I’m not sure what a “crazy” person is supposed to be anymore since that word has become overused to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and even run of the mill stress have all been issues that clients have fearfully skirted around for fear of “someone finding out” and trying to have them committed. Yes, really.
I suppose Hollywood’s penchant for depicting mental illness in the form of violent outbursts, public meltdowns, and psychotic breaks has done a lot to perpetuate this myth. If I had a dime for every instance where someone thought they were asylum-bound if they admitted to having anxiety...well, I would have a lot of dimes.
Contrary to popular belief, though, in most cases the reality of mental illness and therapy is too boring to capture a film or TV audience’s attention. Most people reach out to me to lower stress, improve relationships, gain some self-insight, work through past traumas, or address painful emotions. Not exactly riveting script material, but much closer to what therapy actually is.
2. It’s Shameful to Talk About Your Problems
“I’m sorry, I feel like I’m talking a lot.”
Chances are that if you wanted to take a vow of silence you’d have sought out a monastery instead of a therapist, but I nevertheless hear this on a regular basis. Has our view of sharing our thoughts and emotions become skewed to the point where we apologize to our own therapist for asking them to do the thing that’s literally in their job description - listen? I probably don’t need to answer that.
Opening up can certainly seem scary if it’s not something you were encouraged to do growing up. Some of the lingering aversion to talking about our issues may stem from the stigma that’s still attached to therapy and mental illness, and these attitudes can largely be influenced by the people around us. If you grew up in a context where therapy was considered taboo, you may have come to believe that sharing your emotions is shameful or burdensome.
Researcher Brené Brown, whose TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability went viral in 2010, famously states, “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.” The mental health stigma exemplifies and reinforces all three of those things. Therapy, meanwhile, is intended to empower you to speak your truth, give voice to your emotions and struggles, and find refuge in a safe and non-judgemental space. Maybe we need to re-think our definition of “shameful.”
3. Going to Therapy Isn’t Normal
The intense desire to be seen as normal can be a major factor in whether or not we admit to needing help. We want to be accepted and fit in, and there’s no end to how much suffering we’re willing to endure in pursuit of that. In our endless quest for normal, we can be tempted to write off anything that signifies any sort of deviance out of fear of rejection.
I have two main beefs with normal. First, normal is often a social and societal construct that evolves over time. Anything can be normalized, and anything can be stigmatized if enough people jump on board. Don’t believe me? Consider how normal it was considered to meet your significant other online 20 years ago, before the likes of Tinder and Bumble changed the dating landscape as we know it. Things change.
Second, normal doesn’t always mean functional or effective. Normal merely means that something is usual or expected, and just because it’s what most people are doing, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best option out there. Some of the most innovative and forward thinking individuals out there made a name for themselves by bucking the trend and challenging what we think of as “normal.” A revolutionary product or concept doesn’t need to fit a norm to be life-changing.
Something becomes normal once it becomes adopted by enough people for an attitude shift to take place, and attending therapy has been steadily following that trend over the past few years. More importantly, the inner work done in therapy challenges us to reconsider what we’ve learned about what it means to be normal and whether or not conforming to those expectations has actually served us well over time.
Is therapy normal? We’re getting there. If it works, does it even matter?
4. Therapy is a Sign of Weakness
Have you heard this one before? Or maybe even said it at one point or another? We seem to have bought into this bizarre notion that most people can somehow ninja their mental health issues out of existence and carry on as usual. It’s like the minute you decide to share your woes with a complete stranger, you’ve completely fallen off course.
I think part of the issue is that mental health is still subjected to a double standard that leads us to believe that it doesn’t warrant the same degree of attention that physical health does. We can be quicker to seek help when we’re in physical pain than when we’re in emotional pain, because we view one as being more integral to our overall health and functioning than the other.
We don’t always stop to consider that physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand, and social connection and empathy are actually associated with better overall health and longevity. Therapy is an outlet in which you can fulfill those needs. It creates the space for you to unburden yourself, find cathartic release for some of the emotions you’ve been hanging on to, and be seen and heard. If inviting those things into your life is a sign of weakness, while silence and secrecy breeds shame, what exactly is “strength” supposed to be?
