Before they first walk through the door, clients are usually clueless about how therapy works and what it actually looks like. Which is absolutely understandable. Film and television often distort therapy and paint therapists as caricatures. Plus, because therapy is very personal and confidential, details are hard to come by.
But clients aren’t the only ones who hold misconceptions about therapy. Therapists do, too. Below, various therapists share the assumptions they held—and the truths they learned.
Right after John Harrison, LPCC, received his degree, he realized that what he learned in graduate school wasn’t going to make him a good counselor. In fact, he felt underprepared—a feeling that many new therapists have. That’s “because grad school can’t teach you how to connect and relate with people in the truest sense,” said Harrison, a counselor and coach who specializes in working with individuals and couples.
He’s learned that being an effective therapist is learning with his clients, not leaning solely on therapeutic techniques. “Showing up as another human and ‘holding space’ for them in a non-judgmental way is the heart of therapy.”
Harrison further noted that therapy isn’t about having answers. “It’s about connecting and supporting someone exactly how they are, where they are. Holding that space with another person and exploring the unknowns and potentials with them. Helping them do their own work, not doing something ‘to them.’”
Psychotherapist Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT, also learned that therapy is truly about the relationship between client and clinician—instead of the therapist being “a blank slate who shows up, listens and then goes home.”
“[T]he genuine nature of our interactions helps the client feel cared for, which allows them to feel comfortable to be vulnerable, which allows them to make the changes they seek to put in motion,” said Mullen, founder of the Coaching Through Chaos private practice and podcast in San Diego.
When appropriate, Mullen shares personal stories, in small doses, with her clients. This helps to dispel common assumptions that because she’s a therapist, she somehow has everything figured out, and has flawless relationships.