Therapy. That word can bring up a lot of different assumptions, expectations and misunderstandings. However, today nearly 20 percent of Americans have seen a therapist and 20 percent are on some kind of medication for anxiety and depression. So in the search for self-growth, it is time to dispel eight of the most common therapy myths.
Myth #1: Only crazy people go to therapy.
Truth: Actually that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Very few of the individuals receiving outpatient therapy fall within the “severe mental illness” range. Most people that seek therapy are very average, “normal” people suffering from very “normal,” everyday life stresses, anxiety and depression that we all face at some time or another. Sometimes people go to therapy for support and to learn better ways to cope with the stress in their lives, such as relationship difficulties or trouble in classes. Sometimes individuals want to change a specific behavior (e.g., quit smoking, reduce their drinking or better manage their anger) or to learn more about themselves and gain insight into their thoughts and feelings. And, sometimes people go to therapy to get an outside perspective on a difficult situation.
Myth #2: Why go? Therapy is like talking to your friends.
Truth: As a matter of fact, therapists rarely give advice. Rather, they help you come to your own conclusions. It is an opportunity to share what’s on your mind in a non-judgmental and safe environment. It’s about finding out what is right for you, not what someone thinks you should do. It is a chance to discover what you want and to take steps to achieve that goal.
Myth #3: Therapy always involves looking at your childhood and often will end up blaming your parents.
Truth: Therapy is about learning how to accept responsibility for your life and making your life into what you want it to be. Sometimes childhood issues that contribute to your current problems may be explored, but not always. Talking about these issues, along with the guidance of a therapist, can help you move forward. More often, therapy involves focusing on and changing behaviors and thoughts in your current everyday life, rather than uprooting the past.
Myth #4: Therapy can take years and never ends.
Truth: Most therapy is short-term (eight—20 sessions) and focused on specific and attainable goals. There are some people who want therapy on an on-going basis. However, what is most important is your commitment to therapy and your work toward achieving the goals that you and your therapist have set. There are many reasons why therapy ends and mostly these are related to resolving the issue at hand or a person’s desire to move on from therapy.
Myth #5: People in therapy are lying down on a couch during their sessions.
Truth: Most of us can easily conjure up an image of Freud stroking his grey beard and looking over his glasses while analyzing the dreams of his patient who is sprawled out on his infamous couch. However, this is one of the biggest misconceptions about what therapy is like in real life. Although it is sometimes portrayed this way, today, therapists and their clients sit facing one another in a comfortable setting while they work together to solve problems.
Myth #6: Therapy is too touchy-feely.
Truth: Good therapy is about finding the right match between your needs and personality, and the therapist’s orientation and personality. The therapist’s “orientation” is his or her philosophy about therapy and what they focus on during sessions (e.g., relationships, behaviors, feelings, etc.). Feel free to ask a therapist about his or her orientation so that you can decide if it matches what you want. Some examples of orientations are cognitive-behavioral,systems and psychoanalytic. You can decide if his or her style suits your needs and if not, you can switch therapists. It is perfectly acceptable.
Myth #7: Everybody will know I’m in therapy!
Truth: Therapy is strictly confidential and you have to sign a release for the therapist to speak with ANY other person about you. Therapists are not allowed to speak to your parents without your permission, if you over 18 years of age. There are three exceptions to these rules: 1) if a therapist suspects you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, 2) if a child or elder is currently being abused or 3) if a court subpoenaed the records (this is rare), then they are legally bound to break the confidentiality agreement in order to keep everyone safe. In all other cases, the therapist-patient relationship is strictly confidential.