10 myths about psychotherapy and counselling

There are a lot of misconceptions about psychotherapy and counselling. Some based on fear, others based on very old social values, or perhaps unscrupulous therapists. In this post, we explore ten myths about therapy, and offer up some counter arguments.

  1. Therapy is only for people who are weak or sick.
    There’s a thankfully fading myth in society that to be “strong” means you have complete control of your feelings, or even the most difficult situations “should” mean you are unaffected. Whilst there’s value in resilience, it doesn’t mean that being with difficult feelings, or admitting that you can at times be vulnerable is a weakness. In fact, not only can denying vulnerability lead to difficulties such as arrogance, it may be that in so doing, you neglect some of your most powerful gifts.

    Related video: The Power of Vulnerability | Brene Brown | TED Talks

  2. Therapy never ends and therapists “pull you in and suck you dry”
    Many therapists offer short-term counselling or therapy and will help you figure out what sort of therapy works for you. Some suggest that long term counselling or on-going psychotherapy might somehow become a trap, where you enter and will be unable to leave, or that a therapist might manipulate you to stay.

    • A core ethical principal that counsellors and psychotherapists (and one therapists are bound too by their professional codes) is to work in the best interests of the client. A therapist favours their own financial gain would be directly working against this principal.
    • Most therapists are trained to be highly attuned to power dynamics. This means most therapists would deeply consider any interventions related to ending, and would often seek supervisory support on the matter.
    • There’s always an exit in therapy. Even if your therapist recommends that now is not the right time to leave, you still have the choice.

    If you feel an urge to leave therapy, you may want to consider whether you are unconsciously responding to a fear of what is about to be encountered in therapy. If the urge is strong and sudden, perhaps delay it for a few weeks or months, to see if something important is arising. This is a widely documented phenomena in therapy sometimes referred to as a “Flight into health”.

  3. Therapy is too expensive.
    Prices for therapy range broadly. In some areas there are free services and low cost sessions are often available from trainee therapists in the £20-£40 hourly range. For qualified and experienced therapists the costs may be over £150.But it might be more useful to look at therapy in terms of value. Therapy provides an opportunity for significant self-improvement; it leads to deep, lasting internal change. Consider how much you might spend on external and fleeting experiences, like a holiday, clothing or a night out. If you’re your therapist’s fee seems steep, think about the many costs your fee must cover, including rooms, advertising, insurance and on-going training.

    More information: the free psychotherapy networks list of options.

  4. Therapy is just like talking to a friend.
    Even if this were true, there is value in our busy lives to have someone available for focussed, regular and objective listening. But counselling and psychotherapy are very different to everyday conversations. Therapists are specifically trained to be effective listeners, enhancing empathy and attunement, while reducing judgement, advice and self-disclosure. Many therapists have training well beyond listening, including techniques, theories and levels of self-awareness and objectivity, which even the best of friends probably will not possess.
  5. Counsellors and psychotherapists want to blame your parents.
    There’s little room for blame in psychotherapy. When a therapist looks at early life issues, they are wanting to understand your experience: the situation you found yourself growing up in, how that felt to you and what internal beliefs and personality traits this left you with. Looking at the environment where this experience took place for some therapists is an important part of understanding that, and it may be that anger emerges towards parents in that process. But that’s not the same as blaming anyone. In fact, therapy aims to unearth experience and resolve it, so that greater responsibility for one’s own life can emerge.
  6. All therapy is the same.
    There are a long lists of therapies: each with it’s own focus, experience and theoretical framings. Some, such as cognitive behavioural therapies, focus on working through thoughts that drive behaviours and focus on short-term outcomes. Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies look to understand the inner workings of the conscious and unconscious mind, drawing on childhood and the relationship between therapist and client to inform that understanding. Art therapy and some humanistic therapies use art and creativity to unearth feelings which are buried, while Jungian approaches draws upon more symbolic and archetypal levels of consciousness to help inform personal actualisation. Integrative practitioners are trained in several approaches, and also in how to chose the type of therapy which is appropriate for the clients situation.
  7. Therapy is going to hurt, or take me somewhere I don’t want to go.
    Therapy is about exploring: bringing the unknown into the known, perhaps to find strength to move beyond where we’ve found ourselves, or to bring to the surface things which are holding us back. Therapy is not easy and it is a commitment: but psychotherapists and counsellors are trained to guide safely, and to help you pick yourself up if you fall.Furthermore, those who approach therapy with the most willingness are often those who get the most out of it.

    “Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”
    ― Shannon L. Alder

  8. Medication works just as well as therapy.
    Talking therapies and psychiatric medicines have both developed over the 20th century and initially along-side each other, with medicines seen as a short term or urgent response, with therapies being used to address underlying issues if and when appropriate. In recent years, the approach has often become more “quick fix” oriented, with medicines used more often and often without a dual approach of looking at underlying issues.

    Read more: Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry: More harm than good: confronting the Psychiatric Medication Epidemic.

    While your own use of medication is something for you to work through with your doctor or psychiatrist, some therapists believe that psychoactive medication can result in an avoidance of issues that therapy might well serve to address. Other schools of thought suggest that suffering serves as a part of the human experience: to bring about opportunities for growth.

  9. The therapist will fix you.
    Psychotherapy and counselling are not approaches that work like medicine or dentistry, where often a problem is presented to the professional and a solution is offered. As therapy is about changing your own relationship to you, your life and those around you, you will be the agent of change. It’s why therapy takes commitment and you have to be ready, but also why you need to find a therapist you can trust to walk with you on the journey.
  10. You will be fixed.
    As we begin to unpick who we are, often the lesson is that we ourselves have marginalised a part of ourselves. Often, simply accepting all of us is what’s required. We might even be lucky enough to realise that there is nothing at all that needs to be fixed.