Debunking Psychotherapy Myths
The pandemic became real globally in March 2020. A year on, many of us have experienced its deep impact on our daily lives. Fear, isolation, financial strain, illness, death, the inability to grieve with loved ones and much more, has taken an undeniable toll on the mental health of millions of people. However, seeking and getting help has not been simple, either. The stigma attached to mental health issues along with not knowing what to expect can make psychotherapy intimidating. Outdated notions have, unfortunately, resulted in many people opting to simply not receive the essential therapy they require.
The movies sometimes portray therapists as prickly and unapproachable, peering disapprovingly over the rims of their glasses. Others perform comical antics to get their clients to open up emotionally. Neither of these comes close to the reality of psychotherapy sessions. Now more than ever, we need to debunk psychotherapy myths and destigmatize emotional healing.
Psychotherapy Myth #1: “Therapists always dig into your childhood“
As the saying goes, “You have to feel it to heal it.” Common mental health and behavioural problems arise from repressing painful emotions and the subsequent unaddressed trauma. However, trauma-informed therapists would never force you to discuss such events without understanding your “window of tolerance.” This type of work should only begin once you acquire the coping skills to tolerate the distress those memories trigger. Rather than throw you in the deep end of your emotions, we gradually increase your coping abilities to help you release heavy emotions. Therapy can be a safe place to restructure burdensome beliefs so you can reimagine yourself without the unhelpful mindsets you may have picked up from your childhood.
Psychotherapy Myth #2 “Therapy is just like talking to a friend“
As trained professionals, registered therapists use evidence-based treatments to support mental and emotional healing. Our scope of work is regulated by professional bodies, like the College of Registered Psychotherapists, College of Psychologists and the College of Social Services and Social Work. Consequently, therapy sessions are hardly the same as talking to a friend. The focus of therapy sessions is you. A therapist will not discuss their personal problems during therapy sessions. Secondly, our training allows us to offer you an objective and unbiased opinion about your situation. And finally, we follow ethical guidelines during therapeutic conversations to assess how your life experiences have shaped your present situation, and offer guidance to help you move through it.
Anyone in therapy will benefit greatly from having a good therapist for insight and empowerment, along with the social support of a trusted friend.
Psychotherapy Myth #3: “Therapy is for the weak!“
Many people grow up in families that do not like their problems externalized. Others believe that therapy is for weak, flawed and disturbed individuals who cannot get their lives together. Such myths completely miss the point about psychotherapy. The human condition exposes all of us to conflict, at some point or another, throughout our lifetimes. Some of these create emotional wounds that require healing. Disowned emotions hardly ever disappear on their own. They accumulate into anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic stress and much more, which only serve to create more conflict.
Acknowledging that you require help and attending therapy sessions is one of the bravest things anyone can do. It is a show of courage and strength to take responsibility for your emotional well-being compared to ignoring the issues through distractions or by delving into substance abuse to numb the pain. Registered therapists do not make you dependent on them for help. Rather they arm you with the ability to gain perspective on your life and relationships so you can cultivate processes to work through problematic situations productively.
Psychotherapy Myth #4: “Therapy is only for serious mental health issues“
What is tolerable to one person may not be for another. We are all conditioned to manage stressful situations differently depending on factors like personal history, temperament and life experiences. What one person experiences as tolerable might be completely traumatizing for someone else. And the opposite is true, too. Just because another person has it worse, doesn’t invalidate your struggles. No issue is too trivial to be explored in therapy.
Emotional wounds are no different from physical wounds and they should be addressed early. When left to fester, you can end up with an emotional crisis on your hands. And even then, it is not too late to seek counselling. It might just take longer to help stabilize your nervous system from the dysregulation it has fallen into.
Psychotherapy Myth #5: “Therapy is only common-sense”
We can compare psychotherapy to putting together a complex puzzle of your life. Your emotions, beliefs and behaviours are like the puzzle’s pieces. When you’re feeling good these pieces come together easily as your life is on track and your thoughts, feelings and behaviour move in synch. In contrast, when you are stressed, those same pieces can feel like they are sitting in a jumbled pile, causing confusion. They obscure the bigger picture of your life. You may not be aware of what you’re feeling, how your thoughts may be contributing to the problem and how to make change happen.
Therapy sessions allow you to step back to gain perspective so you can start tracking the outer edges to form patterns. The guidance of a therapist can help you gain this objectivity to develop a coherent narrative for piecing your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Most people lack the ability to wade through this process alone, making it far from common sense.
Psychotherapy sessions can be hard work at times but it requires your willingness for the change to occur. The effort is well worth it at the end when you make milestone breakthroughs to yield transformative freedom from what shaped your limiting patterns in the past.
If you need someone to speak to, contact us. We have helped hundreds of individuals using a blend of psychotherapy treatments. Let’s have a discussion about how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.
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Research for this article was contributed by Yasaman Haghighat, Counselling Psychology Intern