7 Myths About Therapy

7 Myths About Therapy

Stigmas about therapy have been ingrained in our society over many years. It often leads people to dismiss therapy as something reserved for ‘crazy’ people, and causes them to conjure up images of Jack Nicholson as McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, being dominated by a cold, un-caring Nurse Ratched. I’ve heard therapists referred to as quacks, head-shrinkers, or brainwashers, but lo and behold, we are not witches, wizards or oracles with infinite powers.

Well, maybe a few of us are witchy in a Stevie Nicks kind of way, but we won’t cast spells on you, and we cannot read your mind. Mental health therapy isn’t magic. It’s actually a pretty common practice that can help people process their thoughts, emotions, and issues with a professional.

Something I often hear from new clients is, “I didn’t know what to expect, and not knowing was scary.” Well yes, that makes sense. Most people get a little nervous when faced with uncertainty. It can seem scary to be in a room with a stranger and tell them your deepest darkest secrets.

Being emotionally vulnerable is scary, and is not always something we are encouraged to do in our daily lives. Many of us grew up in households where we did not have healthy emotional role models, or were not “allowed” to talk about how we felt. And because of this lack of exposure to what talking about your feelings looks and sounds like, people are scared of the prospect of doing so, especially with a stranger. 

So let me try to demystify some of the stigmas I have come across in my own practice as well as common misconceptions I hear from my clients. Hopefully this information will help to answer some questions you may have about mental health and therapy, and what happens in that scary place we call the therapist’s office! Just kidding, of course, it need not be scary at all. Therapy can be one of many ways a person goes about getting help with a problem, or deals with more complex emotional issues. 

If your problems feel overwhelming, or you just have the need to talk to a trained professional who can help provide some perspective and guidance, then you’re in the right place. Like most people, you would likely benefit from therapy, and you don’t need to let myths about mental health services stand in your way. Stigmas surrounding mental health do us all a disservice, and it’s important to take a closer look.

So here we go…7 myths and misconceptions about therapy…debunked!

See Related: Coping with High-Functioning Anxiety

1. Therapists have all the answers and you should too.

Nope! We don’t. Despite years of school, countless trainings, and after reading hundreds of books, a clinical social worker or psychologist will not and could not possibly have all of the answers. What fun is that? I know, it would be cool if we could see into the future a few years and get all the answers to patients’ problems, but alas, we all have to take it one day at a time and address issues as they arise.

Therapist and client are on this road, navigating the twists and turns together. I am not an oracle, although that would be very cool! Who doesn’t secretly want to be Yoda? 

But back here in reality, it’s a myth that as a therapist I will have all the answers, or that you should already know the right response to every question. Honestly, sometimes there is no right answer, and the goal is to get to “good enough” since perfection is virtually impossible. In fact, there are several scientific articles and mental health professionals who talk about “good enough parenting” and how if we get things right even half of the time, we are doing alright.

A therapist doesn’t give answers but provides guidance and help

I will never tell you what you should do, or make you do things (despite my clients wanting me to sometimes!). I will walk beside you and help offer you guidance along the way. That is one of the many roles of a therapist.

I may nudge you in a certain direction, but I am not actually here to tell you what to do. You can take a suggestion or leave it. I do care deeply about every person that steps in my office (or that I meet with virtually), but I can’t write out a recipe for how to solve every problem.

This is your life and the decisions to be made are yours. I am just here to help you to make the healthiest choices possible for you, not for anyone else.

2. You cannot cry in therapy.

Yes, you can cry in therapy, and I may too. This is a myth that really needs to meet its end. We are all part of the human family, after all, and every person needs a good cry now and then (and sometimes more often than that). In fact, it may even be good for your health. There are medical benefits to crying, so patients shouldn’t feel any pressure to hold back.

Clients often think that therapists are so stoic and “well adjusted” that we don’t cry, and therefore; neither should you. Not true! We are human, and part of the human experience is the expression of our full spectrum of emotions including shedding tears. I have become teary eyed in many a therapy session!

I feel my client’s sadness, grief, and loss and I am moved by what they are sharing with me. I hear a lot of ‘sorrys’ from clients if they cry in session. 

We are conditioned to hold in our tears, to not “show weakness,” or be a “cry baby.” But holding in our emotions only causes other emotions to grow, such as feelings of anger, fear, and resentment. This results in what I like to refer to as “the emotional explosion.”

All of those emotions that you force down are going to bubble back up again at some point and be stronger than they once were. So let it out. Crying is healthy. It is an emotional release, and one which we all need.

3. Your therapist does not want to see pictures of your cat, hear about what tv show you binged on over the weekend, or what you read on Twitter this morning.

Of course we do! Because this is about you and learning about you means hearing what you are interested in. Learning about these elements of your life and your personality may even shed light on a past or current problem, or provide a different avenue for discussion.

