Being a therapist often makes for interesting conversations. Whether I’m at a social gathering or a networking event, I often get questions such as, “Are you analyzing me right now?” (Answer: No, I was under the impression that we were having a regular conversation.) or “Want to study my brother/daughter/cousin because they would be a great research project?” (Answer: No, thanks. I do not want to use your relative as a human lab rat.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to others about what I do. I have no doubt bored some people to death while I go on and on about my passion for mental health issues. But I have noticed that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what therapy is. And I’m here to set the record straight.
Myth #1: Can’t I just talk to my friend about my problems?
Friends hold an incredibly special place in our lives. Not only for the support, fun, and wisdom they add but also for their proven power in reducing stress. Talking to friends about the stresses of your life can provide much-needed support and stability during rough times. But when you are dealing with a significant stressor in your life—relationship trouble, anxiety, depression, or something else—as much as your friends would like to help, they might start to feel overwhelmed by their desire to help you while simultaneously feeling under-qualified to do so. Their sense of responsibility to help you runs the risk of overtaking your friendship and turning it into a one-sided relationship.
Especially when you are trying to navigate relationship woes, it’s hard for friends to be impartial. That’s not to say their advice isn’t valuable or helpful, but a therapist might be even more helpful and effective in cases such as these. “Therapy is different from talking to a friend and, in some ways, even better,” fellow therapist Maureen O’Connell says. “It’s a one-way street in the therapy office. It is one of the rare opportunities people have to receive more than they give.” It’s a therapist’s job to give you the best unbiased guidance to help you with whatever issue you are dealing with. Plus, all therapists go through years of schooling and training to help you with an endless list of issues that are affecting your life.
Myth #2: My therapist will judge me.
Many people fear that their therapist will judge them for what they are dealing with, their thoughts, or their fears. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your therapist is interested in hearing whatever you have to say and helping you navigate any fears you might have. “I always tell my patients that I deeply admire them,” my colleague William McKenna says. “They are the bravest people I know because they are willing to admit they need help and will do what is necessary to receive help.” Just as your teacher would say, “No question is too silly or dumb,” in school, there’s no need to be afraid to let your therapist know what’s truly on your mind.
Your therapist is truly invested in your journey. It’s not part of their job to judge or look down on you for what you have said. In fact, this would be counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve. They may help you challenge your beliefs and thoughts, but they won’t judge your character.
Therapists are bound by our code of ethics regarding confidentiality. And confidentiality is protected by law, except for in a few cases (someone who is actively suicidal or in cases of child abuse). What you discuss with them during your session never leaves that room. So there’s no reason to fear that your therapist will go home to gossip, complain, or make light of your qualms to their friends or family.
Myth #3: Therapists are only in it for the money.
I’ve come across people who view therapy as a distasteful money-making racket where therapists pontificate to their clients about what they’re doing wrong and then charge them an exorbitant fee. Well, I have a surprise for you: Being a therapist is not a get-rich-quick scheme. The average salary for a therapist is $43,990 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are plenty of other professions that are more financially lucrative than being a therapist. This means that therapists often go into their chosen field because they are passionate about helping people improve their lives.
Only someone who is genuinely interested in helping others is willing to go through the extensive schooling, training, and licensing process required to become a therapist. McKenna told me what I think most therapists feel: “I would do it for free if I could.”
Myth #4: If they’ve never been through what I’m going through, a therapist couldn’t possibly help me.
I was often confronted with this myth during my work with married and engaged patients. Some might wonder how their therapist can effectively help them if she’s never been married before. While I can definitely appreciate their concern (after all, they want to make sure that they are going to get the help they need), a therapist’s training is more important than their life experience. Your therapist’s education is the foundation from which he or she draws a treatment approach and therapeutic style.
I’ve found it helpful to think of it this way: Would you be concerned if your surgeon who was going to operate on your heart had never had any heart issues herself? Probably not. You trust the extensive years of training your surgeon went through. The same applies to your therapist.
Myth #5: Therapy is only for people whose lives are completely out of control.
Some people see therapy as the absolute last resort—it’s only to be used once all other options have been exhausted. Unfortunately, this notion is understandable given how therapy and mental health issues still carry a stigma. But therapy is beneficial for a variety of issues. “We can pretty much all benefit from therapy, especially in our fast-paced, perfectionistic culture,” O’Connell says. “Most of my clients are in control of their lives but see the need to improve in certain areas.”
Whether you are going through a rough life transition, want to increase your confidence at work, need career guidance, or want to increase your communication skills with your significant other, therapy can help. It doesn’t have to be reserved for times of crisis. And it can be beneficial for other reasons.
Hopefully, this helped clear up a few of the misconceptions surrounding therapy for you or someone you know. Maybe next time you find yourself in a stressful place in life, you’ll consider therapy not as a last resort but as a positive and viable option. We have professionals who help take care of our bodies when we’re sick and professionals who help take care of us when we need mental and emotional healing. Therapy is a fantastic health resource for your mind and body, so why not take advantage of it?
Photo Credit: Nima Salimi