If all you know about psychotherapy and counselling comes from TV or films, you may have some misguided notions about what goes on in a practicing counsellor or psychologist’s office. Make sure you know the reality instead of the myths so you can benefit from all that counselling and psychotherapy has to offer.
Myth one: Only weak or crazy people need psychotherapy.
Untrue. People seek psychotherapy for a range of reasons in everyday life. Some choose psychotherapy for treatment of depression, anxiety or substance abuse. But others want help coping with major life transitions – the loss of a job, a divorce, or the death of a loved one – or changing problem behaviors. Yet others need help managing and balancing the demands of parenting, work, and family responsibilities, coping with medical illness, improving relationship skills or managing other stressors that can affect just about all of us. Anyone can benefit from psychotherapy to become a better problem solver.
Myth two: Talking to family members or friends is just as effective as going to a psychologist.
The Reality: Support from family and friends you can trust is important when you’re having a hard time. But a psychologist or counsellor can offer much more than talking to family and friends. Psychologists have years of specialized education, training and experience that make them experts in understanding and treating complex problems. And research shows that psychotherapy is effective and helpful. The techniques a psychologist uses during psychotherapy are developed over decades of research and more than “just talking and listening.”
Psychologists can recognize behavior or thought patterns objectively, more so than those closest to you who may have stopped noticing — or maybe never noticed. A psychologist might offer remarks or observations similar to those in your existing relationships, but their help may be more effective due to their timing, focus or your trust in their neutral stance.
Plus, you can be completely honest with your psychologist without concern that anyone else will know what you revealed. The therapeutic relationship is grounded in confidentiality. (There are a few exceptions where a psychologist has a duty to inform others, such as if you threaten to harm yourself or someone else. But that’s something your psychologist will clarify with you.) In fact, people often tell their psychologists things they have never before revealed to anyone else. If your difficulties have been ongoing without any significant improvement, it may be time to seek help from a trained psychologist.
Myth three: You can get better on your own if you just try hard enough and keep a positive attitude.
The Reality: Many people have tried to solve their problems on their own for weeks, months or even years before starting psychotherapy but have found that that it’s not enough. Deciding to start psychotherapy doesn’t mean you’ve failed, just as it doesn’t mean you’ve failed if you can’t repair your own car. There may be a biological component to some disorders, such as depression or panic attacks, which make it incredibly difficult to heal yourself. In reality, having the courage to reach out and admit you need help is a sign of strength rather than weakness — and the first step toward feeling better.
Myth Four: Psychologists and counsellors will just blame all your problems on your parents or your childhood experiences.
Reality: One component of psychotherapy might entail exploring childhood experiences and any other significant events impacting your life. Relating information from your family background can help you and your psychologist understand your perceptions and feelings, current coping strategies, or see how patterns of feelings or behaviour may have developed. The point of wanting you to look backward is to better understand your present and make positive changes for the future.
However, in some instances your counsellor will choose to focus mainly on the current problem or crisis that brought you into treatment and not delve into your past at all. You’ll learn how to incorporate techniques and use tools that will help change your current thoughts or behaviors contributing to your problem. Psychologists who use an eclectic style of psychotherapy will know how to guide the session to include discoveries about your past with reflections on current problematic thoughts or behaviors.
Myth Five: Once I start, therapy will go on forever.
This is a misconception that comes from equating counselling and psychotherapy with Psychoanalysis, which can go on for years. Most types of therapy are much more brief. Some people come and see me for just three or four sessions, to talk through a very specific issue such as a career choice, or a parenting problem. Others may have more complex issues and so need more sessions; helping someone recover from depression for example can require between ten and twenty sessions.
Myth Six: Therapy will turn me into someone else.
The Reality: Psychotherapy and counselling should be about helping you live the life you want to live, making changes that you want to make, not on turning you into someone new. Good therapists help people be the people they want to be—not who the therapists thinks they should be.