5 Common Misperceptions About Seeing a Therapist, Straight From the Professionals
Society has come a long way in normalizing conversations about mental health, but stereotypes and misconceptions about therapy still exist, and these can be harmful to people considering treatment. The truth is there is no cookie-cutter approach to therapy – the type of treatment you receive and the length of time you spend in therapy will depend on your needs. POPSUGAR spoke with two therapists to help dispel some common myths about therapy, so you can find the professional that’s right for you and get on the path to feeling happier and healthier.
1. Going to therapy means admitting that there’s something wrong with me.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. “One of the most common reactions patients have in my office is feeling relieved when they find out they are not alone in feeling the way they do or they’re not the only ones expressing these symptoms,” Joanna Petrides, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, told POPSUGAR. “Because we don’t openly talk about psychological symptoms the way we discuss physical health symptoms, people really do think they are the only ones who feel depressed or anxious.”
Finding out that you’re not alone in your struggles can help you become more open and engaged, so you can do the work to overcome whatever is holding you back. “People seek out therapy for a number of reasons, including seeking clarity in some areas of life, working through complex emotions or experiences, learning new coping skills, or focusing on personal growth,” Dr. Petrides said. “None of these reasons are a result of something being wrong with the individual.”
Some of the shame people might feel about seeking therapy also stems from the judgment of friends and family. “Many families still carry stigmas when it comes to behavioral health symptoms and treatment, resulting in individuals refusing to talk about psychological and emotional difficulties with those closest to them,” Dr. Petrides said. “They also feel conflicted about ‘pouring my heart out to a stranger’ because they were told to keep things quiet to the outside world.” Try not to let other people’s perceptions prevent you from getting the help you need.
2. My symptoms aren’t bad enough to warrant going to therapy.
Therapy is for everyone – but if you are experiencing troubling symptoms, it’s important to be evaluated by a professional. Don’t allow misperceptions about what treatment could be like to hold you back. “A very outdated view is that psychotherapy is reserved for severe symptomatology and therefore involves hospitalization and medication, which results in people putting off seeking care and trying to self-treat and self-medicate,” Dr. Petrides explained. “Most of this seems to stem from a lack of knowledge about what psychotherapy is and how it can help.”
She once again emphasized that psychotherapy can address a range of symptoms, situations, and barriers that hold people back. “There’s no need to suffer in silence and underestimate the significance of what you’re experiencing because you don’t feel your experiences are worthy of treatment or you are caught up in the unknown of how therapy can help,” Dr. Petrides said.
3. Therapy takes too long, and it’s too expensive.
“Some people believe entering psychotherapy treatment is a lifelong process, requires years’ worth of deep diving into early childhood and beyond, and costs a fortune,” Dr. Petrides said. Some may even think that talking to a friend is just as helpful and more economical. “Truthfully, talking to a friend can actually cause more damage because friends usually hold a biased view of the situation in your favor and will often seek to make you feel better in the moment, but will not actually address the underlying issues,” Dr. Petrides explained. “So, you’re likely to be repeatedly challenged by the same thing in the future.”
She continued: “By seeking out professional care, you’re going to address the psychological, emotional, and physical (yes, we carry our emotions physically, too) aspects of what you are struggling with – and relief does not take endless years of treatment to achieve.” Dr. Petrides added that changes in insurance coverage have made therapy more accessible. If you don’t have insurance, or you struggle to afford your copay, there are other steps you can take to get care.
4. All therapists are exactly the same.
Therapists are people. Just as no two people are the same, no two therapists are alike. “We come into the field with our own life experiences that shaped our worldview. Sprinkle in the many different schools of thought and varying degrees, and it can feel daunting to find the right one for you,” Sophia Greenberg, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist and owner of Building Mindful Connections in Montclair, NJ, told POPSUGAR. “It has been said that the greatest predictor of success in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client. I often liken it to finding a mate. There is nothing wrong with shopping around.”
That process is probably much simpler than you think. “The majority of therapists will offer a phone call at no charge as a brief consultation. During that call, feel free to ask away! Think of it as an informal interview where the client decides if they will hire this particular therapist,” Greenberg explained. “Keep in mind though, all the formal training in the world does not mean this is a clinician that you will click with, and that is OK. We are all different in our approach, and so much is to be said for the authenticity and quality of the therapeutic relationship.”
5. Therapy is all about rehashing your childhood.
It isn’t true that most people only talk about trauma from their childhood during therapy. “We’ve all seen the movies with a somewhat sad adult laying on a couch reliving each childhood trauma week after week. I’ve been in practice for over 17 years and this is not even close to my experience,” Greenberg said. “In fact, the vast majority of clients come to therapy because they feel stuck in one or more facets of life, currently. While, occasionally, this can stem from maladaptive coping skills that were established as a child, once these patterns are identified and processed, the focus becomes incorporating new and healthier coping patterns into daily life.”