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Therapists Spill: What I Wish Clients Knew About Therapy and Mental Illness

Therapists Spill: What I Wish Clients Knew About Therapy and Mental IllnessThere are many myths and misunderstandings about both therapy and mental illness. That’s why when we interview clinicians in our monthly series, we ask them to set the record straight. We ask everyone this question: “If there’s one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?” Below, you’ll find a roundup of their illuminating answers.

There is no shame in having a mental illness.

“I’d wish that clients wouldn’t feel the sting of stigma. Mental illness is a real illness. It’s not a result of a weak character, laziness or a person’s inability to be strong. It’s a real medical condition. It’s important for everyone to know that that there’s no shame living with mental illness.” ~ Deborah Serani, PsyD.

“[M]ental illness is not something they caused. It is not something about which to feel blame or shame. It is suffering that is as painful as any physical illness. Anyone suffering from mental illness is entitled to compassion and help. The damage comes when help is avoided or unavailable. With help, mental illness need not define your life.” ~ Suzanne Phillips, PsyD.

Everyone struggles.

“Lots of folks seem to be under the impression that there is a fundamental difference between people who are mentally healthy and people who are mentally ill. The reality is that we are all on a spectrum; we all have better days and worse days, and you never know what might happen in life that can change things — either for better or for worse. Remembering this fundamental truth can help us find compassion for ourselves and each other in difficult times.” ~ Carla Naumburg, Ph.D.

“It is normal to have issues, the issues are part of the lesson of life — they bring about tremendous blessings in terms of opportunities for growth. In fact, I believe the people who have overcome mental illness and other extremely challenging life experiences often have more consciousness and psychological awareness than those who have not. Our psychological issues are how we are, not who we are. We are all exactly as we should be.” ~ Joyce Marter, LCPC.

Getting help is a sign of strength.

“I wish people saw getting help as a sign of strength, rather than a weakness. People who attempt to do it all alone often end up struggling the most before they finally ‘give in” for help. Pride can make us think that there’s something advantageous to struggling through life without going to anyone for help. But in reality, there are no points awarded for struggling alone, nor is there shame in getting help with the challenges of life.” ~ Nathan Feiles, LCSW.

“Seeking counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. We all need help from time to time and it’s a sign of strength and intelligence to know when to seek support. Someone who has skills and the right tools is an asset, not a liability. If I have a leaky faucet and the only tool I have is a hammer, just banging on my pipes is only going to make the problem worse. The pipes burst, my basement floods and the foundation cracks. Or I could just call the plumber and he gives me a new tool called a wrench, so next time I have a leak I can fix it myself. Counseling offers new tools and professional instruction. If I have a bad tooth, I go to the dentist; if my car breaks down, I go to the mechanic. We get professional support for all kinds of problems and mental health is no different.” ~ Aaron Karmin, LCPC.

Therapy is an active process.

“I guess if there’s one thing I wish my patients knew about treatment before entering therapy it would be that the therapist doesn’t have a magic cure. The therapist cannot fix the problems alone. The real work and change comes from within the patient. Many people are unprepared to do the work. They come in with lots of questions like, ‘Why do I do this … ?’ They want me to immediately understand them, figure their situation out, and give them quick answers. Good therapy is a process. It takes a skilled, experienced clinician who is willing to roll up her or his sleeves and walk the painful path beside you, help you avoid blind alleys, and support you through the familiar process. Not be a magician.” ~ Fran Walfish, PsyD.

“Therapy is kind of like going to a personal trainer. The two of you develop goals and a plan of action, the professional guides and supports, and you do the heavy lifting to reap the benefits. The work might be in the form of journaling, reading books, bringing up uncomfortable material, or taking a risk to trust. Unfortunately, some clients approach therapy more like surgery. They plan to sit passively while the therapist does therapy to them. This leaves both parties frustrated.” ~ Ryan Howes, Ph.D.

Therapy is a joyful process, too.

“Conventional wisdom dictates that therapy is difficult, and it is. But what I wish my clients knew coming into the process is that there can be great joy associated with it as well. I do like to think of therapy as a joyful process of growth and enrichment. Sometimes I think the word ‘treatment’ does our profession a disservice.” ~ John Duffy, Ph.D.

Lasting change requires work between sessions.

“[W]hen it comes to healing and change, insight isn’t enough; it must be followed up by action. Generally clients will only get out of therapy as much as they put in. I will give them my all, but that will only go so far unless they also give theirs. Real and lasting progress requires effort between sessions.” ~ Jonice Webb, Ph.D.

Making progress takes time.

“It takes time to see progress. Everyone moves at different paces in therapy. A lot of times people end up stopping therapy prematurely because they feel that it is a waste of time, they will never see progress or they are not moving quick enough to see a change. Some may believe that the therapist will provide them with a ‘quick fix’ and if they do not see quick progress, they will stop coming to therapy. The goal is to help you to function better on your own, and this may take several months to several years. Every person is different and time is what it takes to make progress.” ~ Helen Nieves, LMHC.

Small shifts are vital, too.

“I think clients don’t realize how much change is possible from even the smallest shifts in awareness. Therapy is often in the very subtle changes in perception, which allow for big changes in functioning and self-concept. A little change makes a big difference.” ~ Linda Hatch, Ph.D.

You can get better, no matter what you’re struggling with.

“I would love to convey to people that yes, you can heal from mental illness. Talk therapy, lifestyle management and medication are all ways to treat and manage mental illness. As with any other illness, mental illness exists on a spectrum of treatment and cure. Some mental illnesses or patterns can be completely cured with awareness and some tweaking of lifestyle. Others need more active management with a combination of talk therapy and assertive lifestyle changes. And yet other mental illnesses must be managed either short-term or long-term with medication, talk therapy and lifestyle changes. But treatment is available. Practice self-care, get help, [and] don’t be ashamed.” ~ Kathy Morelli, LPC.

You are already whole.

“I wish my clients knew that they aren’t ‘broken’ and don’t need to be ‘fixed.’ We live in such a self-improvement oriented culture that it gets hard to make changes that are good for us – without confusing it with the idea that we will only be good if we make those changes. I wish my clients knew that they were already whole.” ~ Carmen Cool, MA, LPC.

You are gifted.

“I want to answer this question from the perspective of working in community mental health as I did when I was younger. I wished then, and still wish now, that people with chronic mental illness really knew — really believed — that they have gifts to bring to this world. Each person has a unique gift and that includes people with any kind of disability. And we, the community, need each member of our community to bring their gift forth for the betterment of the community. No matter how much you struggle with your illness, you are gifted and we need your gift.” ~ Bobbi Emel, MFT.

Therapists Spill: What I Wish Clients Knew About Therapy and Mental Illness

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Therapists Spill: What I Wish Clients Knew About Therapy and Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 12, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.