Some ideas people have about therapy are not based in reality. There are many preconceived notions about who would go to see therapist or why they would do it and many of them are not true, some of them are even harmful because they spread fear, judgment and prejudice. There are people out there who would really benefit from therapy but won’t go because, sadly, they believe some of those untrue ideas and that is why I say they are harmful.
So, I have scoured the Internet for lists of psychotherapy “myths” and have compiled a few lists of my own. In my “ psychotherapy myth quest” I found 3 main categories of myths; the first one was about people who go to therapy, the second category is about therapists (and what they do) and the third category is about therapy in general.
The Myth of Who Goes to a Therapist.
If you ask some people on the Internet this question you will get some “crazy” answers indeed.
Here are some of the worst myths about who goes to therapy:
Going to Therapy Does Not Mean Something is Seriously Wrong, Weak, Crazy or Broken Inside of You
The most common reasons I’ve personally seen people for are depression and anxiety. Depression can be temporary or it can last a long time. Depression can be brought about for a million different reasons ranging from a nasty break up to the death of a loved one. Many different things too can cause anxiety and it doesn't mean you are crazy if you are having a hard time dealing with it, what it means is that you are human.
Therapy is Not Just for Women
I have also had more male than female clients (personally) and none of my clients were “weak” or ”broken”. As a matter of fact, I found their ability to come to therapy an act of courage. Opening up to a stranger is not an easy thing to do, it requires you to become vulnerable and for that, you need a certain amount of bravery.
There is nothing broken, crazy or weak about finding support and trying to improve your life with the resources available to you.
Just Because You Are on Medication, That Doesn't Mean You Won’t Benefit from Therapy
With regards to not needing therapy if you are on medication, its just not based in fact. I am a firm believer that medication is a wonderful tool to help with biochemical imbalances. The neurobiology of the brain is complex and amazing and it is susceptible to change through our thoughts and behaviors as well. Using therapy and medication concurrently (at the same time) give people more tools, more resources, more of a chance to achieve their therapeutic goals.
Myths about Therapists
There are quite a few stereotypes about therapists that I’ve heard of, and not just things that you can find on the Internet. We have all heard one or two of them.
Here are some of the my least favorite therapist myths:
Therapists do Not Just Listen While You Vent and Then Tell You What You Should do
Therapists are there to listen, support and validate. Therapists can be a sounding board of sorts but one that may challenge your thoughts, one that will encourage you to try to think of things from different angles and one that may suggest you refocus your thoughts and attention elsewhere. Even when therapists do that, they are asking you to do the work. The therapist can be a kind of guide but you are definitely the captain of the ship.
Therapists Don't Blame Parents for Everything
Some people have had very unfortunate childhoods and want to get help healing those wounds and that can be processed through therapy. Not everything that happened when we were children are the fault of our parents. Are there times when things can actually be your parent’s fault? Of course! Overall, in therapy, we learn that we are responsible for ourselves including our thoughts and behaviors and we can not changes other peoples thoughts or behaviors.
Not All Therapists are Hippies
As for therapists being “new-age Hippies” I suppose it might depend on how you define that. Mindfulness and Meditation are incredibly effective and evidence based treatment modalities and some people may think that is “Hippy-Dippy”.
Personally, not being a Hippy, I do use Mindfulness techniques with some of my clients as well as in my personal life and it has been very helpful. If a client isn’t interested in trying something then there is always another intervention that can be used and it’s as easy as that.
Therapists don’t have to Share Your Experiences to be Able to Support You
With regard to a person having to experience what you are going through to be able to help you, I really don't think that is true. It can comforting to know that your therapist has gone through something similar and made it out to the other end of it but it really isn’t necessary. Your therapist is going to hear your story. Regardless of what you are going through, your story is a unique narrative that only you can tell. By asking questions, validating your emotions and supporting you through your process, your therapist will be able to understand your story as you tell it.
