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

Barrier #4: I Don’t Want to End up in a Psych Ward

If you have enough presence of mind to worry about this, then rest assured--you’ll be fine.

In California, where I practice, you can only be hospitalized involuntarily for three reasons: 1) you are an immediate danger to yourself, meaning you plan to commit suicide--or you are convinced, for example, that the FBI has planted a chip in your brain and you are trying to get it out with a knife; 2) you plan to kill a specific, identified person (NOT just, “I’m so mad, I could kill someone!”); and 3) you’re gravely disabled, which means you cannot feed, house, or clothe yourself because of a mental illness (as in, “Aliens have poisoned our water supply, so I’m not going to eat or drink ever again.”) 

If one of these things is true, you can be taken to a hospital for a 72-hour hold to make sure you and everyone else stays safe.  Roughly half of the states have laws similar to California, where commitment is based on the level of danger; the remaining half have laws based on a need for treatment, but the bar is high and requires severe and persistent mental illness, usually with an inability to live safely and independently.

Again, if your mind works well enough to ponder whether this means you, it probably doesn’t. But if you’re still worried, search online for your state and the phrase “civil commitment.”

The most likely option for most individuals contemplating therapy is seeing an outpatient provider. This is light years away from a psych ward. Let me put it this way: if an involuntary hospital stay is the Hummer H2 of mental health care, then the traditional outpatient, hour-per-week therapy session is a Smart car.  It will get you where you want to go, it’s totally effective and safe, but it’s a lot less intimidating.

Barrier #5: I Had a Bad Experience with Therapy in the Past

Yes, not every lid goes with every pot. And unfortunately, there are lots of lousy therapists out there. Therapists are people, and like all people, they have foibles and varying levels of competence. But one session from hell shouldn’t keep you from finding a match made in heaven.

Get a recommendation from a friend, or look at reviews online. Cross-reference the list of psychologists from your insurance with therapists’ websites and choose someone with a philosophy that seems to fit you. Don’t be afraid to shop around. Try on therapists as you would try on a new suit or test-drive a new car. 

To sum up, when it comes to therapy, you’re always in the driver’s seat. You’re paying them, which technically means they work for you. You can always stop if you decide a particular therapist just doesn’t chug your choo-choo. But give therapy a chance: the right therapist isn’t a magician, but he or she can help you work wonders with your own life.

Next week, we’ll cover 5 tips on how to talk to someone you think could benefit from giving therapy a try. .


Messias, E., Eaton, W., Nestadt, G., Bienvenu, O.J., & Samuels, J. (2007).  Psychiatrists’ ascertained treatment needs for mental disorders in a population-based sample.  Psychiatry Services, 58, 373-7.

Pagura, J., Fotti, S., Katz, L.Y., Sareen, J., & Swampy Cree Suicide Prevention Team.  (2009).  Help seeking and perceived need for mental health care among individuals in Canada with suicidal behaviors.  Psychiatric Services, 60, 943-9.

Springer, K.W. & Mouzon, D.M.  (2011).  “Macho men” and preventative health care: implications for older men in different social classes.  Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 212-27.

Therapy Images courtesy of Shutterstock.com



Medical Disclaimer
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 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. 

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To exercise your choices about cookies, please see Cookies and Online Tracking.