Opinions about therapy have certainly gone through a transformation over the years. For the most part, we’ve abandoned the imagery of a desperate, free associating individual, lying on a couch while a Freudian-esque man embarks on the timeless question of “…and how does that make you feel?” However, stigma about going to therapy still remains prevalent, even among the most “woke” of us. But, why is that? I followed up with some of my current patients to get their perspective on what therapy would be like and how it ended up being different. Here are some of the most common myths I’ve gathered:
Myth #1: Your Therapist is going to judge you
Of course there will always be some hesitation when sharing your deepest fears or darkest experiences with someone, however, the therapeutic setting is one of the safest and least judgmental spaces to share. Most Therapists pursue the field that they are in because they have a desire to help other people and they feel empathy and compassion for the human experience. The Therapist’s goal in treatment is to address whatever problems you come in with, therefore if you are withholding information, there can only be so much progress. Don’t forget that your Therapist is a human too that also wants to do a good job and not be judged as a bad Therapist! Therapy is a great place to test out some of these difficult beliefs about judgment in a setting that is accepting and warm.
Myth #2: You need to have serious mental health issues to go to therapy
It’s all relative! The moment we begin to measure our issue against another’s, we are screwed. We can ALWAYS find someone who has it worse, whether it be mentally, physically, emotionally, or all of the above. So why wait until the point where we are in an even worse situation to begin doing something about it?
If we were to look up various mental illnesses in the DSM (diagnostic manual for mental disorders), we would easily be able to find parts of ourselves in many of these disorders. What creates the diagnosis is if these “symptoms” interfere with your ability to function effectively in your world. If you’re still able to work, maintain relationships, take care of yourself, etc., sure you may not meet criteria for a mental disorder, however that does not mean you are exempt from the pitfalls of the human condition. We ALL have, at times, experienced suffering, sadness, anxiety, grief, depression, confusion, self-doubt, avoidance, etc. Therapy can help to provide you not only with space to share your experience of the human condition, but to also learn ways of more effectively coping with these experiences.
Myth #3: Going to therapy means you are weak
Quite the opposite! Going to therapy means that you recognize an issue/issues that you’re not dealing with or that are too difficult to deal with and want to work out. This awareness and recognition is courageous as it means you are accepting the notion that some change needs to be made. Thankfully, do not have to make that change alone!
Myth #4: You’re just paying someone to hear you complain
It is not uncommon for people in therapy to make a comment to their Therapist about how they are paying to complain. This often times comes from an insecurity about the issues they are dealing with. Therapy really isn’t the same as speaking to a friend though. The warm and caring environment may be similar, however Therapists are clinically trained to listen to what you are presenting and they know that there is no problem too small. Therapists have skills that assist them with navigating the conversation and helping to uncover issues you are dealing with in a way that feels supportive and collaborative.
Myth #5: The Therapist will not understand what you’re going through
There are many ways in which you and your Therapist may differ, whether it be through culture, sexual orientation/identity, trauma, drug/alcohol use, etc. It is likely that you and your Therapist have lived very different lives, however don’t forget that your Therapist is also subject to all that comprises the human condition. The unbalanced part of therapy is that Therapists do not always share their personal experiences and self-disclosure is something used when deemed appropriate and potentially helpful for the patient. Therefore, it’s very possible your Therapist has experienced some version of what you are discussing, however that information is not always useful in session.
Part of the beauty, in my opinion, of therapy is the alliance and rapport that is created between the Therapist and patient through learning about the patient’s experiences and working through them. I prefer to not assume that I know what my patient is going through because even if I can identify, I certainly cannot assume their experience as my own. Part of therapy is working together in discussion to make sure the Therapist understands your experience as best as possible in order to provide you with the best possible treatment.
Lastly, there are a number of different Therapists that specialize in certain areas regarding race, culture, sexual orientation/identity, trauma, substance abuse, etc. You can choose a Therapist right off the bat that might be able to better understand your situation based on the specific training or specialty he/she has.
Myth #6: Friends, Family and Coworkers will judge you if they know you go to therapy
Every single one of my patients that shared this worry reported that it ended up being completely unfounded. There is a great fear that once one “outs” him/herself about going to therapy, everyone around them will think they’re “crazy”. However, according to every single individual that reported this worry to me, the exact opposite has happened. I have received reports that coworkers have actually privately approached patients to find out more about their experience with therapy and request recommendations. Additionally, I’ve been informed that friends and family members appear to respect the individual’s efforts to attend to whatever mental health issues they are working on. The moral of the story is that no one thinks you are crazy if you go to see a Therapist. The most likely reaction is that whoever finds out will be inspired to seek therapy themselves. Going to therapy is a massive aspect of reducing stigma about mental health issues. At the end of the day, whether it is mental illness or just the human condition, these are issues that we DID NOT choose! So don’t blame yourself for having them and let’s help you live a more fulfilled life in the presence of them!
For me, something I want all of my patients and anyone who goes to therapy or contemplates therapy to know is…you have no idea how incredible you are! I oftentimes walk away from my sessions feeling inspired by my patients and so grateful to be able to be working with them. I really admire these individuals that come to my office every week ready to work. They’re smart, kind, funny, regular human beings who are willing and open to imagine a better life for themselves. At the end of the day, we are all human. So if you want help, exercise your human right to go get it...now
Say “Yes” to Therapy…Now!
Written by: Brittany Butts, LMHC
Brittany is the Clinical Director as Jamron Counseling and practices in our Bushwick location.