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Real Therapists Bust Therapy Myths

Real therapists debunk misconceptions about therapy.
Real Therapists Bust Therapy Myths
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It is so hard to know what happens beyond the therapist’s door

Especially when our main example of what therapy looks like is often painted by extra-dramatized scenes in the media. Therapists are often used to further plot-lines or to reveal information about a character, as opposed to being portrayed as a real and dynamic human.

There are so many stereotypes around therapy, but the biggest reason for that comes from a good place: therapy is meant to be private. It is meant to be a safe relationship between therapist and patient. But because it is private, it is so easy to believe all the myths and misconceptions concocted around the vague idea of what therapy can be.

The reality? Every single therapist is different and each therapist has a different dynamic with each of their patients! Here at MyWellbeing, we are committed to bridging the gap between your life and our therapists’ door—so here are 6 therapy myths that our Instagram community shared with us, debunked by our practitioners!

Myth 1: There is nothing I could talk to a therapist about that I couldn't just talk to a significant other or friend about

“In therapy, you can talk about yourself without fear of being judged or told what to do, and you don’t have to worry about your therapist’s feelings. Your therapy is your time for you. Your therapist is listening carefully, and will ask questions that help you see the ‘same old’ in a new way. That’s always a catalyst for growth,” said Emily Fitton.

“There is something profound about having someone who is truly a team member on your side. And a therapist is exactly that. I don't know of anyone else who will gently nudge you and point our discrepancies or challenge you while also validating and honoring your experience and story. This thoughtful process is precisely what all those years of education and ongoing training and supervision facilitate for therapy-seekers. To experience a sense of being seen and heard that a friend, family member, parent, or partner cannot offer. Of course, it takes finding the right match for this process to unfold, as well as bringing up myths like this in the therapy process and having these conversations together,” said Julia Colangelo.

“Yes, (hopefully) you can always talk to your loved ones about your life, and you will probably (hopefully) get unconditional love and support. Yet, how many times have you had to censor yourself because they are going through something perceived as ‘bigger?’ Or maybe because you don't want to worry them, or hurt their feelings, or be ‘annoying?’ A therapist serves a very different purpose than a loved one for two big reasons: 1. You don't have to protect them, and 2. They won't just validate you like a loved one might—they'll help you shift patterns so you can feel better in the long term,” said Alyssa Ashenfarb.

“Talking to our loved ones about things that we feel guilty, ashamed, or worried about is often hard because it is likely to affect our relationship. It can feel safer to talk to someone outside your everyday life. Your therapist will give you their undivided attention and will think with you about your issues. They are obligated to keep everything you tell them confidential, with the exception of potential physical harm. Last but not least, they will not judge you, tell you what to do, or try to argue if they disagree. Therapy is a safe, consistently available space for you to explore what's on your mind and feel understood and supported, without worrying about how it will affect your relationship outside your sessions,” said Julia Chislenko.

“Having loved ones or friends we can share with openly and honestly is the best but they may not have the tools to respond in the right way. How someone responds to us in emotionally charged situations has a big impact on how we feel about it or how we view ourselves. It’s also worth remembering that relationships aren’t always balanced and we might not realize how much we are offloading on the people around us. Particularly if those people seem happy or unaffected. Many of my clients who appear to be holding it together just fine, come for help with managing their responsibilities as a supportive daughter, friend, or partner. They feel their own needs or worries come second to the care they have to give others. Another thing to think about is the impact of talking about a significant other or friend to someone you both know (or they could come to know further down the line). I see this a lot in romantic relationships where couples struggle to reverse the damage done to a partner’s reputation after airing challenges to friends and family. Those friends and family are not as invested and maybe don't see all the other good bits that make forgiveness within a romantic relationship possible. This can lead to embarrassment and tension and the need for therapy! Considerably more therapy than if someone neutral had been there to listen sooner,” said Joanne Davies.

“It’s nice to feel unconditionally supported! Another benefit is the freedom to be your most authentic self with a non-judgmental outside observer. I don’t have any personal agenda for your decision-making, and want to offer a therapeutic space that you can use to come to your own insights and decisions. Friends and family also may have your best interests at heart, and that can lead to unwanted advice or being too invested in your decision-making process. As your therapist, I don’t take things personally since there’s that professional boundary between us,” said Veronica Chin Hing.

"Our friends and significant others can certainly be a valuable source of feedback and support for us, however they are limited as a result of being intertwined in our lives. The very emotional investment that goes into our relationships and the ensuing familiarity can lead to us settling into roles that prevent us from being fully honest with one another. Therapy can provide an opportunity to develop meaning within a new relationship that is free from expectations and biases,” said Alexander Beznes.

