The world is full of therapy skeptics.
What can a therapist tell me about myself that I don’t already know? What’s the point? Why should I spend years on a couch talking about my childhood? How did some schooling give therapists all the answers? I’m not crazy, therapy isn’t for me.
Those are excellent questions – and legitimate ones – that keep people from seeking help and living their best lives. In fact, it takes the average person a whopping 11 years to reach out to a therapist after noticing an issue.
Nobody should have to suffer for so long when the solution to their suffering is so accessible. Let’s address and clear up some of the most common misconceptions that prevent too many people from achieving healthy and satisfying lives, relationships, and futures.
Why Bother with Therapy?
Myth: I already know that I have a problem, and I know myself better than any therapist possibly can. Why should I bother with therapy?
Fact: The majority of people who receive therapy already know what the problem is. Many, if not most, therapy clients are well-acquainted with their troubles: I know I shouldn’t be afraid to ask my boss for a raise, but the thought of it makes me break out in a cold sweat. I know I shouldn’t get angry at my wife and kids, but I find myself yelling every day. I know that I need to stop binging if I want to lose weight, but I can’t help myself. I know I shouldn’t be depressed; my life is so good. Why can’t I get out of this funk?
The point of therapy is not to uncover new, earth-shattering revelations about you and your personality. The point is to help you learn how to deal with your issue and stop it from interfering with your potential. A therapist won’t tell you what you already know, but he or she will help you get unstuck from your rut and progress with your life.
Myth: I struggle with legitimate concerns about things that can realistically happen. What can a therapist tell me that will allay my anxiety? He can’t promise that there’s nothing to worry about.
Fact: Most concerns are rooted in reality. Worrying about something that can realistically happen – I’ll get in legal trouble for a financial error at work, my kid may drop out of high school and start using drugs, my parents will die – is normal, and a therapist will never discount or try to eliminate real thoughts. Having concerns like this can be prudent as they may spur you to take necessary precautions, like looking both ways before you cross the street.
What can be harmful to your wellbeing is when these thoughts become intrusive or disruptive in some way; if they’re constant, last too long, or have physical, emotional, or otherwise severe repercussions. A therapist will work with you to reduce the frequency, intensity, and/or duration of the thought or feeling so that it doesn’t hinder your quality of life.
How Can Therapists Know All? And What About Meds?!
Myth: How can a therapist profess to have all the answers when she can’t know everything about me?
Fact: Therapists certainly don’t have all the answers. Therapy isn’t to hand you answers – because you probably know the answers already – but rather therapy can empower you to learn more about yourself and the forces that drive you.
Often, clients are unaware of the impact of the automatic thoughts and feelings that shape their responses and reactions. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, helps clients to explore and work with those thoughts and feelings, which will decrease one’s pain and help them live quality lives. It’s not complicated or scary. It’s simply helping you access what you already know.
Myth: Therapy and medication is only for people with real issues, like schizophrenia or bipolar or severe mental illness. Why should I go to a therapist who will try to keep me in therapy and on meds for the rest of my life?
Fact: Therapy and medication can help anyone. It is not reserved for “crazy” people. Quite the opposite! For many common conditions and for people who don’t progress with therapy alone, medication is a vital (and temporary) tool that can and does help countless people overcome their difficulties with minimal side effects (depending on one’s diagnoses – speak to your medical care provider). Additionally, therapists don’t intend to keep you on as lifelong clients. Our goal is to help you work through your problem and emerge stronger and more confident in your ability to navigate your life and its challenges.
Dr. Yossi Shafer, PhD is the clinical director and a clinical psychologist at Empower Health Center, a private practice of multispecialty psychotherapists. They have offices in Deal/Long Branch and Lakewood and can be reached at (732) 666-9898 or email@example.com