I saw a meme that said “People who are in therapy are often in therapy to talk about the people in their lives that need therapy but won’t go to therapy.” Long meme, I know. But it’s so true! I was actually nervous to become a therapist because of my own misconceptions. So I thought it’d be helpful to point out misconceptions for those people who are scared of trying therapy, to shine light on what it’s like in reality.
Misconception 1. My therapist is going to sit facing away from me, judging me, and I’ll lay on a couch and talk about my mother.
The truth – There are some therapists who do this, sure. Psychoanalysis, the oldest style of therapy, does use a lot of conceptualizations about parental figures and some therapists do sit facing away from the client to let them free associate. But that is NOT the only form of therapy, or even the most common one. When you meet with a therapist, most of the time you’ll be sitting in a room that looks like a living room or an office, talking face to face, and talking about whatever topics the two of you have decided are important. If you WANT the classic Freud experience, search for a therapist who uses psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy, using those keywords.
Misconception 2. My therapist is going to make me talk about things I don’t want to talk about.
The truth – Therapy is going to touch on difficult topics, and you should be uncomfortable at some points if you’re going to get anywhere. If your therapist talks about only subjects with which you are completely comfortable, you aren’t going to get anywhere or make any changes. Might as well call a friend up if that’s what you want. However, a good therapist is going to let you go at your own pace. They should push you at times, so you are talking through what you’ll need to heal, but they should also respect if you need a break or can’t handle something. If you say that you don’t want to talk about something, your therapist cannot force you, and if you feel they push too hard, you have every right to say you aren’t comfortable and be firm. You always have the right to not speak, leave the room, or stop therapy altogether (except in cases where you’re court-mandated or institutionalized, which are different).
Misconception 3. I can’t afford therapy.
The truth – Unfortunately in some areas and with some needs, this could be true. However, there are tons of options nowadays that did not exist years ago (hello, telehealth!) that make therapy cheaper and easier to access than ever. One resource I love is Open Path, which is a directory of therapists who are committed to charging cash rates of $30-$60 per session for individual and $30-$80 for couples therapy. If you have insurance, look for therapists who are “in-network” with your provider by either calling the provider directly (look at the number on the back of your card, or talk to someone in HR at the company if you get it through work) or by searching on a website like Psychology Today or Therapy Den. If you aren’t insured, see if there are any schools of psychology, social work, or counseling near you that may offer low-rate sessions done by therapists still in school or people who are obtaining licensure. You can also go to nonprofits that have walk-in times, try group therapy, or look into the growing list of online providers. If you absolutely cannot afford or otherwise cannot go to therapy, there’s a lot you can learn from books that can improve your mental health too. I recommend Self Therapy by Jay Earley, Self Compassion by Kristin Neff, and The Upward Spiral by David DeVries as some basic starters, but there are hundreds of good self-help books out there.
Misconception 4. I don’t have time to go to therapy every week.
The truth – A lot of people don’t! That’s why many therapists let clients do monthly or biweekly sessions if they need to. Some therapists do insist that clients see them weekly, especially if there are pressing issues like immediate danger to themselves or others, or acute symptoms. And honestly, if you are in one of those situations you may need more than weekly therapy and may want to consider an outpatient program or higher level of care. However, if you are just looking to better understand yourself, your relationships, and handle symptoms that are bothering you, you can still make progress if you see your therapist biweekly or monthly. This can also keep costs down for you if that’s a concern. Most therapists recommend clients go at least once a month because less than that can be too long to track changes and make progress. Will your results be as immediate if you’re seeing your therapist once a month? It really depends on how much work you’re doing in between sessions, if the therapist is a good fit for what you need, and what’s happening in your life. If you absolutely cannot accommodate one hour every month to focus on your mental health, then maybe it’s a) not a good time for therapy in your life, and b) a good idea to cut back on some of your obligations if you can.
Misconception 5. I don’t like therapists.
The truth – This one isn’t so much a misconception but something I’ve heard from people and it kinda cracks me up. It’s funny to me because there are lots of therapists that I don’t like too. And there are plenty that I do like. Because therapists are people! All different types of people become therapists, for all different types of reasons, and they do all different types of work. If you really hate therapists you also have the option to just not go to therapy, and that’s ok. However, if you hate therapists and feel like you have problems that only therapy will solve, it’s also ok to tell a prospective therapist the reasons you don’t like therapists and see what they think are some good options to work around that. In my experience, most people say this because they had a bad experience with either being forced into therapy, staying with a therapist they didn’t like because they felt obligated, or a therapist reminded them of a person they had problems with (we call this transference). It’s also ok to shop around for a therapist and you are by no means obligated to just go into someone’s office and stick with them for life. The single most important factor in whether or not therapy is successful is the relationship between the therapist and the client. So if you aren’t feeling it, find a new one.