5. Therapy is a Last Resort
So perhaps you want to try a few other tactics before giving therapy a go. Totally reasonable, and there are certainly many ways to manage mental health that don’t involve talking to a therapist!
Holding out mainly becomes an issue when some of these tactics become a form of denial, avoidance, or postponement when things are spiralling but you’re not quite ready to admit that you could use some help. I can’t tell you how many times a client has sheepishly admitted in a first session that they’d been putting off therapy for years, despite the struggle, because they’d convinced themselves that they ought to be able to handle the situation solo.
The end result is often anywhere from weeks to years of unnecessary suffering, feelings of “failure” over not being able to kick the issue to the curb using other means, and coming into therapy already feeling discouraged, disempowered, and cynical about its potential benefits. After all, everything else hit a dead end, so what good will talking about it do?
There are few things more rewarding as a therapist than watching someone with a doubtful mindset turn that corner and discover the true benefits of talking it out. “If someone had told me that therapy could be this helpful, I would have done it so much sooner!” My hope is that as we continue to debunk the myths surrounding therapy, more people will be inclined to do just that.
6. Any Therapist is the Right Therapist
Something I wish more people knew going into therapy is that, while finding someone who specializes in your needs and uses a compatible approach is certainty important, everything pales in comparison to the quality of the relationship you build with your therapist. Whatever strategies or techniques are used, this connection is where the real transformation happens.
However, a common belief is that if you find someone who’s a leading expert in your primary issue with ‘x’ number of years of experience, you need to stick it out with them even if you find their approach ineffective or just plain off-putting. “The problem has to be me, right?” Nope.
The job of your therapist is to create a safe, comfortable, and accepting space that fosters mutual trust, honesty, and respect. If you are not experiencing that, for any reason, the conditions for effective therapy are not being met, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll get anything out of it.
Unfortunately, many individuals who’ve had this experience conclude that therapy itself is the problem, and stop looking for someone who may be a better fit. They may even experience guilt over the prospect of shopping around and question whether they’re being “too picky” or hasty in their decision.
While the initial few sessions of therapy can definitely be a little awkward, and getting into a groove with your therapist can take some time, the first three sessions can generally give you a fairly good sense of whether or not you click. And if you don’t? Keep looking. When you do find the right person, the search is totally worth it.
7. Therapy Needs to Work Right Away
Once you find a therapist you truly click with, some of the emotional weight can start to lift pretty early into the process. That said, it can still take some time to notice major progress towards your goals, and that's completely normal! There is often this belief that therapy isn't "working" if all of our issues aren't resolved within the first few sessions, but that's not the case.
There are many elements that make therapy successful, including working with the right therapist, where you are in your healing process, and your current relationship to vulnerability and readiness for change. The therapy session itself is where issues and themes are explored, coping strategies are learned, and seeds are planted for further reflection.
But the real work? That's what happens between sessions while you're solidifying new habits and gaining new insights based on what was discussed. Epiphanies also famously have a bit of a lag time, so don’t be surprised if you reach a startling realization about an area of your life several weeks after the actual therapy conversation took place!
Another thing to keep in mind is that progress is gradual, non-linear, and difficult to spot when we’re the ones looking for it. Personal growth is similar to physical growth in that it tends to creep up on us. That aunt you only saw twice per year growing up was probably pretty quick to comment on “how much you’ve grown!” whenever she would see you, while those physical changes weren't necessarily something you clocked from day to day.
While it may be to easy for us to miss the little strides we make, a good therapist will pick up on them and encourage you to regularly celebrate those wins while anticipating and riding out the occasional rough patches.
To wrap it up, therapy is a deeply personal journey that often follows a period of questioning and consideration. Ultimately, it comes down to what you feel is right for you. While everybody will always have an opinion on everything, some of the biggest changes in our lives come about when we drown out the noise and move forward based on what our own instincts are telling us we need. I hope this post offers you some material to reflect on and inspires you to discover and follow your own path when it comes to therapy.
Are you ready to move beyond the myth and start taking control of your life? Contact me for a free consultation to discuss how we can work together!