There are a lot of misconceptions about therapy.
You know that it can help, but are not quite sure how. You know lots of people go, but will it work for you? And what exactly is involved?
Moreover, you’re doing ok, getting by. Do you need it?
Maybe you’ve considered counselling but aren’t quite sure.
You’re strong and surviving and that’s what counts.
Unfortunately, there are many myths about therapy that stop people getting the help they need.
Yet it’s proven to work.
Yep that’s right, study after study has shown that it can help.
Understanding the myths of therapy will better help you pluck up the courage to attend. More importantly, it will help you best take advantage of it when you are there.
This is perhaps the most damaging myth. You may feel that you are flawed for having got to this point. A crisis may be the only reason you are considering a counsellor. Or a friend or relative might be hounding you to go.
Yet needing therapy does not mean you are “’crazy”, it means you are brave enough to ask for help. It means recognising that no one is perfect, that life is difficult, and our minds – like our bodies – sometimes need the outside advice of a professional.
If only it was so easy. Family and friends may instinctively care about you and have your well-being in mind, but they are neither unbiased nor unattached. Sometimes we need a professional assessment.
Therapists undergo between 1-5 years of training and then continue to train after they’ve received qualification. As part of their training they usually have several years of therapy themselves. Qualification means years of study and practice.
Only on TV! In reality therapists are trained in a variety of approaches to help tackle problems. This can involve everything from examining thoughts and feelings, to role-play and drama, to education about the workings of the body and mind.
It’s up to you to discuss with your therapist what might be right for you. Therapists have many tools, homework assignments and session activities that they can use. Don’t be afraid to talk over your options and ask for what you need.
Counsellors and therapists are bound by law to maintain confidentiality. There are only a few extreme cases where this may be broken. These should be covered in your first session, but include terrorism and the high-risk of severe danger to self or other.
If you have any concerns about confidentiality you can raise this with your therapist. This can include therapist note taking and what name they use when they talk to their supervisors about their work.
It can be scary talking to a stranger about your life. It can make you feel tired or drained and full of emotional pain. You can sometimes feel a little worse before getting better. But therapy doesn’t have to be difficult.
Sessions can vary. Some can be light and breezy, some full of intense pain and insight. Often true reflection takes place during the week between sessions. While you may temporarily feel a little worse it is unlikely to last.
Not necessarily. There is a huge variation in the level of skills and qualification of individual therapists. Moreover, therapists are all trained in different schools and techniques. While one style of therapy might not be suitable for you, another might be the right approach.
If you feel therapy is not working for you it’s important to discuss it with your therapist. There will be a number of options. You can discuss the therapist’s style and approach. You can consider other options, including termination or a referral to someone else.
Probably true, but therapy is not just talking. Good counsellors and therapists are trained in the art of language. The things you talk about may well be guided by the therapist’s experience of what is important.
If your counsellor is friendly and you get on well then it might not seem too difficult. Just like having a chat. But over time you should notice changes in how you act and behave. If not, perhaps you are only talking, and its time to move on.
Actually therapists rarely give advice. They may share knowledge and opinions, but they’ll never tell you what to do. Therapy should make you feel empowered. It’s about giving you the skills, knowledge and insight to make choices that feel right for you.
A therapist will still challenge you from time to time and they’ll often throw out ideas. Have you considered this? Or considered that? Or are you sure this is what you want to do? What you do with these ideas is up to you.
Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. Medicine is not in the remit of counsellor or therapists. You’ll never be forced to take medication, although for some people it can be useful.
Whether medication might be suitable for you is something you may want to discuss with your counsellor and also your GP. Medication can be an important part of a treatment plan, but it’s not something a therapist will ever force you into.
Only if relevant. As children we are all vulnerable. It’s easy for us to get damaged. Processing past issues from childhood can be part of your treatment, but it doesn’t have to be.
Furthermore, different types of therapy have different focuses. Some are more past focused than others. You can discuss with your therapist what approach might be best for you. If you don’t want to discuss the past, then there is no need to.
Therapy can be as long and short as you like. It is you the client who determines how long counselling or therapy will be. Moreover, the goal is for therapy to end. Many people benefit from one or two sessions, while some undertake several years of therapy.
