Although therapy is much more widely accepted than it once was, there is still a stigma around mental illness and hence therapy especially in communities of color. First of all, Meriam Webster defines therapy as “medical treatment of impairment, injury, disease, or disorder.” I’ve outlined ten common misconceptions about therapy in hopes to dispel some of these myths. I challenge you to think beyond what you’ve been taught by your culture or society to be open to other routes of getting support for what you may be experiencing.
1. “I don’t need it.”
Therapy isn’t just for times of crisis. You can see a therapist when you feel that there is nothing “wrong” but would like to gain some insight into a particular area of your life. Every time I have been in therapy as a client, I have learned something about myself. It can be used as a tool for personal development just like going to a class or reading a good self-help book. You don’t have to wait until things are “bad” before speaking to a professional.
2. “I’m not crazy”.
If there is one word I wish we would throw out of our vocabulary, it’s “crazy”. The people you may see talking to themselves on the side of the road may very well be good candidates for a specific type of therapy, but there is a wide range of presentations of mental illness from mood disorders like anxiety and depression to personality disorders such as Borderline and Narcissistic personality types just to name a few. All of these disorders may benefit from therapeutic treatment. One may argue that to some extent we are all different versions of crazy!
3. “If I talk to my friends, family, or pastor, I’m getting the same help a therapist would offer me.”
I’ve heard this more often than I can count. You may be privileged enough to have a relative who is skilled in listening and provides you with unbiased advice. However, therapy is effective partly due to the neutrality of the therapist. You tend to feel freer when talking to someone who has no stake in your choices. Let’s not forget, your therapist received specialized education in the field of expertise that he/she is in. You wouldn’t trust your Aunt Cathy to give you with surgery because she happens to love Grey’s Anatomy!
4. “I don’t want to be on prescribed medication.”
There is a range of disciplines authorized to provide therapy but oftentimes the titles are used interchangeably. Psychiatrists are doctors who can prescribe medication. Psychologists differ from other therapists in that they have a doctorate degree but not in medicine. There are also other disciplines that provide therapy including licensed mental health clinicians, licensed social workers (like me), and marriage and family therapists. You would see a therapist in either discipline according to what you are looking for.
5. “It didn’t work the last time, therefore it doesn’t work for me.”
All therapy is not created equal. There are people who you may jive with better than others. There are also certain modalities that may be more effective for you than others. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular evidence-based treatment used to treat a number of diagnoses but you may benefit more from something like the humanistic approach. It’s worth it to keep searching until you find a therapist who is the right fit for you.
6. “It’s a scam… they just want your money.”
I don’t know anyone who enters the world of mental health for the money. Most individuals in the field don’t make it to Dr.Phil or Brene Brown’s level of financial success. Yes, therapy can be profitable, however, I’ve been in the field for over ten years and what I’ve encountered overwhelmingly is people who enter the field because they want to help people and are genuinely interested in how the mind works.
7. Therapy is for weak people.
You wouldn't consider yourself weak for seeking medical attention if you are physically injured. However, we treat mental health as if it's something we just need to buck up and deal with. Feelings are considered something we can overcome if we try hard enough. Unfortunately, our emotions are not given the same attention and respect as other aspects of our lives. We often end up using the wrong coping mechanisms because it's easier to distract ourselves, ignore our feelings, or mask them. Even though we can't touch or see our emotions, they play a powerful role in our lives and therapy can help us manage them more effectively. Asking for help does not make you weak. It makes you self-aware.
8. “It’s way too expensive.”
Yes, therapy can be quite expensive, especially if it is not covered by your insurance. However, many people are unaware of the alternate routes that you can take to obtain therapy including asking for a sliding scale fee based on your income. You can also inquire about receiving therapy in a bundle so you can receive therapy at a discount. There are also community behavioral health centers that charge considerably less than private practices. A disclaimer is that this is often where entry-level therapists get their first start.
9. “They just talk about the past and you can’t fix that.”
Yes, therapists often dig into your past in order to gain a better understanding of what led to present-day issues. However, unless you are using specific modalities like the psychodynamic approach, therapy will not simply focus on your past. Gathering information about your past is valuable in informing habits and patterns that you may need to understand present-day concerns.
10. “I don’t have time for therapy.”
Another common myth is that therapy is only done in a private office. I have provided therapy in a number of settings including schools, a client’s place of work, their homes, and the expanding mode of teletherapy allows you to receive therapy via video at the place of your convenience. This makes therapy something that you can seamlessly fit into your life.
Therapy can be an incredible space to heal, learn, and grow. Whether it's something you stick with for a month or a couple of years, extra support can never hurt. You deserve it!