Updated: Jul 21
1. Only Crazy People Need Therapy.
I think this is the number one misconception out there about counselling/therapy. This relates to the stigma that still exists, about mental health issues. Yes, therapy helps people who have a mental health condition, but counselling can also serve as self-care, prevention, and an investment to keep your mental health in check. Whether you have a mental health condition or not, counselling has many great benefits such as increasing self-awareness, improve self-esteem & self-confidence, develop healthy habits, improve emotional well-being, increase your emotional intelligence, and enhance interpersonal skills leading to healthier relationships. Even if you had a mental health diagnosis, therapists do not judge you or label you as "crazy." For some people who do suffer from a mental illness, having a diagnosis can come as a relief, as it puts a name to what they are struggling with. However, mental health diagnosis can only be done by a General Practitioner, Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist. Other types of therapists such as counsellors, psychotherapists and social workers can provide therapy for those with or without a mental health condition but do not prescribe medication or diagnose people.
2. Going to therapy is a sign of weakness.
Not at all! In fact, it takes a lot of courage to be able to open up and be vulnerable with a therapist. Again, stigma plays a big part behind this belief. Some people may have internal messages most often learnt from childhood, that they need to deal with their problems on their own and getting help from someone else means that they will be seen as weak, or incapable of handling their own problems. Of course, everyone has the capacity within themselves to resolve difficult circumstances in life, however, there are times when we are so caught up in these problems, that having someone objectively view it (like a bird's eye view, or a trained view to be more precise), helps you to look at your problems from a distance; making it easier for you to find the appropriate resolution for them. Therapy can bring about more clarity to your problems in this way.
3. Therapy is simply talking about your problems repeatedly.
Although most approaches to therapy are called “talk” therapy (and yes you do talk about your problems), your therapist listens to your story with trained ears. Therapists are trained to listen to not just your words, but also focus on your body language and emotions and pick up on subtle cues that you might not be aware of. Your therapist will then offer lots of acknowledgement and validation for the things that you are struggling with, but also ask you lots of questions that are intended for eliciting more information, challenge your current ways of thinking and prompt you towards positive change. Some therapists offer educational information relevant to your situation or condition, which gives you clarity about your issues. This is often known as “Psychoeducation.”
There are some therapists who also use more experiential approaches to therapy, which focus on the here-and-now experience and help you gain more awareness of your deeper emotions and unconscious beliefs. Certain therapists are also trained in using creative interventions, such as art therapy, dance & movement therapy, play therapy etc.
Most importantly, therapists will discuss with you in the first session what you want to change or improve in your life and collaboratively set goals for therapy. Thus, therapy is not “just” talking, but involves you and your therapist working together to make positive changes to your life.
4. Why see a therapist when I can talk to my friends and family?
As mentioned in the above point, therapists have a trained way of listening to your issues and unlike a social conversation, therapy is all about you. Furthermore, what you talk about in therapy is private and confidential, as long as there are no issues to your safety or wellbeing.
Remember, your therapist is NOT your friend. The therapeutic relationship is a professional relationship, in which you learn new ways of thinking and behaving, and gain new life skills. Also, you do not have to worry about burdening your therapist with your problems – It is their job to listen to people’s worries and problems.
5. My therapist will solve my problems or tell me what to do.
Sometimes when we are feeling overwhelmed and cannot find a way through our problems, we might wish for someone to rescue us from our distress. Therapists, however, do not “fix” your problems or tell you what to do. If they did, you wouldn’t have any autonomy or feel empowered about your own health and wellbeing. It also means that you become dependent on your therapist to resolve all your future issues, and you may not learn any skills to be self-reliant. Therapists may, however, provide information that you might need relating to your current issues, to help you make an informed decision about your therapy. Overall therapy should be a collaborative process, with you being in the driver's seat, in full control of the choices you make, while your therapist may guide you from the passenger seat.
6. Therapists will read my mind/think I am stupid, bad, lazy etc.
For many of you perhaps from watching Hollywood movies you might have an image of yourself lying on a couch and your therapist analysing your mind. No, that is not what happens in therapy anymore, and no one can read your mind. Therapy is NOT mind reading. Secondly, Therapists DO NOT judge you in any way. They have the training and skills to perceive your issues in the context of your life experiences, show empathy for your struggles and accept you with unconditional positive regard.
7. Therapy will be too expensive.
If you consider all the above points and the benefits that counselling can have for your emotional, psychological and social well-being, the money you pay your therapist will be an investment towards your mental health & self-development. There is also the option of seeing therapists whose services are covered under the Medicare, Private Health or NDIS schemes, whichever may be relevant to your needs. Alternatively, some NGOs provide low cost, or a sliding scale fee based on your income, however, they often have long waiting lists. It is important that you find a therapist not based on their fees, but on whether you “click” with them. Because research has shown that the best outcomes in therapy are determined by the therapeutic relationship rather than any other factor.
8. Therapy will go on forever
Most therapists will work with you to set some goals for therapy, based on your needs. The number of therapy sessions needed for you depends on your unique issues, and some people do in fact attend therapy for years, however, your therapist should work towards what is important to you and not foster a dependency on the therapist. The average number of sessions people might require in general could be anywhere between 6 – 20 sessions.
I hope this information has been helpful in clearing any misconceptions you might have had about therapy. If you are struggling, don't hesitate to contact a counsellor near you. Most therapists offer a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your issues or clarify any questions. This could be a helpful first step for you.
Shobana Suresh - Counsellor
0434 947 255