Psychotherapy or more commonly known as therapy, is universally recognized as a treatment intended to remedy a psychological disorder. However, what most people might not know is that you do not necessarily need to have a complex mental condition in order to start therapy. Therapy could be tremendously helpful if you’re someone who needs support and guidance on coping with the difficult emotions and experiences you are currently struggling with. It’s also a great way to stay in touch with our mental well-being, regardless of the state of our mental health.
There are many things that people assume about therapy. Whether they think they don’t need it or they assume that it’s only for people who are mentally ill, therapy doesn’t have the greatest reputation. The negative stigma that surrounds therapy is what stops people from seeking it out, but the most important thing to remember is that therapy can be for everyone!
Learning more about what therapy is and what it isn’t, can help us strengthen our mental health awareness and understand the importance of taking care of it.
For this article, I was able to interview one of Empath’s licensed clinical psychologists, AJ Requilman, who helped me understand some misconceptions about therapy and what actually goes on in a therapy session. At the same time, I was also able to gain some insights from a mental health advocate, who has gone to therapy and was able to share her experiences on what it was like (Let’s call her Aly for the sake of anonymity).
Here are the three of the most common misconceptions about mental health and therapy they have observed:
Most people think that going to therapy means that there’s something that needs to be fixed. In reality, going to therapy can be thought of as going to an annual physical check up. You don’t always just go to the doctor when you’re sick. You want to make sure that if there’s something wrong with your physical health, you want to be able to catch it before it becomes irreversible.
In the same way, going to a psychologist can also be a way for us to check on our mental well-being. In AJ’s perspective, if there’s something we need to adjust in the way we think of things or if there seems to be a deeper and more clinical aspect to our mental health, having an annual mental check up can be helpful. As the adage goes, “Prevention is better than cure.”
Aside from this, Aly mentioned that perhaps another reason why a lot of people may refuse help is because they may feel like they have something to prove. Perhaps they feel that being resilient shows their capability, and needing help can seem contradictory to that resilience. Nevertheless, Aly noticed that going to therapy helped her realize that she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. She learned to accept herself for who she is, instead of measuring her worth according to what other people think, which would only lead to unrealistic standards. Accepting this helped her to have that peace with herself.
Some people believe that therapy isn’t needed because they think a therapist is just someone who gives you advice. People believe that getting advice from friends and family is sufficient enough, compared to paying for a therapist. However, AJ pointed out that a common limitation with this is that sometimes, friends and families can have biased perspectives.
When you talk to them about your problems, what usually happens is that they try to relate them to their own experiences, which can sometimes seem like they’re making it about themselves, regardless if they mean to or not. The topic suddenly changes and it feels like your problem isn’t the focus of the conversation anymore, which can make you feel ignored. Using their own experiences is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not as helpful compared to someone as objective as a therapist.
In a therapy session, the role of the therapist is to listen to you. It’s really a space for only the client where there is no judgment, even if the therapist can relate. Another misconception is that therapy is where the therapist only gives advice, but it is actually more of a collaboration between the mental health professional and the individual client. In a therapy session, AJ mentioned that both the client and the therapist should work together to set goals and cultivate the space to communicate freely.
According to AJ, some of her clients were initially hesitant about going to therapy because they first tried to solve their problems by praying. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with praying, and it’s good if it helps with relieving stress and connecting with your spirituality. However, the reality is that mental health concerns can also stem from biological, socio-cultural, and psychological factors, which may need intervention from professionals for these to be resolved.
For some people who rely on faith and religious belief alone, even when they experience severe distress and physiological symptoms (i.e., panic attacks, difficulty breathing, sleep apnea, etc.), sometimes their persistent problems eventually become unbearable because they tend to overlook alternative methods that have been proven to actually solve such specific problems. In serious cases where psychological disorders and properties of the brain are involved, such as personality disorders or depression, the best option is to seek treatment through a therapist who can provide talk therapy and/or possibly medication.
While there’s nothing wrong with being true to your faith, it’s also important to seek professional help especially when the concerns that you are experiencing are already affecting your day-to-day functioning and social interactions. More often than not, we need to take action when it comes to helping ourselves. Nothing will change if we do not take concrete action to improve our mental well-being.
Now that you know what therapy is not, it will be easier for you to understand what therapy actually is! Therapy isn’t always for the mentally ill, it’s also a place where you can allow yourself to talk freely about any problems you have. It’s not a place where someone gives you advice, it is where you can have a conversation with someone who genuinely wants to help. When we think about therapy, most people tend to think of it as the therapist giving tips on how to solve our problems. In reality, the therapist is there to guide us in figuring out ways to improve our situation and our coping strategies, as well as provide emotional support throughout our journey towards healing.
Understanding what therapy is will help diminish your preconceived notions or fears about it and open yourself up to the idea of actually starting therapy. Undergoing therapy doesn’t imply that you’re broken and that something needs to be fixed, it just means that you want to become a better person, whether you are doing it for yourself or for the people around you.
If you’ve decided to start going to therapy, the next thing you need to think about is what exactly you’re looking for. Some therapists cater to different needs, so it’s important to find the person who is the best fit for you. The next article will discuss what to look for in a therapist and what makes them a good fit for you.
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