How much is up to you, as is the frequency at which you meet. Yet if you have had problems for a long period of time a longer term of therapy may be useful. It can be time consuming and expensive, but – in the end – worth it.
No doubt this is true. There will always be some who misrepresent the profession. As a consumer you need to careful about what you ‘purchase’. Check your therapist credentials and find out where they studied.
In the UK registration with the BACP or UKCP guarantees that your therapist has had a certain amount of training and has also undergone their own personal therapy. This gives you some confidence, but it is not an iron-clad guarantee. Always use your own judgement.
Most therapists are very kind individuals who like to help others. They may have had to overcome problems of their own that inspired them to study to help others. They spend a lot of time and money on their education and supervision.
Moreover, they will have had to pay for several years of personal therapy for themselves. Therapist’s overheads include supervision, on-going education, insurance and marketing. If they wanted to make money they’d work at something else.
Nowadays therapy is focused and effective. Most people find a maximum of 10-20 sessions sufficient, even for problems they have struggled with for years. For others it may take longer.
Within 5-10 sessions you should have a sense as to whether a therapist is the right fit for you. Meaning you don’t have to waste tonnes of money. And while not cheap, if it helps you live a healthier, happier and more productive life then it is money well spent.
Only if you want to turn into someone else. A good therapist focusses on helping you live the life you want to live – not on turning you into someone new. A good therapist helps people be the people they want to be – not who the therapist thinks they should be.
If you feel your therapist is pushing you to change or do something you don’t want to then feel free to raise it with them. A good therapist should welcome open and honest feedback and will admit they don’t always get it right.
Because we are so vulnerable as children we can sometimes get hurt by our parents. In some cases, this can be with malicious intent. More often it is because parents were struggling with their own problems. We can be damaged even by good parents.
Therapy can be about exploring childhood and some of the important things that happened and that still resonate today. These can be both good and bad. Therapy is also about taking personal responsibility. It certainly isn’t about blaming it all on your parents.
Therapists are not magicians. Certainly they will be unlikely to give you answers after just one session, which is what many clients expect. It can take a few sessions for a therapist to fully understand your life-situation and to formulate the best approach.
Research shows that it takes 10-20 sessions for 50% of clients to get better. That means 50% will need a little longer. If you’ve been struggling with problems for a long time, it will take at least a bit of time to explore and find a way forward.
Society’s reception of those who seek counselling and therapy often involves the idea that someone lacks the capacity to think clearly, hold a job independently, be a loving parent and so on. Sometimes it is the case, but most of the time this is a far cry from the truth.
There a hundreds of thousands of people who use therapy because they want professional advice. They know that living is not always easy and constantly throws up difficult challenges.
It’s not necessary to tell you therapist everything. You only need to disclose what is comfortable for you. Over time you may learn to trust your therapist more and more and find that you are comfortable sharing things you never thought you would.
One thing to bear in mind is that therapists listen to stories of trauma and regret all day. They’re prepared to hear the worst. Your therapist will never judge you or condone your behaviour.
Therapy and medication do two very different things. Studies show therapy can be as good as or sometimes even better than medication at alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD and many other common problems.
While it’s great that your medication is working, there are some questions worth asking. Have you got to the root cause of your problem? Is it worth spending some time and money to see if there is a non-medical solution to your problem?
There are many myths about therapy.
As a practicing therapist I encounter them every day.
One of the most pernicious is the idea that therapy is for failures. In fact, there are many so called “successful people” who do a lot of harm to the people around them. Reaching out and getting some help is a sign of courage. It’s a sign of maturity to realise that no one is immune to trouble.
Moreover, it’s a sign that you are forward thinking and ready to tackle your problems.
And while therapy is not cheap, if you commit to a reasonable period of time, it can have wonderful benefits.
Why not tap into your therapist’s expensive education and hard won experience?
If you feel healthier, happier and more productive you could easily end up recouping your money.
Matt is a trained and licenced Mindfulness teacher and Stress and Anxiety Reduction Counsellor operating in and around the Peterborough area. After overcoming his own stress and anxiety he's found his purpose teaching others to do the same.
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