There are many myths about therapy. This is problematic. That’s because misconceptions discourage people from seeking professional help and getting better. Individuals might wait to go until their concerns have deepened, when it’s harder to intervene. Or they might not go at all, instead suffering in silence.
Since 2011, I’ve been interviewing therapists from all over the country about their work and life. In this series, “Clinicians on the Couch,” I always ask the same 10 questions. One of those questions examines the biggest myth about therapy.
Below is a selection of these responses. Some of the myths overlap. But I think the words are powerful, because, again, myths stop people from seeking much-needed support.
Myths also imply that people are alone in their struggles. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Myth: Therapy is just a pricey way to get a person to listen to you.
Fact: “Well, it is true that you’re paying for someone to listen, but a psychotherapist’s skills go beyond that of ordinary listening. When you’re in therapy, you’re working with an Olympic medal listener. People don’t realize that so much goes into becoming a psychologist — years of theoretical, practical and scientific training and hundreds of hours of clinical experiences.
“As a client, you’re not just sitting and schmoozing in a therapy session. There’s a lot of specific, active work going on. That, combined with your therapist’s clinical objectivity, enables a client to get a balanced, unbiased frame of reference in treatment that cannot be compared to the listening of a friend or family member.” – Deborah Serani, PsyD.
Myth: Therapy is only for people who are in crisis.
Fact: “I find that therapy is often least effective during times of crisis, as therapists can only serve as crisis managers. I far prefer someone come into therapy seeking change outside the specter of crisis.” – John Duffy, Ph.D.
“While therapy definitely needs to address potential psychological disturbances and life problems, the goal of therapy need not be merely the absence of distress. Therapy can help you recognize and develop your strengths and creativity. After all, even professional athletes who are already exceptional in their field have coaches and physical trainers to point out slight or major adjustments the athlete can make and help him or her achieve their potential. It can be the same with therapy — often people want to go from ‘good’ to ‘great.’” – Rachel Fintzy, M.A., MFT.
Myth: Therapy is about talking.
Fact: “…Therapy is so much more than this. It is an evidence-based science and a craft that requires a great deal of skill and creativity. Therapy is a process that involves learning to change one’s subjective experiences (thoughts, feelings, behaviours) through skills acquisition, insight, and the generation of new mastery experiences, which lead to a positive shift in one’s perception and is reflected in their more adaptive functioning.” – Marla W. Deibler, PsyD.
Myth: Going to therapy means there’s something wrong with you.
Fact: “I have heard this over and over again, and it’s just not true. Attending therapy means that, like every other human on the planet, you have come up against challenges in life, and you could use some support from a safe, supportive, impartial person. That’s all it means.” – Carla Naumburg, Ph.D.
“Going to therapy means you are interested in understanding yourself and your automatic habits so that you have more opportunities to live a purposeful and satisfying life.” – Ashley Eder, LPC.
Myth: Therapy is for crazy people.
Fact: “I hear this myth both with new clients as well as outside the office with acquaintances, and I suspect it is the main reason why a lot of people use therapy as a last resort, long after the problem they’ve been dealing with has amplified.
“The origins of this myth whether social (transmitted from generation to generation) or from media portray the therapy goer as someone out of touch with reality or psychotic. In reality, therapy is effective and helpful not only for people who struggle with severe clinical issues, but anyone who feels stuck or needs a change in perspective.” – Diana Pitaru, MS, LPC.
“Going to therapy offers a better understanding about yourself and learning better opportunities to live a healthier life. If a person goes to their primary care physician for medications to help them fight off the flu or virus, are they considered crazy? Going to therapy shows that you are looking for better opportunities to resolve certain issues that are troubling you.” – Helen Nieves, LMHC.
“The truth is, all of us are human and each of us goes through a very personal journey in life that is full of both joy and pain.” – Clair Mellenthin, LCSW.
Myth: The therapist is going to fix you.
Fact: “That’s not it at all. Therapy is a partnership, and when both parties do their part, change is the result. The therapist offers insights, suggestions, and tools, and the client implements them in his or her life. That’s what therapy is all about.” – Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D.
“The biggest myth about therapy is that the therapist has the answers. The curative factor in therapy is not the therapist, it is the mutuality between the patient and therapist and the journey they share. I have been teaching doctoral students in clinical psychology for over 25 years and I always remind these wonderful and passionate young professionals that they will never know more about the patient, than the patient.
“What they offer is their clinical training to see and hear what the patient knows but cannot yet access because of history, pain, fear, addiction, trauma, etc. No matter what type of therapy, it is the collaboration between therapist and patient that makes change and healing possible.” – Suzanne B. Phillips, PsyD.