Common Misconceptions About Therapy

PC: Hello I’m Nik @ Unsplash

I recently asked my friends and family about questions or concerns they or people they know have about therapy. I compiled the responses into a list (below) along with accurate information to clear up misinformation. Although not comprehensive, here are a few points of clarification about therapy and therapists –

  1. Therapists give advice, or they will provide answers.
    • Therapists help facilitate change through questions, reflections, recommendations and suggestions, exploration of options, support, compassion, and by challenging you when needed. We don’t really do advice.
  2. Talk therapy doesn’t work. Therapy is useless.
    • No, talk therapy certainly doesn’t work for everyone. Luckily, there are several therapy modalities. There are also various types of talk therapy. Many therapists are trained in different modalities and they can adjust their work according to someone’s need. For more information on why therapy is helpful, check out my previous post.
  3. All therapists have the same treatment style or they are all the same.
    • Just as we encourage you to bring in your genuine self to our sessions, most of us come in with our authentic self. How we work with you is affected by who we are, our training, the treatment modality (modalities) we practice, and how we conceptualize mental health and emotional well-being. We also differ based on our niche, area(s) of expertise, and how we engage with anti-oppression work. One size never actually fits all.
  4. Part 1: Only those who are severely ill need therapists. If you see a therapist, that means there is something wrong with you/your family and/or you are weak.
    • It is true that appropriate therapy and therapeutic relationship will support the well-being of individuals who are experiencing mental illnesses. But, you do not need to have a mental health or substance use disorder diagnosis to see a therapist. As a matter of fact, not all therapists diagnose! Therapy is simply a tool like any other to achieve or maintain well-being. Refer to my previous post for more info.
    • Side Note: “Something wrong with you” is a code for “crazy,” which is a stigmatizing, harmful, and ableist label.
  5. Part 2: There is something wrong with you if you see a therapist.
    • For many groups of people or cultures, going to therapy can be controversial and difficult not only due to stigma or misunderstanding surrounding mental illness, but also because of having to preserve family honor. I am simplifying this topic, but is this familiar to you:
      • Nepali – Aru ley keh bhanchan?
      • Hindi – Log kya kahenge?
      • English – What will others say?
    • For those who have experienced any form of abuse in the family, it might be phrased, again, as honor. Or, it may become about keeping secrets to uphold family unity or to avoid shame.
    • Well, the shame is not yours to keep and to hold. The only thing you are responsible to hold space for is healing yourself and your community. Airing out secrets in the safety of a therapeutic relationship will lighten your load and your pain. Honor does not necessarily come from life-long suffering or hidden pain; it comes from the courage to change what’s not working, to find a different path. It’s brave to seek support and your well-being. Additionally, therapists are bound by HIPAA (in the U.S.) and other laws pertaining to privacy and confidentiality. We are legally bound to keep your information confidential and cannot reveal your identifying information without your written consent and knowledge, except for a few instances which I will clarify in another post.
  6. Therapy is too expensive, or it isn’t covered by traditional HMO plans.
    • Many therapists, mental health providers, group therapy practices, and mental health/therapeutic agencies accept insurance. Often, you will only be responsible for a small co-pay (you may not even have a co-pay depending on your insurance). Many therapists and practices offer income-based sliding scale, and will work with you on something that is cost-effective for you. Many therapists who do not accept insurance or offer sliding scale do so to support their work providing free therapeutic services in communities where it is generally unavailable. Contact your insurance for a list of providers.
  7. The waitlists for therapists are too long.
    • This is certainly true for some therapists, but there are literally hundreds of therapists or several agencies/practices to choose from if you live in a city. If you live in a rural area and can connect to wifi, look into tele-therapy.
  8. Therapists don’t have any problems. A therapist won’t understand my issues unless they have the same issues.
    • Therapists are human beings, and as humans, we also struggle, may have a mental illness, may be in recovery from a substance use disorder, experience internal and external conflicts, have fears and traumas, go through grief and mourning…you get the idea. I am sure you can think of an instance when you could feel or empathize with someone else’s pain – it’s the same for us. Also, we don’t have to have gone through the same things to actually provide the support you need. You may even come away with a different perspective because we aren’t in it with you.
  9. If a therapist has any personal problem, they aren’t a good therapist.
    • Pain is unavoidable at times for all human beings, and as such, when we heal from it, we gain new insights. This is actually helpful in supporting others. Many therapists have been in therapy or are actively in therapy, which only helps with maintaining appropriate professional boundaries and our ability to be present with you. And we come with a personal understating of what it’s like to be in therapy! Many of us also have supervisors and/or consultants, who support our growth as a therapist.
  10. They won’t believe me, or my therapist will judge me.
    • A therapist’s job is to support you and to remain non-judgmental. Most of us truly and deeply care about our clients; we believe our clients and want the best for you. At the same time, we will also explore behaviors that are harmful to you and/or others WITH YOU not without you. If you sense judgement from a therapist, you are allowed to bring it up. If a therapist does judge you, they are not a good fit for you, full-stop. You are allowed to end a therapeutic relationship at anytime for any reason, with or without notice.
  11. I can handle my own problems.
    • There is no doubt about it, and that’s why you are resilient! Therapy is merely a self-care tool, a tool for support. Your therapist will encourage and assist you in solving your problems using various methods, e.g. their knowledge of neurobiology, systemic factors, and who you are, by shedding light on parts that are unclear or hidden, by illuminating your areas of strengths and helping you develop skills where needed, etc.
  12. Therapists will make me think of my traumatizing experiences before I am ready. If I think of my trauma, I will get worse.
    • The beauty of having so many therapeutic modalities is that with some of them, you don’t even have to talk about your trauma to heal from it! I say this while also acknowledging that having an idea of your experiences will help us tailor our work to what would be the most beneficial. Regardless, we will go at your pace and not delve any deeper than you are ready to do, and at the same time, we might also ask you to consider things that may be helpful. If talking about your trauma is important, then we will get there when you are ready, or we will help you prepare for it so that you have all the support and skills needed before we get into the scary/tough stuff.
  13. I have to be in recovery to see a therapist.
    • You just have to look for a therapist who has experience treating substance use disorders. We may ask you to come in while sober, abstain from certain substances before and during a session, or recommend other forms of treatment that may be more beneficial depending on where you are, but you most definitely can receive therapeutic support when you are struggling with substance misuse.
  14. All therapists have a box of tissue in their office (inspired by a friend’s story).
    • Gotcha! We actually do have at least 1 box of tissue in our office so that either/both of us can use it…unless of course, we run out of it like several of us did at the start of this pandemic.