Here are some of the things that aren’t true about therapy:
1. I’m here to chitchat with a therapist
Realistically? No, you don’t go to therapy have a friendly chat with a therapist.
Why? For starters, (thankfully) the same social rules that apply to friends, coworkers, and strangers don’t apply here. You don’t have to engage in small talk, ask (or act) interested about their life, or be worried that you’re sharing too much about yourself to the extent of creeping out the person listening to you.
Why? The therapeutic relationship is built around your needs, preferences, and goals. The expectation is that during your session, you are the star, and the therapist is a 100% there for you.
Then comes the critical aspect of the experience of therapy, and that is being heard. The therapist listening to you is someone who has dedicated years of their life to studying, training, and developing skills in psychotherapy. Using a particular kind of listening that therapists engage with when their clients are sharing, and that’s Active Listening. Simply put, active listening is an attentive mode of listening carefully, paying attention to, empathizing with, and unconditionally accepting the client’s story. It’s one of the main pillars of psychotherapy across all modalities, and it’s the first and easiest noticeable difference between just chatting with a friend or talking to a therapist
2. I’m going to a therapist so they can make a decision / life choice for me and
3. I’m going to a therapist so they can solve my unsolvable problem
Why is this a myth? The short answer is: because it’s unethical and unrealistic.
As the client, you are the expert in your story. You are most knowledgeable in your life - what has happened, is happening, might happen, what has worked for (or failed) you in the past, what is actually doable and what is not an option at the moment. The therapist has the capacity to hear these experiences, and understand how psychological theories apply, how challenges and disorders develop, and are able to present different ways in which a psychological problem can be tackled.
With that being said, the therapeutic relationship is about an exchange of knowledge and expertise. The client educates the therapist on what has been happening in their life, what they may be struggling with, and the context of the client’s life. The therapist then has an opportunity to provide psychoeducation that may give the client perspective, understanding and awareness in understanding their story, education that may equip them with the tools that approach challenges in a healthy way, and empowers the client to take action (whether that’s a behaviour change, a particular decision, a solution, or an intervention of sorts) in the way that best suits the client’s needs, contexts, and available resources.
A therapist’s direct advice or choice on something happening in your personal life is not conducive to the purpose of therapy, and can potentially overlook important details in your context, or be harmful in unexpected ways. As therapy progresses, the client is meant to have been empowered with a listening ear, psychoeducation, understandings, strategies, and a new awareness that enables them to tackle pivotal points in their lives.
4. I should leave each session feeling better than when I started the session.
This final common myth is an important one. As your therapy progresses, or as you finish your therapeutic journey, the aim is that you have improved overall quality of life in one or more domains in a way that improved your holistic well-being. However, each individual session differs in content, topic, level of insight, how heavy the content was, how much change is required/expected, and how ready you are for this change. As new events happen, new horizons are illuminated, and as your awareness shifts, you might realize or open up about things that upset you, makes you anxious, or bring back a negative emotion that you’re not comfortable having. Therapy in this way can actually be quite draining.
That’s okay. It’s all a part of the therapeutic journey. Therapy isn’t a feel-good option for negative emotions. Instead, it’s a safe, accepting, and empathetic space that allows you to experience whatever emotions, thoughts, or reactions may arise. You are meant to feel all your feelings, process them in session, experience these feelings in-between sessions, and talk about them for as long as you need. Negative emotions are not to be shunned away, stigmatized, or repulsed from. The fact that they are there means that they are a part of your whole true self, which is targeted for growth and development in therapy.
If you or someone you love is struggling, we encourage you to take a step in pursuing your wellness, and fight for healing. Therapy has the power to change your life, as it has for so many others. You are not alone.