Common Misconceptions About Therapy 6.1.22
Often people avoid going to psychotherapy due to some common misconceptions about what therapy is, what it isn't, and what it does to a person's life. Here are but a few common misconceptions I've heard and my brief thoughts on them.
Therapists are all the same. A resounding NO! Therapists, like clients, are all different. They come from different experiences, schools of training, licensure types, and even their varying life experiences influence their therapeutic styles and insights. This is why it is vitally important to find a new therapist if you do not feel your therapist is a good fit! You do not have to stay "stuck" with a therapist, just because they were the first to offer you an appointment. In fact, the trust and comfort (called "rapport") you have with your therapist is the #1 predictor of success for therapy -- you can't open up and process all of your stuff if you're not feeling comfortable with the person you're talking to! So don't be afraid to stand up for your care -- if you aren't jiving with your therapist, you can try working with someone else!
A therapist is just going to tell me how to live my life. I often hear this misconception and it makes me a little sad, as it is the furthest from the truth. A therapist's job is not to boss you around and tell you how to live your life -- that is up to you to decide! A therapist's job is to provide you a safe space to process through the struggles you're coming in for and help you to make the decision on what you need/need not to do -- if that is even what you're looking for! Often times clients come in to therapy just looking for a place to be heard and validated, not with a ton of things they want changed and expecting answers. Clients will often as "what should I do?" for certain things, but even in my advice, I caution that I do not have all of the answers and we still process what the client feels would fit them with the choices we're discussing.
A therapist will think I'm "crazy" if I share this.
Your therapist is not out to label everyone they see! Sometimes people find it helpful to have a label to help them understand their symptoms and experiences they've been struggling with, but the majority of clients simply want to be seen, heard, and met with compassion where they are at in their lives (and maybe seeking guidance on how to do some things differently). So while therapists can develop skills that help us recognize commonalities from some mental health disorders, a lot of therapists do not come from a place of judgement or blame and instead want to help you understand what may be going on in your life and walk with you to help reach those goals you've identified. Plus, most therapists' training has helped equip them to help clients with symptoms of mental health disorders, so working with a therapist (and they'd recommend other resources, if applicable) could be a good beginning to help feel validated!
A therapist is always going to be analyzing everything I say and do. While it is true that a part of a therapist's job/abilities is to know how to diagnose mental health disorders, it take a lot of work, talking, discussing details of a person's past, experiences, and symptoms. Plus, it is still an objective practice, as we can only go off of what our clients say to us. Despite all of that, your therapist is not going to be over-analyzing everything you may say or do. We can, based from our years of experience and treating all sorts of people, recognize similar patterns or barriers that we notice may be in your way of reaching your goals, but it is not our job to analyze every. single. thing. (I honestly don't know if a human could do that!) We are wanting to help our clients reach their identified goals and that is often where our focus is, and sometimes this comes out in things our clients say and do, but sometimes not. The therapeutic relationship is really a mutual give-and-take.
In therapy you may be challenged by your therapist, but is it typically coming from a place with your goals in mind and them trying to bring awareness/insight to the current struggle you're having. For example, I may push back against a client sharing how they think they are "broken" for not wanting sex (meaning, the desire for sex) as much as their partner, with a question of "who gets to determine what is normal?" and this may then lead to a discussion about the influences on my client's life that helped them shape this negative thought about their desire level and then we work on supporting that client with increasing their confidence in their sexuality and perhaps go into ways of helping them discover how to talk about their desire with their partner. This gentle pushing against that negative thought allowed me to process more of the root of this thought and to better help them with a resolution within themselves. Note: In therapy, you, as the client, are always welcome to push back against what their therapist is saying -- if your therapist said something that hurt you, tell them! Remember, we are people and will make mistakes.
Feel free to check out more about me, my work, and never hesitate to send a question my way! www.ocmn.org for more and how to be in touch!
Jessica VerBout, M.A., LMFT, CST