When you hear the word "therapy," what do you think it means? And how much of that is based on culture, movies, TV, or school vs. what actually happens in modern therapy offices? These are some of the biggest misconceptions about therapy, and the truth.
- Your therapist will fix you, you just have to show up
This is probably the number one misconception. I meet clients all the time who say something along the lines of “I tried therapy a couple times, but it didn’t work.” Very often, they literally mean 1-2 sessions. They stopped going because it didn’t immediately make them feel better. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. The issue probably wasn’t that the person had a bad therapist. The problem is that it takes more than 2 sessions to do serious work in therapy like 99.9% of the time. Typically, your first session is an intake, during which the therapist and client discuss the client’s background, treatment history, goals, diagnoses, and any other information the therapist needs right at the beginning. The second session is typically the first session that is actual therapy, and that is often mainly for building rapport between you and your therapist. If you expect to see a big difference in those first two sessions, don’t, leave and see another therapist thinking it didn’t work, you can often end up in a vicious cycle of starting over several times and never seeing results. This leads to feeling like…
- I can’t do therapy
- I’m tired of rehashing my story with so many different people
- All therapists suck
The most common outcome from this? You simply stop going to treatment. All of this can be avoided by simply hanging in there a little longer.
In addition, therapy takes work, both during and outside of sessions. The average person sees their therapist for an hour a week or even every two weeks. There are A LOT of hours in between sessions, and it’s up to you to work on what was discussed during session during your free time. Did your therapist teach you new coping skills? Practice them. Give you homework? Do it, and when you’re finished, do it again. Did your therapist recommend that you see a specialist or other provider? Make the appointment. They recommend these things for a reason. Now granted, I’ve not met every therapist in the world and I know there are bad eggs in every bunch. But most therapists will not recommend something to you for no reason.
Practice mindfulness on your own. Start exercising. Take your medications. Follow your safety plan. Get enough sleep. If you have a job or school, do your best to go. Therapy works best when it is one of many healthy activities. And it takes work. Sometimes slow, painful, excruciating work. I have often heard (and told clients) that it gets worse before it gets better. That’s often true, and it’s because when you’re in therapy, you start rooting out the stuff that’s causing you problems. That stuff tends to be painful. But therapy is a safe place to face it. It is often only after that process that you will truly feel better.
- Therapy is all about discussing your childhood
Some therapists do focus on childhood trauma and family of origin kind of stuff. But many have a more integrative approach, and will discuss your childhood only as much as it is relevant to what you want to work on. There are many therapeutic techniques, such as brief therapy and solution-focused therapy, that focus primarily on what’s going on in the here-and-now and the goals you want to meet. Basically, if you’re not sure what direction your therapist typically goes in, it’s best to ask up front about their approach. But certainly don’t let discussing your childhood be a barrier, because it’s often not even an issue.
- Therapy isn’t affordable
Thankfully, there are many affordable options these days. Many communities have agencies that offer sliding scale and even pro bono services. The best place to start to find these would be looking up your local community mental health center. Online and text therapy are also exploding in popularity due to their convenience and affordability. Talk Space, Better Help, 7 Cups of Tea, and other companies offer significantly discounted rates, plus you can see a therapist from the comfort of your couch… or your car… or a beach...or the subway… or really anywhere.
Locally, I work with SonderMind, which is a provider network that allows me to easily get credentialed with insurance. That way, you get to use your health insurance benefits. I also work with Open Path Collective, which connects therapy seekers with affordable therapists.
- Therapy doesn’t work for introverts. Talking for an hour straight? No thanks.
People process information and emotions differently, no secret there. Yes, traditional talk therapy is basically an hour-long conversation. But if you think that’s the ONLY way to do therapy, you’re missing out! Art, music, equine, animal, experiential, and nature therapy are all really popular right now. These methods can be exceptionally effective. If chatting for an hour isn’t your thing, try one of these more action-oriented methods. And just remember, my introvert friends: it's only a conversation with one person, and it's completely confidential.
- Once I start going to therapy, I'll never stop.
Not true at all! Many counseling centers actually implement a brief-therapy model, meaning that most clients attend fewer than 10 sessions. Yes, you may stay with a therapist for months or even years, and if it’s continually beneficial, why not? But don’t feel like signing up for therapy is like signing your life away. The therapist’s goal is for you to not need them anymore.