For many of us, the decision to pursue therapeutic counselling was one that felt easy, giving us hope that we might be able to improve our lives through learning how to regulate our emotions. But for others, this choice can create feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and maybe even shame. The stigma surrounding therapy and mental health as a whole seems to have been born out of centuries of what people call the “bootstrap” idiom: a perspective whereby we are expected to hoist ourselves up by our bootstraps and single-handedly navigate difficult situations, whether it be financial, emotional, or social.
Historically, our primary focus has been on making it appear as though we have it all together, regardless of whatever is actually taking place in our personal lives. “Personal” is a term that refers to experiences or material things that belong to someone and do not have to be brought into public awareness.
However, “personal” is not synonymous with “secret,” and this is the key to why therapy has taken on such a negative connotation.
In trying to show others that we are self-sufficient and capable, we have turned natural human suffering into something shameful that should be kept a secret. As such, society has adopted the practice of suffering in silence out of fear that by being honest we may burden others or tarnish our own image.
Although therapy is deeply personal and grants individuals the privacy necessary to feel comfortable when talking about their emotional challenges, it is by no means meant to be secretive. By calling something “secret,” we imply that there is something inherently shameful or potentially harmful about the matter to which we refer. The fact that so many of us feel the need to hide our therapeutic journeys is a testament to the fact that, though societally we have grown more open to sharing stories about our struggles, there are still effects of the bootstrap method that remain.
Therapy is a highly effective tool that can boost our confidence, heal untreated wounds, and promote our independence and ability to care for ourselves long-term.
With the hope of reshaping our conception of therapy through highlighting its benefits, we have provided you with a list that debunks some common myths:
- Myth #1: It is selfish to pursue therapy. Let’s be clear, there is nothing selfish about making efforts to improve the ease with which you experience life. We all have the right to feel comfortable in our own skin, and for some, additional measures are required to ensure that basic level of stability. Therapy is a way to take care of oneself and does not inflict harm onto anyone else. So really, there is no truth to this myth. As a matter of fact, by attending to our emotional needs as they arise, we can become more regulated and will therefore be able to show our support for others during their own times of need.
- Myth #2: People who go to therapy are weak. Imagine you are prescribed medication for a physical ailment, which you must take daily and, at times, by needle. On most days, this treatment is manageable: a tough pill to swallow but it ultimately makes you feel better. On other days, however, you might experience excruciating pain, due to the sore and achy feeling that lasts long after your single dose of injected medicine. In many ways, therapy feels something like this. More often than not, people find treatment to be quite tolerable and even relieving. But, when old memories resurface and hidden wounds tear open, the deeper psychological work begins, which can be mentally taxing and, at times, tremendously painful. Therapy is not all butterflies-and-rainbows, it takes a resilient individual to reap its long-term benefits. A good portion of the work done in therapy examines the parts of ourselves and experiences we’ve endured that we wish to suppress, which requires extreme bravery by its very nature.
- Myth #3: Therapy is just talking about life updates. There are numerous therapeutic methods and each caters to a specific condition. These approaches range from what some might call “talk therapy” to psychosomatic trauma therapy and electroconvulsive therapy. However, portrayals of therapy in the media tend to downplay how diverse and extensive psychological counselling actually is. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy, otherwise known as “talk therapy,” and it is currently the most frequently practised therapeutic technique. Due to the fact that environmental and situational stressors often give rise to our emotional dysregulation, it makes sense why clients will occasionally debrief psychologists on the events that led up to a particular situation. These “updates” actually serve as pieces of information that a therapist can then assess to better understand a client’s emotional disposition. Also, not every therapy session will involve unlocking years-worth of psychological trauma! Moderation is key.
- Myth #4: Therapists just tell you what you want to hear. Validating a client’s experiences and emotions is an important aspect of therapy, but alone it is insufficient in developing long-term solutions to problems they may encounter. The role of a therapist is to put themselves in their client’s shoes while also guiding them through alternative ways to approach challenging situations. As such, the myth that therapists just tell us what we want to hear in order to make us feel good is false. In reality, they push us to overcome mental blocks and encourage us to question our beliefs and explore novel outlooks on life.
- Myth #5: Anyone can be a therapist. This myth is an interesting one, because it is partly true. Yes, anyone could be a therapist, assuming that they are willing to put in the work and time required to become a licensed psychologist. Therapists are educated, experienced, and uniquely suited professionals trained to provide services for individuals who seek solutions to psychological difficulties. Moreover, a good, and therefore successful therapist must also have the emotional capacity to understand their client’s experiences, which requires a deep sense of compassion and self-awareness. So, no, not just anyone can become a psychologist. But those who do possess extensive knowledge about psychology, neurology, and even physiology, which enables them to develop effective treatment plans for their client’s needs.
- Myth #6: People who seek therapy are crazy or “mentally ill”. First of all, everyone is susceptible to facing emotional challenges over the course of their life. In fact, most people will encounter at least one – likely more – shocking experience that causes serious disruptions to their ability to function. It is true that some of us are more vulnerable to the effects of chronic mental illness by way of genetic or environmental determinants. However, this does not determine who can or should seek therapy. Secondly, to call a person who struggles with mental illness “crazy” is like telling someone with an amputated leg that they are “useless.” These identifications are neither true nor accurate in articulating the experiences of people who face additional challenges in their daily lives. A diagnosis of mental illness does not imply that a person entirely lacks emotional regulation or their grip on reality. It simply means that they require additional treatment, or in this case, psychological counselling to manage the severity of their symptoms.
- Myth #7: You have to be in an active crisis to seek therapy. Therapy is an ongoing process of introspection, emotional regulation, and planning for the future. By no means is it a one-stop-shop to relieve you of all your problems. As such, although many people first decide to begin therapy in response to a specific event or crisis, most will continue to attend sessions well after said situation has been resolved. Therapy can last for many months or even years depending on the rate at which clients progress in their treatment plan. There are no rules for how long people should remain in therapy or what warrants either starting or stopping treatment. Ultimately, it is a decision up to the discretion of the client and recommendation of their therapist in support of the client’s best interests.
Everyone, no matter what they say or how they appear to be, are fighting their own battles.You don’t need to fight yours alone, there is no shame in seeking help. We hope that by debunking these myths, you won’t allow outdated perceptions get in the way of your mental health.