We are struggling in our relationship with our partner, we can’t communicate with our boss, we can’t handle raising our children, we’re afraid to get on a plane…the thought crosses our mind – maybe I should see a psychologist. But we quickly dismiss it. Why is that?
Maybe we say to ourselves, “I’m not that bad off,” or “the psychologist doesn’t know anything about my life – how can they help me?” Whether we belittle our problem or the psychologist, the result is the same. Why are we so distrustful of psychotherapy? Why does the idea of going to therapy cause such dismay in some people?
From deciding to address our difficulties with a professional, we are often deterred by myths and false beliefs that surround psychotherapy. Here is a list of the most common ones that I consider to be:
1.The therapy is about talking and venting
It’s the idea that a psychotherapist is just a sounding board, I tell them all my problems, they listen, acknowledge that it’s hard for me, take my money, and I feel better. But that’s something a friend I meet for coffee can also do for me. So why invest money in therapy?
Talking is pleasant, but if that were the only thing a psychotherapist could offer, they wouldn’t deserve the money, and therapy wouldn’t deserve to be called a science.
Therapy is a space reserved exclusively for the client. It’s an opportunity to bring up any topic – with a guarantee of a non-judgmental attitude and silence from the therapist. It’s a confrontation with questions that we may not have asked ourselves before, which open up new horizons and bring new perspectives on life… These are just the basic benefits that make a therapeutic conversation different from a friendly one, and that form the basis of healing change. You can find them with any good therapist, regardless of the therapeutic school they follow.
2.Therapists only dwell on the past
You may recall some jokes about Freud or a few American movies. You’re going through a marriage breakup and someone starts asking you if your mom forced you to eat porridge when you were 3. You don’t have time or nerves for that.
It is the idea that psychologists senselessly dig into memories from the past that are no longer relevant or important to you.
It is true that some therapeutic approaches also work with the past. Because it is true that who we are, how we react, and how we function (in relationships and in life in general) is largely formed in childhood, in relationships in the primary family. However, in good therapy, the topics that are addressed are not determined by the therapist but by the client. The client brings in topics, talks about things that bother them, and the therapist is a guide and curious explorer in the conversation. They help the client uncover what they are searching for. They do not force anything.
3.The therapist will tell me what to do
Just as the therapist is not the one who determines what we will talk about during the session, it is also true that the therapist is not an all-knowing expert who will give you advice on life and tell you what to do. For some clients, this is disappointing. Others would be angered by unsolicited advice.
There are clients who come in, say a few basic things about their difficulties, and ask, “What should I do?” They expect the problem to be solved after the first session. The therapist will provide some secret life hacks or a magic spell and that’s it. If the therapist doesn’t do this, they might not be a good professional.
The truth is that if such simple instructions existed and worked (because you can find plenty of them on the internet), psychotherapeutic work would be pointless. A good therapist respects the uniqueness of each person, every life story, which is too exceptional to be subjected to a simple recipe. A good therapist also helps the client to find answers and solutions with their own help.
4.How can someone who hasn’t experienced what I have help me?
People who have gone through similar things as us are naturally close to us, and we can learn a lot from them. Psychology doesn’t forget about this fact. Self-help support groups have an important role in coping with various difficulties. Coming together with people who are experiencing similar things is a great thing. It brings encouragement, hope, and a desire to keep living. Sometimes, that’s enough.
However, sometimes a person may feel the need to talk about something one-on-one. Or they need a space that is designated just for them. Psychologists do not have to experience all the problems in the world to be able to help. As a professional, a therapist does not bring their own experiences, ideas, or opinions on life into therapy. They bring themselves as a person and their interest in the client. At the same time, they use methods that are professional and verified. Therefore, psychotherapy brings results. The therapist’s previous experience with a problem (such as overcoming drug addiction) can help them empathize with the client, but it can sometimes be a paradoxical obstacle – it can cause the therapist to see more of their own story in the client than the client’s uniqueness.
5.It’s only for people with mental illnesses
In our list, the fifth myth may be a decisive one for some: “Only people who are really messed up go to psychologists. I’m normal, so things aren’t that bad for me.”
Today’s people are often criticized for being “overly psychologized.” They’re said to be too introspective, emotionally unstable, quick to become depressed…If I go to a psychologist, I’ll only confirm that I’m one of those weaklings who can’t handle their own life, who can’t solve their own problems.
It’s true that a mature person should be able to handle a certain amount of life’s burdens on their own. It wouldn’t be healthy if we needed to consult with a psychologist about every single decision, every disappointment. At the same time, it’s simply not true that “normal people” don’t belong in psychotherapy. This is because things happen to “normal people” too, things that are beyond their control. Admitting this and addressing it is more a sign of heroism than failure.
Psychotherapy isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t necessary in every life situation. However, when a problem arises that we can’t handle on our own, it can be a source of help to keep us functioning. It’s a space where we can discover our hidden potential. The client doesn’t relax during therapy. Revealing one’s innermost self is hard work. But if it’s done honestly, it brings lasting benefits. I bow down to everyone who chooses this harder path over a pill of Lexaurin.