In this article, I would like to talk to you about some of the different myths and expectations around psychotherapy.
In fact, it’s difficult to understand what therapy really is, if you don’t work in the field, and speaking with my clients and friends I have heard a lot of myths about psychotherapy. And I know from experience that a lot of people avoid therapy because they have false beliefs about it.
Unfortunately, there is not enough reliable information and instead, we tend to create an image of therapy based on movies, TV series, rumours or anecdotes.
1. If I go to therapy I will have to take medication.
Psychotherapists cannot and do not prescribe any medication unless they are also a medical doctor. In fact, medication can only be prescribed by a medical doctor or by a psychiatrist – who is also a doctor.
Psychotherapy is a process of healing and the aim is to increase your well-being by talking to your therapist in a safe environment and this does not involve medications.
When I work with clients who I think might benefit from medication I refer them to a psychiatrist for an assessment and they will then decide if the person needs that extra support – or not.
2. I expect to lay down on a sofa, looking at the ceiling, talking for hours with a silent therapist staring at me.
If you choose a classic psychoanalytical approach, you may find yourself laying on a couch. But nowadays this is quite archaic and most approaches use a vis-a-vis position.
I actually do have a couch in my therapy room but I don’t ask people to lay down: we normally sit one in front of the other and you don’t have to look at the ceiling, it’s quite the opposite. Most approaches would absolutely encourage eye contact between you and your therapist. This is really important to create empathy and a good relationship; also, a therapist should notice the body language as well as the verbal communication so it’s best for the therapist to actually look at clients when they talk.
Of course, this myth is hard to disprove because everywhere we see drawings where clients are laying down on the couch with a therapist behind them in silence, often either asleep or terribly bored: this is not helpful at all in encouraging people to start therapy. But this is not true and I want you to know that your therapist will interact with you and will be actively engaged in the process.
3. If I start therapy, it will last forever.
First of all, you always have a choice between short or long term therapy. Just like many other things, it is completely up to you. And even if you choose long term therapy, it does not have to last forever, it’s quite the contrary: therapy aims to give you the tools to support yourself and be independent of it. Also, you can stop your therapy at any time and for any reason, although I would recommend that you always discuss finishing with your therapist and you plan it together.
4. If I go to therapy people will think that I’m crazy.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of shame and stigma about going to therapy. I myself never felt judged for going to therapy but I know many people who could have benefitted from therapy and, more importantly, who would have wanted to go to therapy but they didn’t, because they feared what other people would think and say about them.
I hope that if you do have this fear you can start expressing it out-loud and ask yourself if it’s worth it to give up something so potentially beneficial for what other people may – or may not – say. Because that’s the point, also. I have very rarely met someone who really thought that people who go to therapy are crazy: even though this is a social stigma when you actually speak to people, they are empathetic and supportive.
What if people find out that I see a therapist? Or what if someone finds out what I reveal to my therapist? They won’t, unless you tell them!
Therapy is held by a trusting, caring person in a safe environment; it’s a place where you can express yourself freely without fear of judgment. That’s one of the reasons why your therapist is not your friend and they’re not supposed to become your friends.
In therapy you may reveal things that you feel embarrassed about: everything that you share stays in the therapy room and you can go home lighter.
You may share your secrets, those things you don’t dare to talk about with your friends and it can be really comforting to know that your secrets are safe. And you don’t have to deal with the consequences that sharing with someone else could actually have on your life (like being judged or hurting someone’s feelings).
Confidentiality is the golden rule of psychotherapy and your therapist will not share any of the information you provide, nor the fact that you are a client.
5. Therapy is only for people with mental health issues.
Psychotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of problems, including: depression, anxiety disorders, any personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders such as bulimia or binge eating or anorexia; any drug or alcohol misuse; self-harming and suicidal thoughts.
However, you don’t need to suffer from one of these issues to go to therapy.
We all feel sad or anxious or overwhelmed from time to time and we may want to be supported.
Therapy can be for anyone who has stress in their life and they would like to learn how to deal better with the stress; anyone who keeps repeating the same patterns over and over again and they would like to change their behaviour because they feel as though they are stuck in the same old patterns.
Or you may decide to go to therapy because for example you have lost the ability to cope with everyday problems and you’d like to regain that ability, or maybe you constantly feel angry or on edge and you would like to go back to a healthier emotional way of being; maybe you are experiencing low self-esteem.
Maybe something is happening in your life and you feel as though you have lost your confidence; maybe you have suffered a loss or endured a trauma or perhaps you had an abortion or a miscarriage; or you are going to take a big step in your life such as changing job, getting married or having a child and you would like to approach these changes with greater self-awareness and explore what it means to have a career shift, or to get married or to become a parent.
As you can see there are plenty of reasons to go to therapy and everyone who feels ready to engage in this process can benefit from it.
6. If I see a therapist I have to go through lots of testing.
Psychotherapy does not normally involve tests. Some therapists may choose to use them to have a better understanding of a certain aspect of your character, or of your symptoms, but you don’t have to be tested – unless you want to. So if that’s your concern, don’t worry. Instead, you could be tested if you are involved in something more specific, like an assessment process but in this case, you would sit with someone specialised in testing, probably a clinical psychologist.
These are the myths that I’ve come across. If you have any other beliefs or expectations about therapy, please feel free to contact me and enquire.