Therapy Myths & Realities
MYTH 1: Seeing a mental health professional means you are crazy.
Many people connect going into therapy with being labeled as “crazy” which is, of course, a frightening prospect. Nobody wants to be seen as crazy as that usually means major disconnection from others, being out of control, and possibly being a danger to yourself and others. No wonder some people avoid considering therapy as an option!
REALITY: In my experience, the majority of people who are either referred to or seek out a marriage, family therapist would not be considered “crazy” by the above definition. A more accurate description than crazy might be unhappy or discontent. Most people are looking for support in learning how to improve unpleasant relationship situations and feel better. When working with clients, my intentional stance is to a) learn your goals for therapy, b) hold a vision of your success in reaching those goals, and c) provide you with resources and opportunities to experiment with new behavior and discover what works for you.
MYTH 2: Therapy is just paying some blank-faced stranger to take endless notes and judge me. No thanks.
Lots of people have never seen a therapist before but nonetheless have all sorts of unpleasant thoughts about what it means and what it will be like based on cartoons, movies, and other exaggerated depictions of psychoanalysis. A common stereotype usually involves the image of a “patient” laying on a couch and a “shrink” sitting in a chair behind and facing away from the patient. The patient does all the talking while the blank-faced shrink silently judges everything, writes notes in a pad, and doesn’t say much of anything helpful.
REALITY: I am not a psychoanalyst; I identify as a client-centered, experiential psychotherapist. When we meet, there will be comfy furniture, but you don’t have to lie down (unless you want to) and I am usually seated so we can make eye contact as needed. I might take notes during the first one or two sessions so that I can ensure I have basic information and enough understanding of you and your goals for us to get started; after that, it’s pretty rare that I take notes during our sessions. My job is based primarily on listening to you with a non-judgmental, warm-hearted focus. Sometimes, clients want to know what I think and how I’m reacting to what they’re saying. So, sessions with me might contain more conversation and interaction and less of me just sitting silently while you talk.
In some cases when people begin therapy, they may feel awkward and unsure of how to start things off. Those feelings are completely normal. If needed, I might ask a question or two to help get things rolling. Many of my clients seem to indicate that they get comfortable with the structure of therapy rather quickly.
MYTH 3: Therapy is rehashing past hurts; why dredge up all the pain and heartache I’ve put behind me?
Some people have the idea that therapy is a place to complain and blame family for ongoing difficulties. Or, that therapy is some sort of sanctioned form of emotional torture where individuals are forced to talk about and endlessly dissect all their unhappy relationships.
REALITY: In my experience, most positive changes that occur through therapy come from one’s ability to remain present in the current moment rather than purposely dwelling in the past or fretting about the future. Sometimes current difficulties do have roots in unresolved past events and interactions. While I don’t make anyone dredge up unpleasant memories, I am prepared to help you deal with them and seek resolution should they surface during our work toward your goals.
As we go forward, I will help you explore parts of your life you would like to change and assist you in experimenting with ways to make those changes. To gain the most benefit from your therapy work, I will invite you to participate as fully as possible with as open a mind as possible, including being open to experiencing uncomfortable feelings sometimes. Keep in mind that often things can feel worse before they get better. Over the years, I have found that the more a person is willing to try on new thoughts and behaviors, the more apt they are to notice progress toward positive life changes.