Myths About Psychotherapy
1. Only crazy people need psychotherapy. While genuinely crazy people do need psychotherapy (and anti-psychotic medication), most people who use psychotherapy are sane. They are unsatisfied with their lives, or are troubled. They go into psychotherapy to sort out their problems.
2. Going into therapy is a sign of weakness; people should be able to deal with things on their own. Nothing is farther from the truth! People of all ages need others to lean on at times. We all need to be seen and known deeply by another. We often need a different perspective on ourselves and our situation. Thinking that you can handle everything in life by yourself is, itself, a kind of craziness.
3. Psychotherapy will take away my creativity because part of being an artist is being in pain and a little mad. It is true both that many artists have used their creativity to give meaning and expression to their pain, and that artists do tend to have unique ways of seeing life that others may label as a sign of madness. However, artistic processes are about creative play and idiosyncratic vision, not pain or psychosis. In fact, psychic pain and madness can interfere with a person’s ability to be creative. Psychotherapy, rather than the enemy of artistic process, can be a useful means of unblocking and enhancing creativity.
4. The psychotherapist will fix me or give me good advice on how to lead my life because the therapist is an expert. When there is a problem with your car, you take it to a mechanic—an expert—who fixes it. Both you and your car are passive recipients of the repair. But you are not like a car. For psychotherapy to work, you need to be an active participant, bringing your expertise about what life is like for you. The best solutions and insights will come from you, with the therapist acting more like a midwife than a psychic surgeon. In this way, you gain what you need to lead a better life, and are not dependent on the therapist to tell you how to live.
5. One sign of a therapy not working is if it is taking “too long”. Every person, and every therapeutic pairing, is unique. There is no rule about how long any therapy should take. Each person who comes into therapy has her or his own combination of resources and problems, issues with trust, and means of processing new experience. All of this affects the length of the therapy—whether it lasts 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades. However, it is important that both therapist and client keep asking themselves (and sometimes, each other) whether the therapy is effective. If it doesn’t seem to be, they should talk about what’s not working. If they can’t resolve whatever is causing the therapy to be stuck, they might consider the client’s transferring to a new therapist.
6. If the therapy is working, the client will feel better after each session, or feel progressively better. If only this were true! However, since therapy is about facing those things which are difficult—and sometimes painful or shaming—there are times when the therapy doesn’t feel good. Facing difficult things can feel empowering and like a relief, but it might first leave one feeling hurt or sad, angry, ashamed, or disempowered. Also, there may be times when the client may have negative feelings toward the therapist. Talking about these feelings may be difficult, but is necessary. Having feelings stirred up is part of the therapeutic process.
7. If I feel my feelings, I may break apart or go crazy. Most of us have developed defenses that prevent us from going crazy and these defenses do not go away easily. The fear of letting feelings come to the surface may be a sort of phobia or it may be an accurate assessment of one’s internal world. Either way, part of the therapeutic work is to help you develop the ability to tolerate your feelings without getting overwhelmed. When we are able to experience the range of our emotions, life becomes much more vibrant and meaningful.
8. Therapists try to make clients dependent on them. Some people do become dependent on their therapists for a while. When this happens, it is usually because the client has an issue, consciously or unconsciously, that requires a period of dependency to work resolve. However, therapy is not about fostering dependency, but helping people learn to take full responsibility for their lives. Even when a client is experiencing feelings of dependency on the therapist, the goal is the client’s autonomy.
9. I can’t afford therapy. Therapy often is expensive. Some people have insurance policies that make it more affordable; some have flex pay or health savings accounts that help cover the cost. For some people, it is a question of budgeting and prioritizing. Some private practice therapists have sliding scale fees for people who truly need financial help to stay in therapy. Most communities have public and private agencies that provide mental health services for a reduced fee. Sometimes, people who are ambivalent about entering therapy or about prioritizing their own well-being let the cost of therapy be an excuse for not getting help. The long term cost of not getting the help one needs can be high.
10. The past is the past and I should just get over it because whatever doesn’t kill me will make be stronger. The way to get over a difficult past is to face it fully, in its emotional, physical, cognitive, and spiritual reality. But, by definition, bad events are overwhelming, and we do whatever we can to survive. Our brains don’t fully process overwhelming events when they are happening. As a result, the bad stuff continues to feel overwhelming and we continue to employ our defenses in order to avoid getting overwhelmed. Our defenses may get stronger and stronger, but it comes at the expense of genuine and authentic connection to our selves and to others.
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