Misconceptions about Therapy

August 29, 2012

When I decided to offer therapy to new parents, I didn’t realize the misconception that was attached to “therapy” and what it meant to so many people.

 

As a Relational Psychotherapist, I meet with many different clients that come to me for a variety of reasons. Some clients come because they have lost someone they care about and want help to mourn their loss; some are unhappy with their job and in turn are unhappy with their life; others want help understanding why they feel stuck or have trouble communicating with others and expressing themselves; then there are the people who feel stressed, anxious or alone.

 

My job is to help people understand those feelings and what those feelings mean. Together we identify the triggers and overcome the negative emotions that are feeling heavy in the moment.Being a new mom or dad can bring up many emotions, many happy emotions – and even some unhappy ones. Many parents feel anxious about the new addition to their family: Will I be a good parent? How will this affect my relationship with my partner? Can I really do this? These are all normal questions, sometimes it helps talking to someone about those fears.

 

Misconception 1: “People with mental health problems go to therapy.”

 

While there are professionals who specialize in working with people struggling with mental health disorders, this is not, by far, what all therapists and counselors do. For instance, Relational Psychotherapy, the area in which I gained my training, has less focus on assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders; it focuses more on normal developmental and adjustment issues: choosing a career; managing stress; coping with life changes such as moving homes, entering retirement, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one; dealing with depression and anxiety that may follow a traumatic event in which the client felt helpless and/or victimized; making healthy choices in relationships with friends, co-workers, spouses, and others; developing self-esteem; etc. Some people go to therapy primarily for personal growth: they may be highly functioning people, with successful jobs, close friends, and a good family life, who are seeking a greater level of self-actualization to reach their maximum potential.

 

Misconception 2: “Therapists don’t do anything – they just sit there and nod their heads.”

 

This view of therapy comes from the depictions of the oldest school of modern therapy, traditional Freudian-style psychoanalysis. Freudian analysts see themselves as a "blank screen" upon which their clients project themselves (and their internal conflicts); often, these analysts say very little during a session. There are very few of these strict, traditional-style analysts practicing today. Most therapists are much more interactive: asking questions, listening to the answers, and working proactively with their clients. I work with the client in helping them reach their own direction in therapy.

 

Misconception 3: “If I go to a therapist, I am admitting I am weak.”

 

For some people, there is still a perceived "stigma" attached to therapy. "We should be able to solve our own problems." "Why talk to a stranger about my problems?"

 

While turning to a friend for advice may work in some instances, there are times when all of us could use an unbiased, professional opinion. It takes great courage to admit, to yourself, "I need help." It takes even more courage to ask for help. Rather than a sign of weakness, I believe it is a sign of strength when someone wishes to improve his or her life, and has the courage to ask for assistance in this process.

 

Misconception 4: “Therapist will control your life.”

 

Well-trained therapists work in partnership with their clients. There are different types of therapists, and some are more directive than others. Behaviorists, for example, try to assist clients in changing what both the client and therapist see as "maladaptive behaviors"; these therapists frequently give their clients a lot of homework in the form of more adaptive behaviors to practice (for instance, if the client seeks to stop smoking, the therapist may "prescribe" a daily practice of running, instead). Behaviorists (a minority of therapists) are, generally, the most directive of all types of therapists.

 

My job as a Psychotherapist is to assist people in getting to know and understand themselves better, so that they are better equipped to make their own decisions.

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