9 Myths About Counselling
There’s no way around it, starting therapy can be a daunting. And this isn’t helped by misconceptions about counselling. Maybe you’ve been thinking about coming to counselling for a while but haven’t felt able to take that first step, or maybe it’s a more whimsical decision. 2020 was an incredibly challenging year for
many people for various reasons. Wherever you’re coming from with the decision, it’s a new year to focus on you.
Here are my thoughts on some common myths about counselling.
1. You have to be in a crisis to start therapy
People often see therapy as something to engage with when they’re at breaking point, like a last resort. While a crisis can prompt someone to seek therapy, it doesn't need to be and many people also come to therapy before they get to this stage. Whatever reasons you're coming to therapy are valid. Being in counselling can help you understand yourself better, reflect on experiences, and empower you to lead a fulfilling life.
2. Therapy is only for 'serious' issues
‘Serious’ has a different meaning for everyone – what someone might feel is having a massive negative affect on them (and therefore serious), won’t be labelled the same by someone else. You might want to speak to a therapist to work through your feelings about a past or present situation, life event or struggle, or perhaps something in your life just doesn’t feel quite right and you’re unsure what it might be or why. From experiencing a break-up and uncertainty about the future to trauma and bereavement, therapy isn’t just for one type of issue.
3. Therapy is only for people who don't have good friends to talk to
I love a good friend. They’re amazing. I often talk to mine about problems and it feels great. But a therapist is different. While we care about your wellbeing, we don’t have a vested interest in what you do, as a friend might. It can be helpful to speak to someone ‘on the outside’ of a situation in a space where you can talk openly without worrying what a friend will think of you, or how what you say will impact them. Finally, although it’s sometimes called ‘talking therapy’, counselling isn’t actually just about talking. It’s also about learning about yourself, being supported to make meaning from your experiences, and to find tools that help you build your resilience for the future. When I’m talking to a friend, no matter how good it feels, these other, deeper, things aren’t necessarily happening, no matter how good a friend they are.
4. Therapists can only help if they've experienced the same thing
While a therapist doesn't need to have the lived experience of your very issues, they do need to prioritise your lived experience and your expertise in yourself. There are reasons you might want a therapist with lived experience of the issues you're bringing, or with a shared aspect of one or more parts of your identity. I’ve definitely experienced this creating an immediate sense of safety and understanding. There are also reasons you might want someone who doesn't share your experience. It might be stifling if you haven't had a 'traditional' experience and may bring a fear of judgement that could prevent you opening up. You’ll probably have a sense about what feels right for you, and it’s important to remember that if you start seeing a therapist and you don’t feel safe with them, you can always leave and find someone else. The key thing regardless of whether there's a shared experience / identity or not is the counsellor's ability to affirm your identities and experiences, and crucially, to start from where you are, not assume they know.
5. Going to therapy makes me weak
It’s understandable why people sometimes feel this way. From stigma around mental health issues to a ‘just get on with it’ mentality, to learning from an early age that showing emotions is somehow ‘bad’, therapy can be seen as something for people who aren’t strong enough to deal with their issues on their own. But if anything, I would say the opposite – identifying that you’re struggling takes courage and strength. Seeking support to lighten the mental load takes courage and strength. Deciding that you can’t do it alone takes courage and strength. So no, going to therapy doesn’t make you weak.
6. Everyone can benefit from therapy
With the right therapist, everyone has the potential to benefit from therapy. But in reality, if you aren’t ready within yourself to be in therapy, it’s unlikely to be beneficial. The idea of opening up, possibly for the first time ever, or the thought of potentially breaking down in front of someone, can feel too much. While therapy can be incredibly rewarding and transformative, it can also be difficult, and it needs to be the right time for you.
7. Therapists make everything about what happened in my childhood
Exploring your childhood will play a greater or lesser role in your sessions depending on the modality your therapist works in. I’ve personally found it useful to explore childhood relationships and experiences alongside my present experiences and feelings, but this won’t be what everyone wants. Whatever you work on in therapy, collaboration in the therapy room is really important, so it should be a joint decision between you and your therapist whether your childhood is something you want to focus on.
8. A therapist will have the answers / be able to 'fix' me
Aside from systemic oppression and wider world issues, I believe that solutions to the problems you’re facing have to come from within you for them to be effective. Perhaps you don’t know what these answers are yet or maybe you have an idea but you’re unsure, or they’re too difficult to face alone. A therapist can help you to discover and explore them, but you’re the expert in your own life so are best placed to ultimately decide what answers are right for you. Your therapist can support you with this exploration but won’t have the magic cure that’ll ‘fix’ you.
9. Therapy is only successful if I have a big breakthrough or ‘aha!’ moment
This might happen for some people but for others it’s multiple smaller insights that may not even seem significant at the time. I remember when a friend once asked me if I felt like I’d had an aha moment with a therapist I was seeing after I told her I was finding it useful. I hadn’t and it made me question if I was ‘doing therapy right’ or putting enough of myself in it. On further reflection, I decided to trust my experience. Therapy is your journey and there isn’t just one way for it to be impactful.
If you’ve got to the end and decided that you’d like to give therapy a go this year, drop me an email or give me a call to discuss. See here for the different ways to contact me.
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If you have any thoughts on what I’ve written feel free to comment below!