Misconception 6. I can’t find a therapist.
The truth – It can be super daunting to find a therapist, especially if it’s your first time looking for one. But there are a lot of online tools to make it simple. My suggestion is to start by going to one of the websites I’ve mentioned in this post, or just Googling “therapist near me.” Most therapists have a bio on their website or their page posting that says a few details about them, like what types of people they work with, insurances they accept, and techniques they use. If you’re brand new, don’t get hung up on the techniques or get intimidated by the words you don’t know. Just narrow your search by things like area, insurance/costs, and notice whose bio makes you feel like they’re someone you could talk to. If you know what you need, in terms of approaches or specific disorder, you can narrow your search by looking for therapists who have experience with this.
Misconception 7. A therapist is going to force me to take meds.
The truth – Most therapists can’t even prescribe you anything. There are several different license types that someone can have to do the job of psychotherapy and most of them don’t allow the therapist to write prescriptions. There are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), Licensed Psychologists (LP), Doctors of Psychology (Psy.D.), Psychiatrists, Professional Counselors, Pastoral Counselors, Doctors and Masters of Social Work (DSW, MSW), the list goes on. I’m a licensed social worker (MSW) and I have two licenses, (LICSW, LCSW) which have different sets of letters because I’m licensed in two states. Licenses can be confusing, but all this is to say that not everyone can prescribe meds because we’ve gone through programs that had different requirements. If one of my clients wants a prescription, they can get it, but they have to go to a different professional than me. If you want a therapist who can prescribe meds, go for a psychiatrist or a Doctor of Psychology, which will have an M.D. or a Psy.D. after their name in their title. If you don’t want meds or are unsure, feel free to call or email to ask a therapist what their stance is on meds before you meet them. If they say they strongly encourage clients to take meds or believe they can’t work with you unless you’re on meds, then that’s not the therapist for you.
Misconception 8. Only crazy people go to therapy.
The truth – This is like saying only stupid people go to school. Therapy is a thing you do so that you can increase your sanity and better your mental health. Going to therapy doesn’t automatically make you less functional, it actively makes you more functional – if you’re invested, making changes, and have a good relationship with your therapist. If you’re worried about what other people will think, just don’t bother telling them you’re going. Or do tell them, and see how many people in your life are already going to therapy that weren’t telling you because they thought you’d judge them for it. A variation of this is that only couples who are about to break up go to therapy, and I would make the same argument. A lot of couples go to therapy, they just don’t talk about it, and the ones who do break up were likely going to break up anyway but therapy could have helped them speed the process along instead of dragging it miserably for years. Even those people who did break up, if they had a good therapist they now can go into their next relationship with better communication and conflict resolution skills.
Misconception 9. Men/people from my culture/people my age/people like me don’t go to therapy.
The truth – I guarantee that not only do people like you go to therapy, that there are probably enough of them that there is a therapist who specializes in that type of person or is that type of person. Even if they don’t fit exactly your identity, there will be someone with a close enough match that you can have good therapy from them. I was watching 90 Day Fiance Happily Ever After and a couple on that show is in rural Utah and the husband said he wouldn’t go to therapy unless they could find a male therapist who could speak Samoan in their area, and what do you know, they were able to find a male therapist who hired a Samoan translator for their session, in rural Utah. There are therapists that work with every problem and type of person under the sun, and all types of people go to therapy, they just don’t always talk about it. Unfortunately there is still a big stigma about mental health, but that’s why I write things like this, so people can read this in the comfort of their home and understand a little bit more about the process.
Misconception 10. Therapy can’t help me, I’m too sick/crazy/broken.
The truth – Therapy has already helped people like you and worse than you. Your therapist may even have been in a situation worse than yours and has come all the way to where they are now to help other people like them. My classmates in my Master of Social Work program were all sorts of people – men, LGBT-identifying, old, young, refugees, Muslim, with various combinations of different racial, social, and ethnic identities and lives. Some people had parents who were physically abusive, some had attempted suicide, been sex trafficked, or abused drugs and been homeless for years before they got their own therapy and started to heal. The amazing thing about life is that when we meet people, we only see them as they are today. We can’t see all that’s happened to them before that point. It may not feel possible for you to feel better, have better relationships, more peace, and feel better about yourself, but all of those things are something you can have and deserve to have. Therapy will not make all of your problems go away, but if you work hard at it and allow yourself to change you CAN feel better and get more out of life.