Have you ever been curious to try therapy but weren’t sure it would be worth your time or money? Maybe you are in therapy now and unsure of what expectations you should have. Explore these four common myths, and then understand the facts.
4 Common Myths About Therapy:
Myth #1: The type of therapy I choose will determine whether I have positive outcomes.
- Fact: With so many types of therapy available, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when selecting the right kind for you.
Luckily, research shows that it is not the type of therapy you choose, rather it is the therapist’s level of competency and the alliance you form together that will determine whether you will have positive outcomes. There was a whole book published on this in 2021 called Effective Psychotherapists by William R. Miller and Theresa B. Moyers if you’d like to dig in deeper!
(Watch: How to Prep for an Intro Call & Choose the Right Therapist for You)
Myth #2: Your therapist is like a friend.
- Fact: Your therapist is not a friend, but you need to feel comfortable enough to share difficult feelings and experiences.
The therapeutic relationship should be like no other dynamic between two people. In most relationships there is an expectation of reciprocity where you consider the feelings and needs of the other person even when you are receiving support. Therapy is a service you are paying for and it should allow you to feel a sense of freedom to receive support without worrying about how it is impacting the therapist. A friend often relates to your story or shares uncensored reactions, whereas a therapist should be contemplating something known as accurate empathy. According to Miller and Moyers (2021), accurate empathy is the most important therapeutic factor in achieving positive outcomes.
Here’s an example of how therapy differs from friendship. Let’s say someone in therapy shared that she recently lost her father. The intuitive reaction of a friend or unskilled therapist would be to say something like “Oh I am so sorry for your loss” while perhaps making a very heartbroken face. This is a perfectly normal reaction to news of such a loss. In reality, this person never knew their father. He left the family when she was still a baby and she has resented him since for leaving her and her mom. It is the therapist’s job to be curious and ask helpful questions. In order to do so they need to try to understand you in a way that will result in a better understanding of yourself while really feeling seen.
Remember that a therapist is being paid to think deeply about the best ways to help you. Responding to the example above with gut-reaction empathy would not be helpful. This is why the therapeutic relationship is entirely different from a friend giving support.
Myth #3: I don’t need to have goals in therapy. Just venting to my therapist is enough.
- Fact: It is true that therapy is a place to allow yourself to share what feels most pressing. At the same time it should be noted it is a big investment of time, emotional energy, and finances, and should not be wasted solely on venting.
Therapists who develop goals collaboratively with clients tend to have better outcomes according to Miller and Moyers (2021). As you learn more about yourself and your values through the process of therapy, your goals may change and that is growth in itself! You are becoming clearer about your authentic desires and needs for the future. If the goals weren’t there in the first place, you might not recognize your growth.
It is true that some treatment goals can be meaningless and only serve the purpose of checking boxes for insurance. When done right, treatment goals help an individual focus on the personal work that makes their time spent in therapy worth the money. Treatment goals may not always capture exactly what you are working on, but they can provide clarity when you start to wonder if therapy is working. They are also a great way to create meaningful relationships with people who will listen. Treatment goals can be in writing or something you revisit verbally with your therapist.
The reality is that people often don’t notice when they get better. Treatment goals serve as a record of the goals achieved so far. They are a sense of reassurance that the energy spent was indeed worth it. Why not try them both? Vent to friends when you need to while also getting meaningful treatment in therapy.
Myth #4: Once my problems are solved I will be happy.
- Fact: Solving problems and healing symptoms can be done with short-term solution-focused psychotherapy but the work does not end there.
It takes time to build a life in alignment with your values and your authentic self to prevent problems from resurfacing. Achieving complete happiness is a myth in itself when we consider that we will all experience loss in our lifetime. This doesn’t mean you do not have the right to feel scared and sad, you do and you should, but it should not lead you to self-disconnect entirely. The world is filled with actual and potential sadness and pain, and with proper therapy, you can learn to live your best life with the least regrets in the most harmony possible with your loved ones.
With the proper development and strategy of a therapist, you can learn to stay connected and feel self-compassion in life’s toughest moments or other times when life is boring, lonely, sad, and/or scary.
About the therapist: Allyson Cole, Psy.D. is a Licensed Psychologist in California and New York and the co-founder of Create Outcomes Psychological Services. Allyson specializes in empowering women by developing their self-worth and confidence through individual therapy, group therapy, and specialized retreats. Learn more, or get in touch, by viewing her Frame profile here.