Updated: Apr 16
What are some of your preconceived notions about going to therapy? I’m guessing that, if you’ve never gone to therapy or counseling before for yourself, you are thinking many of the same things that others think about coming to therapy. I’m also guessing that some of your ideas about counseling and therapy are skewed. There are so many false depictions of therapists and what going to therapy is like in the media, TV, and movies, and if that is your only exposure to counseling, perhaps this article will be a good read for you.
Identifying 5 Common Myths About Counseling
From my experience, training and education, I’ve been able to identify 5 very common myths about attending therapy, and I’ll discuss each one of them and why the concept is false. There is still stigma associated with “getting help” or seeking professional support for mental health issues, and I’d like to do my part to combat that stigma through this article. Hopefully getting a better idea about what therapy is, and isn’t, may encourage you to seek professional help if and when you need it.
Therapists Tell You What to Do
Despite what you think, therapists are actually not in the “giving-advice” business. A well-trained and experienced therapist will not tell you what to do, they will help you figure out your best course and guide you toward a healing path. I have had clients disagree with me, and I always value their opinion, because they alone know themselves best. Counseling helps you decide what works for you and how to implement various tools and skills that your therapist presents to you. A therapist who tells you what to do will likely not remain your therapist for long.
My Counselor Will Judge Me
Part of a therapists’ job description is to actually not judge you. Therapy is a safe place to come and share your darkest secrets and your difficult emotions (like shame and embarrassment) in a non-judgmental space. There is a concept called “unconditional positive regard”, created by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, that is the acceptance and support of a person regardless of what they do and say. Therapists are trained in this concept and expected ethically to uphold this positive regard for all clients. Your counselor will not judge you and will welcome you no matter what you say, or what has been done to you in the past.
One Session is All I Need
Another common myth I’ve run across is the idea that you will be “healed” or “better” in one therapy session. Yes, you will (hopefully) feel better after your first session, due to the connection with your therapist and unburdening of your stressors, but therapy is a longer-term treatment. Much of the healing in counseling comes from the deep and unconditional relationship you develop with your therapist. It takes time to develop any relationship, especially if you have been hurt in the past. There are some types of therapy that show definite results after 6 or so sessions, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for trauma. However, most people will find the best results, depending on their presenting treatment issue, with at least 3-6 months of consistent therapy.
My Therapist Won’t Understand Me
There is a false concept out there that, in order to fully understand you, your therapist has to have experienced exactly what you’ve experienced in the past so he/she knows how to treat you. This is another myth of therapy. Most if not all therapists have not had your exact past experiences, but they are trained and equipped to help treat you. For example, say you are having problems with substance abuse. Your ideal therapist would be trained and experienced in providing substance abuse treatment, but does not necessarily have to be in recovery from substance abuse him or herself. You do want to seek out a therapist who states and shows they have specific training and experience in your treatment issue, and then you will have a therapist who has a much greater capacity to understand you and your own experiences.
Therapy is a Woo-Woo Science
Many people discount the entire counseling and psychology field, saying that there is no scientific evidence that therapy works. However, there are multiple evidence-based treatments for certain presenting problems. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based treatment for Depression and Anxiety, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is evidence-based for treating Borderline Personality Disorder, and EMDR is an evidence-based treatment for PTSD. Most therapists will pull from different types of therapy depending on the individual client and their presenting needs but you can find therapists who are more strict about their techniques. Regardless of the therapeutic techniques used, research shows that up to 95% of the healing that takes place in therapy comes from the relationship between you and your therapist.
After reading this article I’m hoping that you have a better idea of what therapists and counselors do and do not do. Of course, all therapists are different, and everyone has a different style, training and background, but in general all therapists should be open and accepting, non-judgmental and competent. Many therapists also offer free phone consultations so you can learn more about them and their treatment style, so if you’re still hesitant about coming to counseling find a therapist you can “vet” and interview before committing to your first appointment. If you’re interested in learning more about what therapy is like at Catalyss Counseling, check out this article What to Expect From Therapy at Catalyss Counseling.
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Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.