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Seven myths about therapy that need to be rewritten

Main Line Health June 12, 2020 General Wellness

No time in recent history have we had a global pandemic that lead to stay-at-home orders affecting 94 percent of the U.S. population, followed closely by social upheaval and activism on par with the Civil Rights movement. If ever there were a time to seek therapy because of external stressors and things feeling a little out of control, or even deep-seated, unaddressed issues—now would be the time. 

Says Barb Catania of the Women’s Emotional Wellness Center (WEWC), part of Main Line Health, “For many people, just being at home with other family members—or by themselves—with the disruption of daily routine and ‘busyness’ is enough to drive up old anxieties, fears or resentments. Tempers flare, unsettled arguments come up again, and when you throw kids into the mix, you’ve got a whole recipe for family therapy!”

But for some people there’s still resistance to engaging in therapy.

Maybe a negative experience left a bad taste in their mouth or someone else’s story sounded nothing like their own. While TV and internet also do not do therapy any favors as the cast of characters could be anything from a therapist with a relentless Freudian stare or a patient who comes and goes as an emotional puddle. In spite of the fact that modern psychotherapy has gained increased social acceptance and usage over the last 70 years, there are still major misconceptions about the therapy experience.

Here are seven common myths about therapy: 

I don’t want to sit through therapy. I know what it’s going to be like. 

If you’ve never been in therapy before, it’s hard to say how it’s really going to be. There are a multitude of psychotherapy approaches as well as therapists with different styles and areas of expertise. Psychotherapy generally falls into five broad categories:

  • Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. In these methods, you explore the unconscious mind for thoughts, feelings and meaning that causes unwanted behavior.
  • Behavior therapy. Founded on the idea that learning and development dictate your behavior in life, this method also includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), commonly used today by many therapists to help retrain thoughts as well as behaviors. 
  • Cognitive therapy. The essence of cognitive therapy is the examination of how one’s thoughts influence feelings and all of one’s decisions and actions.
  • Humanistic therapy. The therapist provides guidance to better understanding of a person’s own unique worldview and view of self, and how that influences thoughts and behaviors.
  • Integrative or holistic therapy. Because there is so much overlap in therapeutic approaches and one may complement another, therapists often use a hybrid or integrative approach, bringing in different therapy influences to best serve the needs of the patient.

I survived therapy as a teenager, and I swore I’d never do it again. 

Being “forced” into therapy as a child or adolescent, or otherwise coerced at some point in life, will no doubt breed resistance to therapy in adulthood. Past experiences often influence present choices, even if we have evolved from that point and know that it would be helpful. 

So one of the myths about therapy that gets perpetuated is that it’s going to be the same as it was before. If it was perceived as boring or unnecessary or unpleasant, we bring that negative bias forward when in fact our present circumstances, relationships and life experiences are entirely different—so there is no way for the experience to be “the same.” Logic also tells us that anything we experienced in our youth can be seen through the lens of wisdom and maturity, and that our perception of many things in the first few decades of life were limited by the developing brain and our understanding of the world at that time.

Therapy will be a quick fix for what I’m dealing with.

There are different modalities of therapy, some of which are short term, and some are longer term. Depending on your particular needs, a therapist can help determine the appropriate treatment approach. While it is our natural tendency to seek quick fixes, the human mind, body and spirit often need more nurturing through ongoing therapy, which requires work, courage and commitment. Ongoing doesn’t necessarily mean forever, but long enough to see our effort pay off, such as in the relief we feel and the unconditional regard we have for ourselves, the changes that come about in our relationships and circumstances, and the effectiveness we have in our lives.

I should be able to figure this out on my own.

Even those who have been in therapy before or have “already dealt with stuff” may need to revisit therapy. Consider that all great athletes continue to need a coach for ongoing personal athletic performance. As human beings, we will always be going through different life circumstances, at different ages and phases, perhaps with varying degrees of mental and physical well-being. Seeking help through therapy, whether individual or group-based, is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage and investment in ourselves and a commitment to those who love us and those whom we love. It is a collaborative and supportive process we choose to participate in within a safe space.

Even those who have been in therapy before or have “already dealt with stuff” may need to revisit therapy. 

