Myth: Therapy is supposed to help you feel happy all the time.
Fact: “To me, that’s impossible. My goal is to help people deal with the painful feelings that accompany many of life’s circumstances and help them see that they don’t need to be afraid of certain difficult feelings.” – Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD.
“… I find the idea of everlasting happiness to be a very unfortunate myth in our general American culture. That’s one of the reasons why I love both ACT and Oliver Burkeman’s book [The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking]: They are both well-grounded in the reality that we are always going to face struggles, negative thoughts, painful feelings and a whole host of other uncomfortable things in life due to the simple fact that we’re human.
“It’s how we respond to these things that matters, not trying to get rid of them so we can be constantly happy. In the interest of full disclosure: I am a bit of a happiness grump. I once wrote an article for my blog, ‘Bounce,’ entitled ‘Happiness Irritates Me.’ ;-)” – Bobbi Emel, MFT.
Myth: Real change and progress will be sudden and striking.
Fact: “People naturally seek ‘aha’ moments and can fail to see the gradual progress they are making. In my experience, the most important, lasting and meaningful changes happen bit-by-bit, step-by-step, not all at once.” – Jonice Webb, Ph.D.
Myth: Therapy is needless. You can just vent to a friend.
Fact: “I’ve heard people say that if they need to talk or vent, why should they go to a therapist? Can’t they just go to a friend? Two issues with this: 1) not everyone has a close friend to go to; and 2) while venting is fully welcome and can be part of therapy, therapy is for more than just venting. Venting can be useful to temporarily relieve stress (and venting can actually increase stress, if not careful), but at some point, a person in therapy will have to look into themselves and their own cognitive and emotional processes.
“The process that makes therapy effective isn’t as likely to happen effectively with a friend (even if the friend is a therapist). Therapy isn’t only talk and conversation, nor is it advice-giving (another myth).
“Therapy involves a dynamic relationship in its own right, which a personal history conflicts with. That’s why it is unethical for therapists to work with their friends. Therapy is most effective when entered pure — without personal history. Therefore, while it’s nice to be able to vent to friends, if you’re looking for an effective therapy experience, this is much more likely to happen with a therapist than when talking to a friend.” – Nathan Feiles, LCSW.
Myth: Therapy has an end goal.
Fact: “I don’t mean that people need to be in therapy for an indefinite time, but there’s a faulty notion of achieving some end state. This focus makes therapy more difficult as the mind is cluttered with an expectation instead of focusing on learning.
“Even if insurance only covers 10 sessions and wants to hear the end goal, we have to always keep in mind that therapy is a vehicle for learning, and while we can begin to master certain ways of being, growing and learning about ourselves in life never ends.” – Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
Myth: Therapy is about blaming your parents.
Fact: “I find that a frequent concern that people have coming in is that therapy will somehow find fault with their parents and create a rift. The idea is that if you look too closely at your past, it could bring up things better left unexamined and hurt your family. But I find on the contrary that therapy is often about the present moment, and that it often increases our tenderness for our parents.” – Elizabeth Sullivan, MFT.
Myth: Going to therapy means you’re weak.
Fact: “… Life is hard. It just is, and that means that sometimes we need support. Talking with a therapist or taking medication does not make you weak. Would you consider someone who has a broken leg wearing a cast to be weak? If that person engages in physical therapy does he or she deserve our harsh judgment and stigmatization? Should we shame people for having asthma and needing to use an inhaler? Of course not. Wounds can be physical, mental, and emotional. Those of us who need to heal deserve to seek the help we need without feeling ashamed for doing so.” – Casey Radle, M.Ed., LPC.
“Asking for help and committing to one’s own therapy process takes courage for many clients. Each time a new potential client reaches out and connects with me, I am struck by their ability to bravely step into vulnerability by asking for help and support. This feels especially big to me because clients usually feel anything but courage when it comes to asking for help. As a therapist, I am continually honored to be able to accompany clients on their brave journey to understand and work through their strengths, struggles, and story.” – Amy Tatsumi, MA, LPC.
Myth: Therapy isn’t fun.
Fact: “I find therapy fun because we are often able to laugh at ourselves, increase our perspective and gratitude, and see the absurdity in this life.” – Elizabeth Sullivan, MFT.
Therapy can help individuals with a variety of conditions and concerns. The earlier you go, the sooner you can start healing or getting better. And remember that seeking support is a strong, courageous act. This piece has insight into finding the right clinician for you.
Are you surprised by any of these myths? What do you think is the biggest misconception about therapy? Where do you think these myths come from?