Myth 2: You have to be at "rock bottom" or you have to have experienced a tragedy to start therapy

“All human beings struggle from time to time. We are all on a continuum—sometimes at a higher, more functional part of the continuum, and other times, at a lower part of the continuum. This depends on our background, our current life circumstances, and many other variables. However, we are always changing, and always capable of moving in a direction towards growth. Therapy is a great place to learn about yourself, understand your past and how it impacts your current life decisions and behaviors, set goals, gain insight, and figure out how to become president of your own fan club.  We exercise to stay physically fit and keep our bodies on the right path. Why wouldn’t we do the same for our minds and hearts?” said Renee A. Exelbert, PhD.

“It’s true that a person may seek therapy when they’ve been pushed to their limit, for example, after a distressing event or when they can’t tolerate feeling bad any more. But once you start to feel better – keep going! That’s when the real work begins. You can take your therapy to the next level—of thriving, living authentically, accessing and expressing all your feelings in a healthy way, and more,” said Emily Fitton.

“I should start this by humbly reminding myself that I am biased, however, I think everyone should go to therapy. While therapy can definitely give you coping skills and help you process grief/trauma, it can also just help you better understand yourself as a whole. Therapy can create direction for your future, can help you unlock parts of you that you did not know where there, and can increase connectivity and fulfillment in your relationships. Therapy can help you understand yourself, as well as your identity as a whole,” said Alyssa Ashenfarb.

“Wouldn't it be better to catch yourself before you go down the rabbit hole and hit rock bottom? I think so. I think when something or some person or some situation begins to give you the signs that things are not working out for you within them, it's a good time to start problem-solving. A therapist/counselor can help you spot the signs and work towards handling the situation before it gets the better of you. For example, you're pretty sure you're going to get fired, you can't stand the boss, but you just keep spinning around and around with it all in your head. A therapist can guide you towards finding a better and more liveable solution. Consider marriage counseling. Experiencing a divorce can be rough stuff. Imagine if you had tried marriage counseling first? Grief can lead to big-time depression. It might have been helpful to start working with a grief counselor before the grief got out of control. That's what support is all about. It tries to get you to a better place, a better way, a better life…before it's too late,” said  Jill Cohen.

“While tragic events and painful moments of reckoning can be a powerful impetus to seek out therapy, it is not necessary to wait until you are against the ropes in your life in order to take a chance on doing something that could potentially be very rewarding and helpful,” said Alexander Beznes.

Myth 3: Therapy is always painful

“Therapy doesn’t always have to be painful. While good therapy definitely involves emotional work, it also should be fulfilling and even exciting! One of my favorite parts of being a therapist is being able to watch my clients grow and celebrate their progress and successes. Sometimes it’s in session that clients can really take the time to reflect on how far they’ve come and the wonderful things that they’ve been able to do. While therapy often helps people navigate through tough times, it can acknowledge and celebrate the joys and victories of life also,” said Kristin Anderson.

“Therapy can bring up long-buried emotions, and that can feel new or weird – and also profoundly freeing and a big relief. That opens the door to positive change,” said Emily Fitton.

“Therapy is very challenging work, as it is work on the self. However, therapy is not always painful. You will have moments in therapy that will be difficult to sit with as you are encouraged to sit with feelings that you may have historically avoided, but once you begin to make connections and revelations, you will feel lighter and more self-aware. The self-awareness and insight that you can gain through therapy lead to an overall happier and healthier life. Even if therapy is painful at first, you will eventually work through that pain if you stick with it long enough to see the beautiful results,” said Emma Demar.

“Therapy is a journey that brings up many feelings. Sometimes you will be working through painful memories. Sometimes you will feel a relief after getting things off your chest. You might surprise yourself by uncovering thoughts or feelings that were hidden, feel joy of an Aha! moment of making a connection between things that seemed unrelated, or having figured out something you've been struggling with. Getting you know yourself with help of a kind, thoughtful therapist can be fulfilling and fun!” said Julia Chislenko.

“Being in pain is painful. Going over everything in our own heads is painful. Even when super sensitive stuff seems protected, it’s hurting us some way or another. Therapy can be painful but it’s often less so with someone else there to hold the pain and help you work it out, a little at a time. One of the things I love most about hypnotherapy is how good it feels. Instead of ripping off the band aid or peeling at it slowly, hypnotherapy is more like soaking it in a warm bubble bath so you don’t even notice it’s fallen off!” said Joanne Davies.

“While therapy is definitely not a walk in the park, it is not always painful and heavy. In fact, a large part of the therapeutic process is integrating parts of ourselves that feel most alive and that bring us feelings of pride and connectedness,” said Alexander Beznes.

Myth 4: Black people or people of color don't do therapy

“Not true at all! Many black people as well as other people of color go to therapy. As a person of color and in my experience working with clients of color, there is this constant theme that runs through the narrative which is " I'll be okay. I need to just keep it moving.” While this may be true in some cases, in other cases it can be extremely detrimental to our mental health and overall well being. We may sometimes ‘think we got it’ but might actually not. When we bury or try to ignore our feelings and emotions, the manifestations may show up as symptoms and potentially create dysfunction in areas of our lives such as our sleeping, eating, communications and relationships with others or even our relationship to ourselves. As people in general, we need a healthy balance. Finding the right system of support is essential. In communities of color, there is still stigmatization around psychotherapy and mental health. Some communities don't believe in ‘airing their dirty laundry’ out to the public or find that they are sitting in a room with a therapist that they do not connect with. Some populations of color are concerned with being labeled or mislabeled as well as being misunderstood. I hear you! Let's validate this, because these experiences are real and they do happen.

