Myths about therapy abound, stopping many people from getting the support they need. We’re clearing up some of the worst offenders.
Views about therapy have come a long way. Still, many myths about how therapy works and whether it’s actually helpful persist. The problem with these long-held misconceptions is that they can prevent people from getting potentially life-changing support.
Here are seven myths about psychotherapy to finally stop believing.
Therapy is often seen as a last-resort option, such as when people have serious problems, are in crisis, or have just had a breakdown.
In reality, therapy can help people with a variety of needs. For instance, according to the American Psychiatric Association, psychotherapy can help with:
- common mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders
- managing feelings of grief, such as after losing a loved one or having a medical illness
- coping with different types of trauma
- dealing with the challenges of navigating everyday life
Plus, psychotherapy can help you in building a more fulfilling, meaningful life by supporting you with:
- accomplishing professional and personal goals
- improving your communication skills
- gaining a deeper understanding of yourself
- increasing your self-esteem
- cultivating stronger, more connected relationships
- managing stress
- developing healthy habits
This myth persists because not everyone is comfortable telling other people they’re going to therapy. While the stigma around therapy is lessening, seeing a therapist is still perceived differently than working with a fitness trainer, dietitian, physical therapist, or acupuncturist.
We often can’t wait to tell someone that we’ve hired a professional to help us with our health. Those hires are met with high fives and approving words. With therapy, though, we commonly keep it to ourselves or confide only in a close friend or relative.
Still, many people attend therapy. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) national survey results,
Because of the pandemic and a surge of great online therapy options, this number will likely have significantly increased.
It’s not uncommon for people to try one kind of therapy, and if it doesn’t suit their needs, to assume that all therapy isn’t effective. Going to therapy is a big decision, so when it doesn’t work, it’s frustrating. And it can be hard to try again.
But here’s the thing: There are many different types of therapy, and it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you.
For example, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may help someone who’s having a hard time dealing with intense emotions and a shaky sense of self. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on changing unhelpful, negative thoughts, which might be amplifying your anxiety or depression.
Plus, therapy is most effective when you’re working with a therapist who’s a good fit for you.
Therapy typically involves quite a bit of talking, so it’s easy to see why some people dismiss it as indulgent or assume it’s similar to speaking to a friend.
However, unlike loved ones, therapists:
- give undivided attention
- are specially trained to listen to your concerns and pick up on unhelpful patterns
- don’t use a biased lens to view your situation
- support you in making healthy changes using science-based techniques
According to the American Psychological Association, psychotherapy has also been shown to help approximately three-quarters of the people who try it. What’s more, they note that about 80% of people who tried some type of psychotherapy feel better after therapy ends than people who never attended therapy.
Some people may avoid trying therapy because they’re concerned about what others might think of them. It’s natural to care about others’ perceptions of us, but it’s not always helpful.
It may be reassuring to know that most people will be supportive. For example, some research has found that students don’t think less of someone for attending therapy.
Also, remember that you’re not obligated to tell anyone that you’re seeing a therapist. And if someone does find out and has a negative reaction, keep in mind that their response is about their own discomfort and not your decision. After all, that’s what therapy is: your decision.
Some people worry that their therapy sessions won’t remain confidential. This is an important concern since therapy works best when you’re opening up to your therapist, sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings.
However, all therapists are required to keep your information confidential because of a code of ethics. It’s part of what makes therapy such an effective tool for change and healing.
There are rare exceptions to this rule. A therapist, for instance, may contact the authorities if someone is considering harming themselves or others.
Once therapy starts, people may assume that you need to keep going for years or even decades. This can be especially troubling if you’re concerned about cost.
The good news is that therapy doesn’t have to last your whole life or even a few years — of course, it certainly can if you find it helpful.
In general, treatment types and length vary based on different factors, such as your needs and underlying conditions.
According to the American Psychological Association, about half of people going to therapy will improve after 15 to 20 therapy sessions.
Together, you and your therapist will determine when to discontinue therapy. In any case, the goal of therapy is to help you get better, not attend a certain number of sessions.
There are plenty of myths surrounding therapy — from “it’s a last resort” to “not many people go” to “it doesn’t even work.” These myths can prevent people from seeking or delaying seeking professional support that they can significantly benefit from.
The reality is that therapy can be tremendously helpful for anyone, whether you’re experiencing anxiety, wanting to strengthen your marriage, or yearning to accept yourself.
Deciding to work with a therapist is not only an investment in your mental health but your health as a whole.
To help you find a therapist, you can start here with these simple tools.