There are all kinds of myths about therapy. Some even believe all that feel-good nonsense they see on daytime TV, so they assume that their visit will be an instant cure for whatever ails them. Well, it’s not that easy. Based on my 30+ years of clinical experience, I’ve put together a Top Ten list of popular assumptions about therapy — all of them wrong:
- Talking, regardless of what it’s about, is enough to solve problems. Not true. The goal is to think objectively about reality in order to solve problems. We call that “solution-focused.” Talking about your feelings can be good, but it shouldn’t be the main objective. You have to think.
- A therapist is like a friend. On the contrary. Your relationship with friends and family members is generally a two-way street. You should not expect that from a therapist or counselor. Quality therapists don’t talk about themselves. They’re there to talk about you.
- A therapist can give a person a reason for living. No, only YOU can do that. If you’re looking for a goal or a focus in life, I recommend something that’s better than self-help books or daytime TV: Reading or watching biographies. It’s a great way to learn how others survive, thrive, make mistakes and sometimes conquer obstacles. These glimpses into other people’s lives can inspire.
- Talking about yourself will instantly reduce the symptoms of emotional distress. Wrong again. Anxiety or emotional problems cannot be permanently resolved without first working to discover the underlying causes. Stress reduction is always desirable, but in matters like self-esteem, relationships, career and life in general, it might take a while to get to the root causes. Frankly, this is true whether you go to a therapist or not.
- A person can benefit from therapy without identifying contradictory thoughts and desires. For example, “I never want to make Joey angry, but I also don’t want to give him money that I know he’ll use for drugs.” Well, you can’t do both of those things, as those two needs will eventually conflict. A major purpose of cognitive therapy is to help people identify (and hopefully correct) conflicting ideas. It’s not easy, but logic and facts will work every time.
- A therapist makes the client lie down on a couch. Y’know, I’ve been in this profession for a very long time, and I’ve never encountered such a thing. More TV garbage.
- A therapist constantly takes notes during the session. Not all do. Personally, if I were the client, I wouldn’t want the therapist writing while I’m talking. I’d want him or her to listen, offer objective feedback and ask intelligent questions. Taking notes implies that you’re writing a report to be filed somewhere. How can that cultivate a helping relationship?
- A therapist is selfless and has no concern for anything material or worldly. Wrong again. Believe me, you don’t want a therapist who doesn’t have a life. An unhappy person can’t help you. That also applies to brain surgeons, accountants, airplane pilots and anyone else whose services you hope to benefit from. It’s even truer for a therapist because you actually hire him or her to help you achieve happiness.
- A psychotherapist can prescribe medication. No. A therapist has earned either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D., but not necessarily an M.D. Psychiatrists have medical degrees, and prescribe medication. Prescriptions are not psychotherapy.
- A therapist can “talk” an irrational or self-defeating person “into” being well adjusted, even if that person doesn’t want to change. This is one of the biggest myths about mental health. If somebody doesn’t want to think in a certain way (as with “court-ordered” psychotherapy, for example) no amount of talk or pills will convince him or her to change. Therapy isn’t something that’s done “to” you, like an appendectomy. It’s a partnership between the therapist and client where they work together to change and improve the client’s way of thinking.
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