As a therapist, as well as someone who goes to therapy, I can speak firsthand about the importance of attending therapy. Think of it this way: you are driving your car and suddenly you hear a funny noise. At first, you ignore it and hope it goes away. But over time, the noise starts to get worse and soon you realize you need to repair whatever’s wrong.
Would you try to fix the car yourself, even though you have no training or experience with car repair? Or would you take it in to a mechanic with years of training and experience and ask them to make the repairs?
Most of us would take our car to the mechanic, get the repairs, and move on with our lives.
Why is it that we will trust a mechanic with our car, a contractor with house repairs, or a doctor when we are injured or ill, but we have difficulty trusting a therapist with our thoughts and feelings? Why do some of us avoid seeking professional help when it comes to our mental health and well-being? And if we do go to a therapist, why it is seen as something to keep quiet about and not share with others?
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the two are intimately related. Many people, at some point in their lives, will struggle with their mental health. Research shows that 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed with a mental illness. Unfortunately, people may be discouraged from reaching out to professionals because of the misconceptions and stigmas that exist around therapy and mental health.
You are not alone in your struggles, just as you are not alone in overcoming them, and it is important to recognize the stigma that surrounds psychotherapy and treatment. Here are a number of misconceptions regarding the treatment of mental health.
Going to therapy indicates weakness or instability
Sometimes, we feel like we must be able to solve our problems on our own. Admitting you need help is not always easy, but everyone needs help sometimes, and reaching out for help is a courageous and strong act!
By seeking help, it shows that you value yourself and that you want to make positive changes in your life. Therapy can help you work through difficulties, make positive changes, and support you in your personal development, no matter how big or small your particular struggles may be.
Therapy will only focus my childhood
This is a big myth that is often portrayed by the media, which could be a result of Sigmund Freud’s original focus on childhood in psychoanalysis. While many mental health concerns can stem from childhood trauma or neglection, a therapist can help you cope with the difficulties you face today, even if you have to discuss your childhood.
But much of what a therapist will discuss with you regards present and future struggles and how to overcome them. Previous experiences can be important in understanding your thoughts and feelings, but the focus is usually set on how you can use skills gained from therapy to make positive forward progress in your life.
My struggles aren’t serious enough for therapy
Many people believe that you have to have deep, serious, or even traumatic struggles to benefit from therapy, but that isn’t true. Like the car analogy, you wouldn’t wait for the wheels to fall off before getting repairs. You’d take care of small issues to make sure the car is safe and sound. The misconception that your struggles aren’t “serious” enough for therapy is dangerous as it could cause someone not to seek the help that they need.
Therapy can help you through any kind of struggle if you’re having difficulty resolving it on your own. Every mental health concern is valid and worth treating, and you don’t have to tackle them alone. And remember, it’s important not to compare your difficulties with others who “might have it worse” because the most important thing is to take care of yourself.
Why go to therapy when you can talk to friends or family?
Good friends are great to have, and can certainly support you in many areas of your life. Their friendships can be helpful in getting through tough times, but they are not trained and licensed mental health professionals, and they may not give the best advice even if they have good intentions.
We must remember that friends should not be put into the role of a therapist. Not only are your friends not professionally trained, but placing them in this position can put a strain on your relationship. These expectations can be more harmful than helpful, so in order to protect you, your friends, and your relationships, it’s important to keep this boundary in place. Instead, seek the help of a trained professional.
Therapy isn’t worth the money
Cost is a big factor that many people will consider when seeking professional help. However, when it comes to therapy, there is a misconception that the financial cost of therapy outweighs the benefits.
If you’re worried about cost, try to focus on the impact that your mental health has on you and different areas of your life. Does it impact your happiness? Relationships? Work? Therapy can help you improve every area of your life, and despite the financial cost, therapy is a solid investment in your well-being that will provide positive returns well into the future.
If I start therapy, will it ever end?
Therapy is often viewed as something that must be done over a long period time, perhaps even for the rest of your life. However, the length and frequency of sessions depends entirely on the person, their struggles, and their goals.
You may only need two or three sessions to set things right, and you can apply the tools you learned to your own life once you’ve finished treatment. Or maybe it’s beneficial to take sessions over a longer period of time to work through deeper struggles. Therapists are trained to know when you’ve made progress, and you may come to a point in a session where you no longer need any help because you’ve gained the skills you need to keep yourself mentally healthy.
Therapy is pseudoscience
Therapy has been inaccurately represented as frivolous or lacking in scientific backing. Therapists are often portrayed as inferior to other healthcare professionals, which has contributed to the stigma that therapy has little to no accuracy or validity. Some even call it “pseudoscience” or “psychobabble.”
This isn’t true at all. All forms of therapy use scientific, evidence-based research, like the results from Dr. John Gottman’s Love Lab, to provide you with useful information. You cannot become a licensed therapist without thoroughly studying the science that informs therapeutic methods. The strategies and tools that qualified therapists share with you are proven to work because they are based on scientific research concerning the impact of therapy on hundreds or even thousands of people over the course of many years, even decades.
Therapists can only help if they’ve had the same experience as you
Everyone wants to be understood and validated, and we tend to believe that this understanding comes from experiencing the same situations and struggles. This is true, but understanding can also come from sharing different experiences as well. Understanding another’s experience requires empathy, which therapists are trained to express even if they haven’t encountered the same difficulties that you have.
Therapists can gain an understanding of your situation as they may have encountered your struggle in a different context. Therapists have the education and experience to support you in the appropriate way. They have different styles and approaches to therapy, so sometimes a specific therapist may not be the right fit for you, but they can always refer you to someone who will be of better assistance.
Isn’t medication more effective than therapy?
There is a misconception that prescribed medication from a psychiatrist is more useful and beneficial than participating in therapy with a mental health professional. This can lead people to think that medication is the only solution for them, which is particularly harmful. Research shows that the most positive outcomes come to people who have a combination of both the appropriate medication and therapy, especially when receiving treatment for addiction or substance abuse.
While medication is effective for treating mental illness, it is not the only option. You have to find a balance of what works best for you. Therapy in combination with medication from a psychiatrist can be beneficial in helping you with your mental health struggles. Discuss medication with your therapist, who can refer to you to the appropriate psychiatrist that can help with your particular difficulties. Some psychiatrists are also trained therapists, so you might find a professional that can provide both therapy and prescriptions.
Therapists have it all figured out, right?
The idea that therapists always have happy, harmonious lives is another misconception about therapy. Many think that because therapists have such extensive training and experience, their lives will be wrinkle-free and perfect and that they’ve figured it all out.
However, just because someone is trained in the mental health field doesn’t mean they don’t have their own struggles. Remember that therapists are everyday people, too. You will find that many of the best therapists have their own therapists as well. Just like everyone else, they struggle in certain areas of their life, and some therapists even choose their occupation because of their own personal experiences with therapy and their desire to pass along the help they received.
If you need help, don’t wait
Forget the stigma around therapy; if you need help, it is in your best interest to seek assistance from a trained professional. Attending therapy allows you to explore your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and helps you form a deep understanding of yourself and what will bring you satisfaction and peace in your life.
If you are in need of a therapist, The Gottman Referral Network is a great way to find a Gottman-trained therapist near you.
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