And if not, then that’s still okay. I’m almost certain I’ll find your pet adorable and furry friends can lift our spirits.

you can share what you want in therapy

I am honored when my clients want to share parts of their lives with me. Remember show and tell in school? Well, yeah, we never really grow out of that! My clients have recommended books or tv shows to me, shared their favorite recipes, or sent me to their favorite etsy shop.  

If someone feels comfortable starting out a conversation with a subject that isn’t emotionally laden or difficult, it’s still an opportunity to connect. Since COVID started, my practice has been completely online, and it has been so much fun for clients to show me parts of their homes, or introduce me to their children or pets. All of these little insights allow me to develop a broader understanding of my clients and ultimately helps me better support them in their treatment. 

And if your dog can say “I love you” like the dogs (sort of) can in this video, then please be sure to share that with me. We can all use that kind of canine affirmation. 

4. You cannot curse in therapy

I love this one, because I hear this question all too often… Am I allowed to curse in therapy? Of course you are! I will not be offended, and guess what? I curse sometimes too! I am not here to judge you and how you speak. Words are just that, words, and they are a way of expressing ourselves.

If saying F*!K is the only way that you can describe the severity of how you were feeling in a certain moment, then go ahead and say it. Express yourself! Yes, expressing our true selves can be vulnerable and scary, but growth occasionally requires discomfort. Just remember, the therapy space is a safe space to do just that. Be who you are and say what you want to say. Ultimately, a therapeutic space provides you with the safety to be authentically you, curse words and all!

5. If you don’t do your therapy homework, your therapist will be mad at you.

Well I certainly hope not! My clients know I love to give homework, not because I am trying to torture them, or trigger bad memories from middle school, but because taking time during the week to think about what was processed in the session is important to a client’s growth in therapy. I always say, most of the work happens outside of the room, and therapy requires effort.

That said, if you don’t do something I suggested, that’s okay! Life happens! The clock creeps up on us and suddenly a whole week has passed since your last session and you have not had a moment to think about anything else besides your kids, the laundry, or that grad school application. No worries! We can always do it together in session.

6. My therapist doesn’t understand what it feels like to be depressed, anxious, grieving or on medication.

you can participate in self disclosure during therapy

Well, I’d argue that most therapists do, or at least I hope they do! We are not immune to the mental health issues we work with you to overcome. Most of us come into this field because something happened to us in our lives that inspired us to learn more and try to understand mental illness. I am of better service to you because of the struggles I have faced in my own life.

Participating in my own therapy allows me to understand how difficult it can be to share vulnerable parts of our lives with strangers. So, why don’t we tell you this? Because, it is not about us. We are here for you. We have our own therapists, supervisors and friends to support us. 

Self disclosure is tricky, and there are mixed views as to how and when to share things with our clients about our own lives. If I think it may help you to share about my struggles then I will, but only if it is in service to you. But, will I tell you about how much I love my dog? Yes, of course! All of my clients know about my dog Bowie, and most of them have met him virtually by now through the powers of the internet.

My life is not a secret, you can ask me questions, or ask how my day is going, and I will answer you as honestly as possible. Like, how I ate half a loaf of the pumpkin bread I made and now have a stomach ache! Remember, I am human too!

7. My Therapist does not think about me when I am not in their office.

I can only speak for myself here and tell you that I do think about my clients when they are not in my office. Being a therapist is a weird and wonderful job where I have the honor of getting to know so many incredible, resilient and strong people and their stories. Stories that are difficult to tuck away when the day is done.

So yes, I think about my clients. They are all incredibly special in their own way and I feel very lucky to be able to both help and learn from all of my clients.

Self reflection is part of getting help and critical for growth

Reach out with questions or to start sessions

I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what it might look like to work together. Though my in-person practice was based in Brooklyn, New York, I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth.

I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe and confidential space, wherever it is.

I have a Master of Social Work from New York University. Additionally, I was trained in Art and Dance Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. I approach therapy through an attachment lens and understand the importance of developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with yourself and those closest to you. Let’s talk.

Keep Reading: 7 Must Reads for Adoptees and Their Parents

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Becca Leitman’s lens and therapeutic approach are rooted in Attachment Therapy. I believe there is great importance in developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with yourself and those closest to you. I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe and confidential space, wherever it is. Let’s talk. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest , Psychology Today and LinkedIn for mental health guidance, stress and anxiety tips, therapy resources and more.

Becca Leitman

Becca Leitman

I’m a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW), and have worked with children, adults, and families for over ten years. I earned my Master of Social Work from New York University and received a Bachelor of Photojournalism from Boston University. Additionally, I was trained in Art and Dance Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and earned a Post Graduate Certificate in Attachment Focused Trauma Therapy.

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