Men in particular may be resistant to therapy because they’ve been conditioned to hold things in or they’ve heard the “weakness” story throughout their lives. Yet men’s mental health is at stake just as much as women’s and men are more at risk for suicide and for drug and alcohol abuse, especially as they approach mid-life. Some men find it more comfortable to start off in a group therapy environment before individual therapy while others may feel more relaxed talking privately to just the therapist. 

What good is talking about it going to do? I could talk with my friends.

There is a big difference between talking with friends and talking with a trained psychotherapist.

“Of course therapy involves talking,” explains Catania, “but what a good therapist is able to do is help disrupt negative patterns of thinking that show up in the way a person speaks about themselves or their lives. We’re also able to help a patient reframe things in ways that people haven’t been able to see on their own, that allows for a new perspective and a shift in experience that can actually help lift them out of self-limiting beliefs or recurring behaviors. In cases of depression, sometimes a person has been living with a depressed mindset for so long, they’re unable to distinguish what is so-called ‘normal’ thinking from depressive thoughts, so working with a skilled therapist can help people reconnect with their true selves. By doing this, they begin to take action and have conversations that produce new results with people in their lives and they start to experience greater happiness and ease. 

I’ll end up going to therapy for the rest of my life.

The idea that you’ll go to therapy for the rest of your life usually comes from having seen someone who has been to therapy but didn’t get results they sought. Or that person may continue to go to a therapist but does not apply what they’re learning to their lives and therefore isn’t growing and changing. As previously mentioned, therapy does require work if you’re to see results. It is quite possible to see a therapist for years and to nod your head “yes” but never actually put any new practices in place. Change is hard but not impossible! Therapy is definitely for people who wish to resolve something for themselves, to learn and understand more about themselves, to relate better to others, and to experience higher levels of peace of mind and freedom. It doesn’t take an entire lifetime if you’re willing to take suggestions. 

They’re just going to put me on medication anyway.

This is one of the myths about therapy that continue to hold people back from seeking treatment that could make a difference, whether medication is involved or not. It assumes that all therapists are “pill pushers” and want patients to be on antidepressants. It also assumes that all therapists are psychiatrists because these are the only mental health professionals legally authorized to prescribe medication. 

In fact, most therapists hold different licenses such as licensed social worker (LSW), clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed professional counselor (LPC), marriage and family therapist (MFT) or psychologist. If a medication consult with a psychiatrist is deemed appropriate, the therapist then refers the patient out for the medication portion of treatment. If medication is prescribed, it is usually in combination with therapy.

What to expect in therapy sessions

In the first few sessions, your therapist will typically collect any pertinent information and ask you why you are seeking therapy services. A therapist will listen and probe or encourage you to explore certain things in therapy if they feel it will help you to grow and heal. The therapists will explore certain aspects of your past with you if they feel this will help you to understand your current feelings, thoughts or behavior.

Benefits of group therapy

You might also benefit from group therapy sessions in which members are encouraged to share what they’re experiencing and solicit feedback from other group members in order to build connection and support. By participating in group therapy, you can often see others’ experiences mirroring your own. 

Sessions typically consist of psychoeducation about a particular topic and open discussion as it relates to the topic. Group therapy creates:

  • Connection
  • A sense of belonging
  • Identification with others
  • A place to learn new skills
  • Being able to help others

“When people are in group therapy for the first time, they’re often surprised at how much they can relate to what others are going through, even if the circumstances are completely different,” adds Catania. “Group therapy gives people a deep sense of connectedness, sometimes for the first time in their lives—that feeling of ‘I am not alone in the world.’”

Keep in mind that just learning about yourself and why you do what you do isn’t the end game. Your therapist will encourage you to go out and practice your new skills in everyday life to apply what you’re discovering and learning.

Thankfully, a wide range of Main Line Health behavioral health services, from gender-specific group therapy and individual therapy to 12-step meetings for drug and alcohol addition, are now available via videoconference. It all begins with a phone call. Start the road to recovery today. Call us at 1.888.CARE.898 (227.3898) to schedule a confidential appointment and ask any questions. Or, use our secure online form to email us.