5 Therapy Myths and Fears Busted

While millions of people are comfortable seeking help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other counselor, others--maybe you included--would rather pass a kidney stone than make an appointment with a therapist. This week, the Savvy Psychologist helps you (or someone you love) get over 5 common myths and fears about therapy.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
7-minute read
Episode #28

Seeking help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other counselor can be a great way to get through a rough patch, get some perspective, or optimize your life. But not everyone feels comfortable taking that step.

This week, we’ll address some common myths and fears that may needlessly be keeping you from getting help and feeling better. Next week, we’ll cover how to talk to someone in your life who could use a psychological tune-up, but needs a gentle nudge (or even a compassionate kick in the head) to make that first appointment.

According to a 2007 population-based prevalence study, 29% of the population has a diagnosable disorder that is going untreated—that’s almost one in three people! The highest treatment need was for alcohol dependence; then, in order, depression, social anxiety, and panic. The same study found that less than one-third of people who needed help got help.   

Likewise, a 2009 study of over 36,000 people found that in the past year, fully 4% had thought seriously about suicide or had attempted suicide. Of that 4%, half of those who had contemplated suicide and one-quarter of those who had attempted suicide didn’t seek help, or even perceive the need for help. 

The take home: there are millions of people out there, perhaps even you or someone you love, who could benefit from a few sessions with a good psychologist, psychiatrist, or other counselor.  But it takes strength to seek help, and know-how to get in the door. To that end, here are 5 common barriers to seeking treatment--and how you can convince yourself (or someone you love) to overcome them.

Want more tips?  Check out  How to Ask for Help

Barrier #1: I Can Fix This Myself

In an independent, self-reliant culture like ours, seeking help is often equated with weakness. In truth, getting help is a sign of strength and courage.  There’s no shame in taking your car to a mechanic, your money to a financial adviser, or your golf swing to a coach. You wouldn’t treat a broken leg on your own, right? The same should be true for depression, addiction, or any other affliction that’s sucking the life out of you.

Men in particular often have an aversion to therapy because they believe they can—or should—handle it themselves.  Men, especially of a certain age, are taught to bear pain alone and silently. In fact, a 2011 study of about one thousand 65-year old men found that those who believed, “When a man is feeling pain, he shouldn’t let it show,” were the least likely to seek out even a flu shot, much less therapy--and they had the worst health of all the men studied. 

Therefore, if you’re dealing with a macho man who could use a mental health tune-up, link the idea of going to therapy to his existing beliefs about individual peak performance.  For instance, “A few sessions with a good coach would bring you back to your old unstoppable self,” or “Just like you saw your financial planner to strategize about taxes, let’s consult with a psychologist about staying sharp/feeling awesome/focusing better/getting that extra edge.”

Last ditch: if Tony Soprano and Metallica can go to therapy, you can, too.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.