8 Myths About Therapy, Busted

Never been to therapy before? The common beliefs about therapy that you take for granted might not be true. This week, The Savvy Psychologist breaks down the truth behind 8 common myths and misconceptions about therapy.

Dr. Monica Johnson
5-minute read
Episode #369
The Quick And Dirty

Therapy isn't just talking, and it isn't just for "weak" or "crazy" people. Therapy can help everybody improve their life and wellbeing. While it may take longer than you expect and it may not feel good all the time, it's well worth the effort if you commit.

Today, I'm going to talk about some of the common myths or misconceptions about therapy. Many of these myths have been made popular in the general media, while you may have heard others from friends or family. Either way, I want to dispel these myths and give you the truth!

Myth #1: Therapy is for crazy people

The way that the term crazy can be used by the general public often minimizes and bullies the legitimate experiences of others. Often, when we use this word, it's meant to be hurtful and not as an actual descriptor of behavior.

Let's put it this way: if you went to a medical doctor and said, "I'm in pain," they would ask you a series of questions to determine what's causing your pain because that statement is too general to actually mean anything.

So, when we say crazy, what do we mean? Someone who has been depressed, anxious, lost a parent, seen active combat in war, struggled with substances, experienced burnout, had a miscarriage, gone through a divorce, has low self-esteem, or are unsure of their next steps in life? All of the above and more?

Do you see my point? Therapy is for everyone and by this broad definition we are either all crazy or none of us are.

Myth #2: Therapy is for weak people

Needing help is a natural state of being. While we want to be as independent as possible, we all need support from time to time. This all makes sense—from an evolutionary perspective humans are tribal and we like to function in groups.

You're not weak for going for therapy. You wouldn't call an athlete weak for needing a personal coach to help them improve their performance, so why would you shame a person for needing a therapist to improve their entire life and wellbeing?

In fact, I would say that it takes an incredible amount of strength to be honest with yourself and approach the challenge and personal growth and development.

Myth #3: Therapy is just talking

If you listened to my interview prior to becoming the host of this podcast, you’ll remember my stance on this. In case you missed it, I’ll remind you of my direct quote: "Talking is the instrument by which the intervention is delivered to the patient, like a needle, delivering a life-saving vaccine to someone. The magic isn’t in the poke of the needle, it’s in the content of the syringe and what mechanisms are activated as a result."

Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t go to school for 10 years simply to talk to people. Like any doctor, I wanted to learn how to fill a need in our society. Talking is a tool that I use, the same way a medical doctor might use a stethoscope. If it were only talking, then you could talk to anyone and get the same result and we all know that’s not true. If you hand a scalpel to someone untrained, it’s only capable of cutting. If you hand it to someone trained, it’s capable of saving a life.

Don’t allow anyone to minimize the work you are currently doing or may do with your therapist. It’s valuable, and not "just talking."

Myth #4: Therapy should work in a few sessions

Another common myth I run into is that therapy should be quick. I often tell my new patients that the length of therapy is based on a multitude of factors because the needs of an individual is complex.

If you have a straightforward anxiety disorder without complicating factors and you’re willing to fully engage in the therapeutic interventions necessary for success, then perhaps you can see a significant improvement in a few months.

Most of the time; however, it’s not straightforward. Our issues are just as complex as the world that we live in. We may have strained relationships with our parents, body image issues that we can’t shake, perfectionism that makes it difficult to get through the day, or a chronic medical illness that is also contributing to our mental health condition.

If the problem could be solved in 5 minutes, you probably would’ve never made it to my office in the first place. You would’ve done the mental health equivalent of taking some cold medicine and called it a day.

You should honor your pain by taking the amount of time that is necessary to fully heal. Mental health is more complex than breaking a bone. A doctor can tell you that a broken bone will heal in 6 weeks. Can you imagine someone sitting in front of you asking you how long it takes to fix a broken heart? For most people, there isn’t a necessity to be ongoing therapy for the rest of your life, but don’t rush it. It might take a few months, a year, or a few years.

Whatever you need to live your best life, do it for yourself. You’re worth it.

Myth #5: Therapy should feel good all the time

Depending on the work that you're doing, you may experience some discomfort in some sessions. Growth at times requires unpleasantness, which is why they’re called growing pains.

Much of the time, you might feel better following a session, while other times you might not because you recognize there is more work to do.

For instance, you may come to a therapy session and explore your avoidance of speaking to your mother about an important issue. We may role-play the scenario and determine that you should approach this conversation. Despite your wise mind knowing this is the most effective way to resolve the situation, you may still be feeling anxious and that may be uncomfortable. Feeling better may not occur until following through fully with the intervention.

Myth #6: Therapists blame everything on your childhood

Speaking of moms, there is often a myth that we blame everything on your upbringing and solely focus on the past. We take into consideration all of the information that is relevant to the concerns that you bring into therapy. There are therapeutic styles that focus more on the past and others that are more present-focused. Regardless of the modality, we are here to get to the source of the problem and aid you in healing.

Myth #7: Therapists can be my friend, sexual partner, or romantic partner

This is something I see in popular culture all the time, and it couldn't be farther from the truth.

Once a therapist enters into a professional relationship with you it is unethical for them to engage in these sorts of relationships. There may be small variations in how the ethics codes are written between the different types of therapists (e.g. psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors); however, the general rule is simply no. You might watch 50/50 with Joseph Gordan-Levitt and think, well maybe if my therapist discontinues treatment, they can date me, just like the movie! A loud and resounding no.

Myth #8: Therapists are only here because they are paid, and they don’t really care

It's true that you must pay me to have this therapeutic relationship. It is my livelihood and I am providing a necessary service. But that doesn't mean I don't care, in the same way that many people care about their own jobs.

Therapists want to reduce your suffering and help you discover happiness. I've supervised multiple new therapists at this point and I commonly remind them to not give too much of themselves—there's rarely an issue with not giving enough to their patients.

I care about my patients and I want them to succeed. As long as you are willing to do the work, I will sit with you in the darkest recesses of your mind and help you generate light.

Did I miss any common myths? Was anything I said surprising to you? Let me know in the comments on Instagram @kindmindpsych, via my email at psychologist@quickanddirtytips.com, or leave a voicemail at (929) 256-2191‬.

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

Dr. Monica Johnson

Dr. Monica Johnson is a clinical psychologist and owner of Kind Mind Psychology, a private practice in NYC that specializes in evidenced based approaches to treating a wide range of mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders). Additionally, she has a focus on working with marginalized groups of people including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and alternative lifestyles to manage minority stress. She is also dedicated to contributing to her field professionally through speaking, training, supervision, and writing. She routinely speaks at conferences, provides training and workshops at organizations, supervises mental health trainees, and co-authored a book for professionals on addressing race-based stress in therapy.

Dr. Johnson earned her bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina, completed her Psy.D. at the Arizona School of Professional Psychology, and completed her postdoctoral training year at Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, TN. She currently lives in Manhattan where she indulges in horror movies, sarcasm, and intentional introversion. You can find her on Instagram and online at kindmindpsych.com

Got a question that you'd like Dr. Johnson to answer on Savvy Psychologist? You can send her an email at psychologist@quickanddirtytips.com or leave a voicemail for the Savvy Psychologist listener line by calling (929) 256-2191‬.