Myths About What Therapy is & How it Works
For someone curious about therapy the Internet can give both good and bad answers. Here is a list of some of the most common misconceptions about what therapy is:
Therapy is Not Like Talking to a Friend or Relative
In a way, talking to a therapist is sort of like talking to a priest in that they accept you as you and, they don't judge you and they keep it confidential. Have you spoken to a friend or a relative when they didn't have some strong opinion about what you should or shouldn't do in a situation or experience a time when something you said in confidence was shared without your permission? Yeah, that won’t happen with a therapist.
*A quick note about confidentiality unless you tell a therapist about the abuse of a child, an elder or a dependent adult or that you intend to harm yourself or another, they keep it confidential.
Therapy is Not Just for Rich White People
So, way back in the beginning of this article I said all kinds of people go to therapy and that is true. It’s also true that more white people in the past went to therapy and it might be true that there are more white therapists but times are changing. I’ve had white folks, African Americans, Hawaiian, Latino’s, Middle Eastern and Native American clients. I’ve also seen Gay, Lesbian, Transgender folks, physically disabled, unemployed, homeless, entrepreneurs and low socioeconomic folks. Ive also had clients of varied faiths too, from Muslims and Christians, to Atheists and Baha’i. In school I saw a wide array of new therapists entering into this field and all that diversity is a beautiful thing. As time passes, we have learned that all cultures can benefit from therapy and therapists have continued to increase their cultural competence as well.
Therapy is Not Free, or can it be?
Therapy does cost money, I can’t deny that but if money is the biggest problem, you may have options that you have not have thought of before.
Before therapists become licensed they need 3000 hours under a licensed supervisor (at least that is how it is in California). Some agencies that have trainees or employ Registered Interns have sliding scales that can range form $1.00 to $85.00. You might be hesitant but there are many positives. First of all it’s cheap, secondly because trainees are still in school they have access to the latest research and methods and are eager to put them to work. Another huge positive is that both trainees and Registered Interns get weekly supervision where they discuss their cases and get input, suggestions and advice from other therapists and their supervisor. Remember earlier when I said talking to a therapist is confidential? It still is. In supervision they don't give any identifying information and in that way your privacy is protected but you get the wisdom of multiple therapists for the price of one.
So in your quest for affordable therapy look up agencies that provide training to pre-licensed therapists to “get the most bang for your buck”.
Generally Speaking, Talking About What Troubles You Will Not make it Less Likely to “Get Over” Nor Will you have to Be in Therapy Forever
Talking about things can initially be really challenging and it might feel worse before it gets better but a good therapist is there to support you through that tough time.
I often say that in life we are following our own path and sometimes we can’t see the path for some reason but we keep moving forward. One of my clients told me that he felt like I was his flashlight when he couldn't see his way and I suggested that perhaps I was the battery in the flashlight because he was the one that found a way to light his own path.
As for how long therapy takes, it takes as long as it takes for you to achieve the goals you set in the beginning of therapy. If you only have a limited number of sessions allowed then I suggest taking notes after your sessions so that you can remember anything that really stood out, any insight you gained or to remember any technique that was taught to you to help you achieve your potential.
Using your Insurance Does Not Mean that Your Employer Will Learn you are Seeing a Therapist
You will recall reading earlier that therapy is confidential. The only people who will ever know you have gone to therapy is you and your therapist. If you pay with insurance then they will know but they have to keep your medical information private, they have to comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is United States legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information). There may be a time when you want to share your records with someone but you would have to sign documents saying you want your therapists to release your information to a specific party.
The Myths Have Been Busted
I hope that this information has made the idea of going to therapy less embarrassing because it should not be embarrassing to get help in reaching your potential. Perhaps you had thought therapy was out of reach or just not for you for whatever reason and you saw something here that was helpful and you may give it a go now? I certainly hope so!
Good luck on your life’s journey and best wishes to you.
Denise Berkes-Sanchez MA Marriage and Family Therapist Intern IMF#92517
I'm a psychotherapist still finishing up my internship hours before I can be a fully licensed MFT therapist. What does that mean? That means that I have completed my college and graduate school education requirements, I have my degrees but I need to complete 3000 hours of work and pass an exam before being given my license. I am registered with the Board of Behavioral Sciences. Currently, I have been seeing clients for over 3 years.