Debunked: Exposing Common Misconceptions About Therapy
By Sarah Engelskirchen
When people think about psychotherapy, common media portrayals may come to mind. For example, many television programs and films depict a client lying down on a couch talking about their dreams to a stoic therapist silently analyzing their every word while feverishly writing notes. In reality, therapy can look a multitude of ways. Many misconceptions exist revolving around what therapy looks like, who attends therapy, and what purpose counseling serves. So what are common misconceptions about therapy, and what is the truth about receiving mental health care?
What Therapy Looks Like
Along with the misconception that all therapists will make you lie on a couch while you talk to them, other misconceptions exist about the role of the therapist, what the therapeutic relationship looks like, and what will be discussed in therapy.
When seeking a mental health professional, some may expect to become friends with their therapist. After all, you are sharing your emotions and intimate details about your life with this person. Nevertheless, in order for the therapeutic relationship to be ethical and effective, counselors must enforce boundaries that prevent any sort of friendship or other relationship to take place.
The role of a therapist is to provide a non-judgemental space and objective view that allows you to explore and process in a way that is inaccessible in other relationships you may have. Another common misconception is that therapists will only be interested in discussing your upbringing.
While one’s family of origin is important to development, attachment, communication, and relationships in general, therapists will focus on a vast variety of elements in your life depending on what your treatment goals are. Many people may also assume that therapy should be a brief process and only take one or two sessions; however, progress often takes longer.
Some therapeutic approaches such as solution-focused therapy are designed to be more brief, so talk with your therapist about your treatment goals and timeline. Lastly, some expect their therapists to prescribe medication; nevertheless, only a psychiatrist or other medical professional such as a doctor can prescribe medication so ask your therapist for a referral.
Who Attends Therapy
Just as there are misconceptions around what therapy looks like, there are also misconceptions about who attends therapy and why one would seek counseling. Some may think that only those who have serious problems should attend therapy and that, otherwise, people should be able to solve their own problems.
Therapy is not only useful for crisis situations. In fact, therapy can be a wonderful way to develop, clarify, and achieve goals as well as to explore and learn more about oneself. In addition, just as we often engage in preventative care for our physical health, preventative mental health care is also important. The truth is, everyone can benefit from seeking counseling depending on what they are looking to get out of it and how much they put into it. Others might simply feel that they would rather talk with their friends and family than with a therapist.
While having a strong support system is crucial to mental and emotional wellbeing, therapists provide a therapeutic alliance that friends and family cannot. Therapists are trained professionals who work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to meet your unique needs and goals. Therapists are also more objective than friends and family, and the therapeutic relationship itself allows an opportunity for processing and growth. It is important to build rapport and trust with one’s therapist, and it is okay if it takes some time to find a good match for you.
Purpose of Mental Health Care
Overall, what is the purpose of seeking mental health treatment? The answer varies depending on the person – or if others are involved such as in couples or family therapy. Some enter counseling expecting that the therapist’s role is to provide easy, ready-made solutions, tell clients what to do, or “fix” them. In reality, each person or family’s background and current situation is different.
The therapist and client collaborate on the therapeutic objectives, purpose, and plan, building upon client strengths. Therapists do not tell clients what to do or fix them; instead, therapists facilitate client exploration and processing that empowers clients to make decisions and create change in their own lives. Other misconceptions might be that clients are going to feel much better immediately after each session; in reality, counseling is difficult work that engenders challenging emotions.
It is okay to sometimes feel worse immediately after a session; however, it is important that you feel safe in the therapeutic process. It is also imperative that you feel your therapist has provided you with coping skills in order to self-soothe after doing work that revisits traumatic experiences or triggers trauma responses. Lastly, therapy isn’t solely venting. Although it can sometimes look like venting, most of the work is done through processing and reflecting. In addition, some therapists utilize other therapeutic tools such as expressive arts, homework, and even therapeutic silence to further deepen the healing work that is taking place.
Wherever you are in your healing journey, know that there are a plethora of therapists and therapeutic approaches that are available to meet your unique needs and treatment goals. Any reasons you may have for seeking counseling are valid, and it is never too late to begin this self-discovery process! If you are interested in starting counseling services, consider reaching out to Embrace Therapy for an appointment with one of our competent mental health professionals.