I’ve heard it so often over the years: “He’s going through a hard time,” someone will say about a friend, “but he doesn’t believe in psychotherapy.” Or perhaps it’s, “My mom could really use some therapy, but she’d never do that.” As a psychologist in private practice, I often hear stories of people who could really use someone to talk to, but for whatever reason, refuse to see a therapist.
Following are the 10 most common anti-therapy attitudes I’ve heard over the years—along with the reasons why each doesn’t really hold up.
1. “I’d rather talk to my friends.”
Of course, you should talk to your friends and your family. It’s important to find support when times are hard. Therapy doesn’t supplant friendship—but then again, friendship can’t do the work of psychotherapy, either. A therapeutic relationship is more than a friendship: Not only does it provide support, but it challenges you, allowing you to gain valuable insights into yourself.
Therapists are trained listeners who can help you find the source of your problems, even if the source is your thoughts, your family, or you. And your friends aren’t going to sit down to talk about you all the time, every week, are they?
2. “It costs too much.”
All too often, insurance doesn’t cover the full cost of psychotherapy—so it does become an investment in yourself. It’s true that there are times when the expense is not practical, but sometimes, an investment in therapy today can head off much more costly, life-affecting problems in the future.
3. “I don’t have time.”
If you have the kind of problems that aren’t going to go away, finding a few hours to deal with them now might actually save you time, as well as money and heartache, in the end.
4. “I saw a psychologist once, and it didn’t help.”
Every psychologist is an individual, with a unique personality, so there’s no reason to believe that a new therapist would fail you in the exact same way that the old one did. Very likely, the person you saw back then was just not someone you could connect with. Another psychologist will, by definition, be different.
5. “What good is talking going to do?”
Lasting personality change does result from psychotherapy, which has been shown in a recent study to reduce neuroticism and increase extraversion. It also often helps just to have someone you trust, who knows you well and with whom you can talk about difficult topics.
The working alliance you forge with your therapist is a relationship, and as you develop that relationship, permanent change becomes possible.
6. “I’d feel weird talking about this stuff to a stranger.”
In my experience, this seems more like a problem than it really is. Most therapists are skilled at making you feel comfortable quickly and do not want to come across as judgmental strangers. If you do have a few sessions with a new therapist but don’t feel comfortable, you can try being open about your concerns, or you can seek out a different therapist.
Therapy is a relationship that is both professional and personal, and the alliance you form with your psychologist is an important factor in the treatment—all of which is to say, it won’t take much time for your therapist to no longer feel like a stranger.