Media portrayals of mental health professionals have, at least in some cases, given therapy a bad rap. From the utterly ridiculous and comical such as What About Bob or Frasier to the nightmarish Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (all psychiatrists, by the way, most of whom don’t do weekly psychotherapy), many people hold misconceptions about what it’s like to see a psychologist. Here are 5 myths debunked:
1. Counseling is not just for “crazy” people. In fact, counseling is one way healthy people stay sane. Just as very fit people often work with a personal trainer, even strong, healthy people benefit from having someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of.
2. You don’t have to lay on the couch. You can sit up! Most people do, and some therapists don’t even have couches.
3. You don’t have to talk about sex or your mother. While both subjects are fair game if they are relevant for you, many clients never broach the subject of sex or their childhood. We can focus on whatever concerns you today and/or your goals for the future.
4. You don’t have to come every week for years. Although weekly sessions are typical up front, most people eventually space sessions out as they start feeling better and stop once issues are resolved—often a matter of weeks or months, not years. While there are some who need or enjoy ongoing counseling, most come for brief stretches periodically, as different issues pop up.
5. A good psychologist will do more than nod, say, “Mmm…hmmm,” and ask, “How does that make you feel?” While reflective listening, non-directive questioning, and exploration of feelings have their place in therapy, a good counselor will also share observations, and insights—things you may be unaware of—as well as specific advice, resources, or recommendations when called for. The counseling office can be a classroom for learning new communication skills, coping strategies, or relaxation exercises, as well as new ways of thinking about life, yourself, and things that cause conflict, anxiety, or depression. You can learn tools to better manage time, stress, and anger. A therapist can also offer guidance and feedback as well as encouragement and support for making life decisions. It’s hard to know at the outset what your takeaway from any given session will be…but one conversation could change your life.