Outside of Hollywood, where many celebrities now seem quite happy to speak openly about 'therapy night', there remains a lot of stigma around seeking counselling or other forms of psychological therapy. Thanks to outdated myths, stereotypes and misconceptions about 'seeing a shrink', many people still shy away from seeking help, often out of embarrassment or fear of judgement.
At RSCPP we know from our thousands of highly trained therapists and their satisfied clients that these myths about therapy are just that. While therapy isn't a one-size-fits-all model, it can have a really transformative effect on people's lives, and early intervention is really important to tackling problems before they become unmanageable.
Here we debunk eleven of the most prevalent myths about therapy, and address any concerns you may have about seeking help.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health, and yet there's still a lot of stigma around the idea of being 'mentally ill'. Words like 'mad', 'crazy', and 'lunatic' are really unhelpful, causing many people to fear judgement and even put off seeking help. If you're affected by a mental health condition, there should be no shame at all in accessing proper treatment - just like you'd never feel ashamed about going to hospital with a broken leg. Early intervention is really important, as it's much easier to manage all mental health conditions if you start receiving help before the problem becomes overwhelming.
Even if you don't have a diagnosed mental health condition, therapy can be really useful to help you understand how your mind works in certain situations, or cope with big, stressful changes in your life. Many people go to therapy without having a particular mental health condition, but simply for an outlet to talk about what's going on for them in their lives. It may be useful to speak to a therapist for help overcoming a relationship breakdown or bereavement, to help boost your confidence and self esteem, to work through issues in your job, or to address any other problem you might be facing.
Again, the stigma around mental health makes it difficult for many people to admit when they're struggling. This is often especially true for men, who may feel under pressure to be seen as manly, strong and unemotional, but many women also face similar stigma. If your problems seem small and insignificant in comparison to other people's, you may feel that you're not entitled to complain, or that your issues aren't serious enough to justify seeking help; that you should just get on with life, put on a 'brave face', and 'get over it'.
You may fear being seen as weak and unable to cope, but in fact the opposite is true: seeking help when you need it is a brave and positive investment in your mental health, and it will leave you in a much stronger position to cope with whatever comes along in future. Remember that you don't have to suffer in silence.
Freud has a lot to answer for when it comes to some of the stereotypes around what therapy actually is. You may picture a man with a beard and a white coat; an office full of academic-looking, leather-bound books; and a client lying on a couch, digging up memories from their childhood, while the man in the white coat takes notes and nods thoughtfully.
In reality, therapy and therapists vary widely, and you have a lot of choice in which type of therapy is best suited to you. You may opt for psychoanalytic therapy, similar (though usually less intimidating!) than the Freudian image described above, which focuses on your childhood experiences and how they shape your thoughts and feelings as an adult. Or, you may prefer something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which often involves sitting face-to-face with your therapist and focusing on the here-and-now of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
If you're unsure about which type of therapy would suit you best, you can find out more about the different types of treatment available, or read up on the differences between a psychologist, a psychotherapist, a psychoanalyst, and a counsellor.
Another common myth is that therapy is only for people who don't have close friends or family around to talk to about their problems - the idea being that lonely people use therapists to fill the emotional void in their lives. Of course, this isn't true for the vast majority of people in therapy. The therapeutic relationship is very different from the relationship you have with friends and relatives - therapists are neutral, highly trained professionals, who are qualified to help you work through your problems and develop solutions that are right for you. Friends, partners, and family members can also provide a really valuable source of support with whatever you're going through, which may supplement rather than replace what a therapist can offer.
This is a common and totally understandable concern that some people have about therapy - not so much a myth as a generalisation. While therapy is available for free on the NHS, there are often long waiting lists for these services, and you may be considering private therapy for its greater ease of access. The cost of private therapy varies quite significantly, depending on the therapist, so it's worth shopping around to see who's most affordable in your area.
If you're worried about cost, you can filter therapists by price when you're searching on RSCPP - just click on the 'Maximum Session Cost' option and select your preference. It may also be worth viewing therapy as a long-term financial investment in your emotional health and wellbeing, rather than simply a short-term cost.
Given the financial and time costs involved in therapy, it's understandable that you may have concerns about this commonly held idea. Like the previous example, this one isn't necessarily a myth, but the truth is far more complicated. There are a number of different reasons why therapy may not work for you - or why it may not be as effective for you as for someone else. These factors include: how motivated and committed you are about being helped and putting the necessary work into your therapy sessions; your relationship with your therapist, and how open you're able to be during sessions; the type of therapy, and whether it's a good fit for your personality or way of thinking about the world. Therapy may initially involve some trial and error, but the right combination of these factors can make therapy really effective.
If you're seeking therapy to address distressing or traumatic events from your past, unfortunately you may find this brings up difficult memories and feelings that you'd previously ignored or suppressed for a long time. Talking through these issues can therefore make you feel worse in the short-term, but rest assured that talking openly and working through your feelings in a supportive, empathic environment will help you gain a better understanding and mastery over your problems, as well as helping you develop ways to cope better in future.
This is another common myth that puts many people off seeking therapy. It's easy to understand why this worry exists - many people experience stigma and judgement from their friends, relatives, colleagues, or even GPs, when they open up about mental health problems. The crucial difference though is that therapists are specially trained to listen and respond to whatever you bring to the therapy session, so they will be empathic and non-judgemental about whatever it is you want to discuss. For some people, therapy is the first place they can truly open up and be honest about their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement. If you do feel judged in any way by your therapist, they're probably not the right fit for you, so try someone else.
This is particularly relevant to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which you may have been put off by talk of 'homework' that you're required to fill in between sessions. In reality, the type of worksheets and diary keeping techniques used in CBT are really just tools to help you monitor your thoughts, feelings and behaviours throughout your everyday life. You won't be marked on it, or punished for failing to fill it in, but it is worth bearing in mind that these techniques are designed to help you help yourself, so the more work you put in between sessions, the more effective therapy is likely to be.
Not every type of therapy will work in the same way for everyone - unfortunately there isn't a one-size-fits-all formula for mental health, and it may take time to find a type of therapy that's right for you, or indeed a therapist who you can trust and feel comfortable with. Some people love CBT while others hate it, and the same goes for all types of therapy.
By all means seek advice from your GP, or from friends or relatives who've had therapy in the past, but it's important to remember that what works for one person won't necessarily have the same effect for you. It may be worth establishing exactly what you want out of therapy - is it more about understanding the past, or developing techniques for managing your emotions? - and reading up on the different types of treatment available. You could also read our advice on preparing for therapy and establishing trust with your therapist, as these will all have an impact on how effective therapy is for you.
There's no magic pill for mental health concerns, and therapy is no exception - it takes work and commitment, but finding the right type of therapy, and the right therapist, for you can be a powerful step in the right direction. The problem with going into therapy expecting your therapist to give you all the right answers or solutions to your problems is that therapy doesn't work quite like that. Therapists won't necessarily give you direct advice or solutions to the issue you're facing, but may rather seek to guide you towards a greater understanding of your own feelings and needs, which should, in turn, help you confront any big decisions you may be facing.