Therapy has many stereotypes associated with it. Debunking a few of these myths about therapy is vital to breaking the prejudice attached to it.
A lot has been written about mental health in the workplace and the risks of sharing a mental illness with coworkers or employers. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an important time to address the unfortunate, widespread stigma that still exists about mental health and psychotherapy in America. Much more needs to be done to educate the public about mental health wellness and suicide prevention.
Misguided notions about what really goes on in a practicing psychotherapist’s office often come from novels or television. Psychotherapists are often portrayed as incompetent hacks, more disturbed than their clients. Some scenes are good, some bad, and others downright comical. There are numerous myths about psychotherapy that continue to show up in the written word, on the screen, and in the workplace. Here are ten of the most common ones.
Here Are 10 Common Myths About Therapy
1. People who seek psychotherapy are weak, mentally ill, or crazy.
Untrue. Nowadays if you seek treatment, it’s often viewed as a sign of resourcefulness. The average therapy client struggles with many of the same problems we all struggle with daily: relationships, self-doubt, confidence, self-esteem, work-life stress, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.
The preferred designation for the person in therapy is “client,” not “patient,” for that very reason. Over my 25 years of experience, I’ve often said that the folks I treat in therapy are mentally healthier than some people walking the streets who fear the stigma of mental health counseling.
2. Therapists sit behind desks taking notes while you lie on a couch.
This is rarely the case. Trained clinicians know that the arrangement and distance between them and the client are critical for a safe and workable therapeutic alliance. Psychological or physical separation from the client can create subtle authority and intimidation and an inability on the client’s part to fully connect and disclose information pertinent to treatment.
The typical therapeutic setting is much like your living room where both parties sit in comfortable chairs without barriers between them. Good therapists often ask if the distance is comfortable and refrain from taking notes until after the session so they can be present with clients.
3. Psychotherapists and clients become best friends.
There is no basis in the myth often seen in literature that you pay a psychotherapist to be nice to you and care for you. The therapeutic relationship is a psychologically intimate but strictly professional one.
It’s the therapist’s absolute commitment and requirement of ethics and law that the relationship is limited to counseling sessions and necessary email, phone, or text contacts. Clinicians who break the boundary between a professional relationship and friendship can lose their licenses for such infractions. The client’s name and personal story are strictly confidential.
In an episode of the TV series “The Sopranos,” a serious ethical lapse occurred when one therapist revealed the name of another therapist’s client across a crowded table at a dinner party full of clinicians. Around the country the next day, the episode outraged clients and therapists because of this egregious ethical violation. Some fans even lost faith in their ability to maintain “belief” in the television program.
4. Psychotherapy is mostly just talk.
Therapy isn’t passive. Scenes in novels and TV shows where therapists just listen to clients vent, nod their heads in approval, and mirror back the same words are stereotypes. These are those cases in fiction where therapists interpret clients’ experiences for them instead of eliciting a client’s own interpretations.
With today’s cutting-edge therapies, clinicians are trained in experiential and therapist-led modalities that engage both parties in an interactive collaborative process based on dialogue and the client’s active engagement in joint problem-solving. Together psychotherapists and clients identify problems, set goals, and monitor progress sometimes with homework and reading assignments as part of the process.
5. Psychotherapists have ready-made solutions for all of life’s problems.
What is important in establishing the therapist-client alliance is not what the therapist thinks is important to bring about change but what the client thinks is important. A good therapist tailors treatment sessions around the needs of clients instead of plugging clients into ready-made formulas.