As a social justice advocate with a clinical license, I will say that the field of mental health in Western culture is fairly similar to the field of medicine in Western culture... it is Eurocentric in nature and still needs work on dismantling it's cultural biases. It is important to acknowledge that  what we refer to as psychotherapy or talk therapy is just one form of support and this one just happens to be with historical ties to European culture. In many non Western Cultures, there are other ways to work through mental, emotional and sometimes physical problems such as through music, song, dance, religion and or spirituality. None of these options are wrong. It just depends on what you are going through and what works best in support of your concerns. A place to start is educating yourself on your options. You do have rights to the services you need. Mental health providers are expected to have cultural sensitivity, which means they should be able to work with you regardless your or their cultural background. If you prefer to work with a therapist who "looks more like you" or is from the same culture, feel free to do searches for therapists of color or of different backgrounds. We are here! If talking seems like it may be a bit much for you, you can always do a search for Creative/ Expressive Art Therapists ( they are usually licensed as LCATs). Providers with these credentials have special training that incorporates the creative and expressive arts such as dance, drama, singing and other  art therapies. There are even some providers like myself who are  Licensed Clinical Social Workers with training in the creative and expressive arts as well as mind-body work  (this term can mean different things, but I mean it in the sense of embodiment or being in tune with your body ) and able to utilize a variety of approaches to help you. Your therapy experience can also include spirituality if you need it to, There are mental health providers that work with the spiritual component as well. Simply put, the field of mental health is becoming more diverse and culturally sensitive. There is a place for EVERYONE in therapy, even if you need it in a language other than English!  Just ask!” said Rebecca Brown.

Myth 5: Therapy only looks one way in the room (e.g., "a therapist only says "hmmmm. . .and how does that make you feel?")

“I love this myth because this is exactly what I used to think about therapy! There are tons of different types of therapies, all with varying amounts of feeling exploration and interactiveness. While there is immense value in feelings exploration, therapists over the years have created a variety of different body based, inner child, and cognitive techniques (among many others) to help you stay motivated and in tune with your therapist. Further, studies have shown that your relationship with your therapist is actually what induces wanted change. So, if the "hmmm..." thing is not doing it for you, it is important that you find a therapist that you click with and that interacts at the level you feel most comfortable with,” said Alyssa Ashenfarb.

“This is a common misconception, there are so many different types of therapy and many types involves an active therapist. Therapists ask questions that go beyond how does that make you feel to help you get beneath the surface and gain insight. Therapists are also trained to provide intervention to help you make changes. In my practice, I understand and cherish that therapy is an investment in your time/money and I am always strategizing to make sessions productive and helping you identify and reach your goals,” said Jeremy Litfin.

“Therapy is about both feelings and thoughts. The therapist is an engaged party in the treatment. A question or interpretation can be quite clear and specific. An example might be, ‘Something in what you said seems very urgent. What makes for the strong feeling of urgency about this?’ Sometimes the answer to this question becomes actually as important as what was said originally. This is quite different from simply, how do you feel?” said Charles Rosen.

“Personally, this is my favorite myth to challenge! One of the most rewarding aspects of therapy for me is the many forms that the therapeutic relationship can take. I am grateful to have learned so much from my patients that have come from all walks of life,” said Alexander Beznes.

Myth 6: There is an endpoint to therapy OR you have to stay in therapy forever

“Therapy is an ongoing process. You can be in therapy for your entire life. There are times when therapy might run its course at a certain point in your life or with a certain practitioner whom you feel you have done as much work as you could with. But there is no specific endpoint for therapy, and you can spend years and years of your life in therapy working through things as they come up throughout your life. There will always be something to be gained by being in therapy,” said Emma Demar.

“Therapy is for you. Thus, you can determine when you want it to end. Your therapist might have input about the timing to ensure that you live the healthiest lifestyle with a supportive network, but ultimately it is your choice. I believe that treatment should have an appropriate ending like in any relationship to help tie up lose ends, process feelings, and express gratitude,” said Maggie Dancel.

“Therapy does not have to last forever. It’s up to the individual to determine what they want out of the therapeutic relationship and come to a mutual agreement with their therapist when they feel their goals are completed. However, many patients do tend to continue therapy long-term as they end up seeing it as an invaluable source of support and continual growth in their lives,” said Alexander Beznes.

We hope this article cleared up some of your misconceptions around therapy! Remember: everyone deserves support, no matter who they are or what they’re going through. Interested in starting your therapy journey? Check out our personalized matchmaking form, below!

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