I Don’t Need Therapy! Debunking common myths about psychotherapy
Caitlyn Valle, LMFT
It’s a rare day when a new client comes into my office for a first visit and feels completely confident in being there. The natural human response is to come up with reasons why “ I don’t need therapy”, we feel we should “tough it out”, “figure it out ourselves” or avoid seeking the help of a professional out of fears of admitting there is something “wrong”. There might be fears of judgement from peers, family or even the therapist themselves. Others may worry about costs or the possibility of becoming “dependent” on a therapist. In my experience, the less exposure a person has had to the experience of seeing a therapist as being “normal”, the stronger the urge might be to resist seeking support. When this happens, sometimes this resistance can lead to more difficulties and a sense of urgency when they finally make it to the office for that first visit. So why do we think this way?
Here are several common myths about therapy and my thoughts about why they just aren’t true…
1. Therapy is only for people with severe mental health issues.
While therapy can be very helpful for individuals with severe mental health issues, therapy has also been shown to be effective in helping to address a variety of other issues from stress at work to marital difficulties, life transitions and difficulties with parenting. Therapy can be also be used preventatively if you have a major stressor occurring or a big life transition. To compare therapy to seeing another healthcare professional like a dentist, seeing your dentist twice a year for your check-up, cleaning and tips for keeping up your hygiene routine might ultimately prevent cavities. Preparing for a big change can sometimes help things to go more smoothly and reduce the need for therapy in the future. By seeking support proactively, you can reduce the impacts of challenges and even gain insights and learn tools so that you’re able to stay the most functional and best you possible!
2. Talking about my problems won’t help, plus I have friends I can talk to.
A majority of clients who come into my office with this notion, often leave feeling lighter, less stressed and with a renewed sense of being able to tackle the world. Sometimes if there is an area of neglected need, talking about challenges can feel overwhelming initially but can lead to greater understanding of why we are having such a response. Being able to share your challenges, verbalize feelings openly and get feedback can be comforting to do with your friends, family or even colleagues. However, when you’re talking to people who know you there simply cannot be the same response, expectation of confidentiality or level of reflective insight that a professional therapist can provide. A therapist can be viewed as “guide” and are expertly trained to understand how humans process, experience and understand emotions. When we discuss our emotions, it increases the likelihood that we will be able to identify patterns, develop deeper understanding into our emotional reactions and develop healthier ways to cope.
3. If you go to therapy, you won’t be able to handle problems on your own and you will become dependent on your therapist.
A common misconception about therapy is that the therapist has a magic “cure” or can somehow provide answers to all the challenges that their clients are facing. If only that were true! The reality of therapy is that it is a collaborative process between therapist and client. Therapists will often highlight areas that are already working, give tips to make things go more smoothly and teach additional skills so that you’re armed with more tools to tackle challenges. By building skills, the therapist is helping you to prepare for the day that you no longer feel you need to see a therapist and feel confident to address issues as they come in a healthy way. A significant part of therapy should be establishing goals, tracking progress and having open discussions about when termination seems appropriate. Length of treatment varies depending on your concerns and depending on how treatment progresses.
The truth is, it’s hard to ask for support. Having that first visit can be intimidating and you will likely have questions throughout treatment about progress, effectiveness and how to discuss the fact that you’re in therapy with your family or friends (if you choose to do so). Questions are good! Ask them and ask them often. I often look at clients during a first visit with a sense of admiration and strength-they have made the hard move to ask for support and the even harder move to show up ready to work on whatever challenges them. To those of you brave enough to ask for support, bravo!