Dispelling Common Myths About Therapy
There are many persistent myths about therapy that can influence a person’s decision to avoid it. Knowing how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to therapy can help you make those first crucial steps toward getting care.
1. You probably won’t be lying on a couch
The idea of being expected to lie on a couch and open up about your childhood is one I often hear from new clients. Therapy is intended to be a supportive environment that may involve learning a specific set of skills to tackle life’s challenges in healthy ways. Pre-pandemic, most therapy sessions were conducted face-to-face, but video therapy has quickly taken its place as people across the U.S. stay at home in accordance with shelter-in-place orders. As quarantines end and people are getting back to “normalcy”, many have found teletherapy convenient and are sticking with it.
Teletherapy makes it easier and more convenient for people to access help from home. (You can learn more about the benefits of video therapy here.) Make sure you have a private space in your home and are able to set aside an hour of time weekly or bi-weekly to connect with your therapist via video. If you share your home with others, ask them to wear headphones, move to another room, or take a walk during your session. Set up a cushion or chair in a closet or bathroom if you must – but don’t let quarantine, or even a hectic schedule, stop you from seeking the care you need and deserve.
2. Therapy Can Help Anyone
There’s a common misconception that therapy is for “crazy people,” or the severely mentally ill. Rest assured that this is far from the truth. In fact, putting off therapy can cause smaller, more manageable issues to fester and worsen over time. The longer you wait, the harder it may be to tackle your issues. There are so many reasons why therapy can help, including relationship issues, becoming a caregiver for someone who is ill, wanting to change jobs or careers, low-self esteem, feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, becoming a new parent, moving to a new country, and more. You don’t have to have a diagnosable mental illness to get professional emotional support.
3. Not All Therapies are the Same
Another widespread myth is that all therapies are the same. In reality, there are a variety of evidence-based therapies (EBTs), or those that have been tested by researchers and proven effective in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression. These therapies are typically short-term and goal-directed, and emphasize specific practices or skills to work on between sessions. As I often tell my clients, “The real work towards change happens outside of our sessions.” In other words, your commitment to practicing these skills in your daily life is essential.
4. You May Experience a Range of Emotions
Sharing private details with someone you are meeting for the first time is difficult for most people. You may be asked to share unpleasant aspects of your life, perhaps for the first time. Keep in mind that you never have to share more than you’re comfortable sharing, though being open and honest with your therapist is key to feeling better. Sharing difficult thoughts, feelings, or experiences from your past may lead you to experience a range of emotions, from sadness and anger to excitement and hope. While sharing can be tough, many first-time clients express relief in having a safe and supportive environment to talk openly about their problems.
5. Take an Active (and Proactive) Role in Therapy
Organize your thoughts in advance and consider how you want to describe what brought you to therapy – especially before your first session. You might find it helpful to dedicate a few minutes each day to reflect and document important points to highlight. You can also maximize your appointment time by completing initial paperwork beforehand, such as forms or questionnaires that were sent to you before your appointment. Your therapist might assign you “homework” in between sessions, and that’s when a lot of the healing, growing, and change happens. Think of your therapist as a guide that will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to improve your overall well-being.
6. Be Open and Honest
Therapists aren’t mindreaders, so it’s important to be open about your problems and share what you’re feeling in session. Your therapist can be more effective at helping when you’re forthcoming with answers to their questions. At the same time, it’s important to know your limits. As mentioned, you don’t have to discuss anything you don’t feel comfortable sharing during your first visit. It’s normal to build a sense of trust before disclosing more sensitive topics or issues. If your therapist asks you to share information or feelings you’re not ready to share, you’re allowed to say so.
7. Ask Questions
There are no right or wrong questions for your therapist. Remember, getting to know each other is a mutual experience. You might ask about their training, what type of therapy will be used and how it works, or how long therapy is expected to last. Or maybe you’ve researched your therapist prior to your first appointment. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions or for information, you didn’t quite understand. Not every therapist is a good fit, and the more you know about your therapist and their style, the more comfortable you’ll feel about therapy overall. Gather information to determine if this working relationship feels like a good match for you. If you’ve been seeing your therapist for a while, you’re still allowed to ask questions and decide if it is still a good fit. At any point, you can switch to a new therapist. Just be open and honest about why you are ending with your therapist.
Here are some questions you might ask before starting therapy:
- How long have you been practicing?
- What therapy approach(es) do you use? Can you describe them to me?
- How much experience do you have working with people who have similar issues?
- How long does treatment typically last?
- Is the teletherapy platform that you use safe and secure?
- How should I prepare for my video session and what should I do if I have trouble connecting to the meeting?
- Is video therapy as effective as in-person therapy?
8. Identify Your Goals
It’s helpful to establish goals for therapy in order for your therapist to create an effective treatment plan. You can collaborate with your therapist to identify attainable goals to work toward together. These might include learning healthy skills to cope with parenting stress, managing symptoms of depression, improving your sleep quality, or overcoming your fear of public speaking. Whatever your goals are, it’s best to come to your first session with realistic expectations. Your therapist will also help you set expectations and develop a plan toward achieving your goals if you need guidance. The therapist isn’t there to tell you what to do – you get to decide what your goals are.
Therapy is About Empowering You
Mental health care and mental illness are unfortunately still stigmatized. The more you learn about what therapy is and isn’t, the more empowered we all are to care for our emotional and mental health. If you live in Florida and need support, I’m here for you. Contact me today to schedule a free consultation and see if we’re a good fit.