The other week at work, we had a new guy. Within two minutes of meeting me, he told me that he did not believe in therapy and that people “just needed to be more self-aware.” Ignorant (and completely random!) statement, I thought, and attempted to check out of the conversation. But no, not yet could I zone out, because for the rest of the hour we were forced to spend together, he proceeded to tell me about his tortured childhood and all of the mess that came from it. And what a mess it was. 🙂
Of course, I feel for this guy, but how the hell does he not realize how badly he needs therapy?! The irony was palpable—I mean, it truly felt like an SNL skit—and the interaction made me realize how many misconceptions about therapy must be out there.
I spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Zoe White to help us understand why myths like “people that need therapy aren’t self-aware” are so, so off. Dr. White works with Alma, which is “a community of therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals empowered with tools for better care.” Essentially, Alma gives therapists a community, and it also gives patients an easier way to find a mental healthcare provider.
Here are the top five myths (or excuses… you know who you are) about therapy, debunked:
1. There Needs To Be Something “Wrong” In Order To See A Therapist
This is probably the biggest misconception about therapy, and also the furthest from the truth. “I often work with people who don’t come in because something is ‘wrong’ with their lives in the current moment,” explains Dr. White. “Therapy is for anyone who wants to do a deep dive into themselves, their personal history, and interpersonal relationships. We’ll explore all of that, aim to achieve greater insight, and then decide whether or not change is something they’re looking for.”
So, therapy is certainly not only for people who is feeling depressed about a certain life event or have a specific fear of flying they’d like to get over, as examples. It’s for anyone who is interested in developing a more mindful approach to life.
2. It’s Not Fair That Whoever I’m Talking About In Therapy Isn’t There To Defend Themself
Headed to therapy in a few minutes and look forward to talking about some of you in great detail.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 28, 2020
AKA you feel bad for constantly sh*t talking the same person when they will inherently have no dog in the fight, given that they aren’t even in the room. Dr. White, however, basically says that this doesn’t matter. “I’m working with the person in the room: their perspective and their experience. It’s all about examining how the dynamics and patterns in his/her life relates to how he or she is experiencing a complex moment with another person in their life.”
In other words, it really doesn’t matter if your needy and annoying friend is ACTUALLY needy and annoying (she is). It’s all about how you experience their neediness (what about it triggers you?) and how to react to it in a mindful (stop rolling your eyes) way.
3. It’s A Sign Of Weakness
“Of course I’m biased, but I look at seeking help as a sign of strength. I go to therapy myself!,” says Dr. White. “Allowing yourself to push through the stigma surrounding therapy and realize that I want, deserve, and need support is certainly no sign of weakness.”
To put this in millennial terms: therapy is just one part of “self-care.” No one called you
basic weak for publicly posting a bath bomb on Instagram, right? Your mind needs just as much help as your skin, and it’s about time we put a stop to this “no days off” mentality (I’m looking at you, annoying NYC male that posts his workouts every morning, but P.S. please text me back) and stop viewing prioritizing our mental health as “weak.”
4. Therapists Are Silent And Judgmental
After all these years, it happened. I made my therapist cry. I can finally stop going
— Alyssa Limperis (@alyssalimp) December 31, 2019
“The perception that therapists are silent doesn’t seem to hold true these days,” explains Dr. White. “That’s a particular style born out of a particular tradition, which of course some people might benefit greatly from.” But a lot of people don’t, and it makes sense to have an aversion to spilling your guts to a silent lady with a resting bitch face staring back at you. And then having to pay for it.
As far as having a fear of being judged, Dr. White says being honest with your therapist about such fears is actually super productive. “For me, it’s a privilege for someone to bring up a fear like that and work with it in the moment. That way we can explore the origins of it—are they feeling defensive, or what are they feeling? We’re able to translate that particular experience into their daily life.”
And, just remember: your therapist sees you as a PATIENT. This isn’t Sunday brunch with your asshole roommate from college. The literal point is to be vulnerable. Worst case? You don’t like your therapist and get a new one.
5. I’ll Feel Even More Crazy Once I Start Seeing A Therapist
Update. I did not nap in therapy. But I felt very seen when she said, "you must be exhausted." Also. She said I should go get the nachos I wanted and didn't get the other night. So I did. Overall, it was a productive session.
— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) January 16, 2020
This is the only misconception about therapy that holds some truth. Dr. White explains, “In therapy, we’re bringing to light issues that have been compartmentalized and not in your conscious mind. Sometimes the initial phase of talking about these issues can make you feel worse.” Like, yeah, therapy is not going to be sunshine and rainbows only. You have to work through the tough stuff to get to a more positive place.
“Some sessions might be more supportive while others might be more powerful and/or painful. Aspects of therapy can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Change is rarely linear and it might often be difficult to see progress being made in the moment,” Dr. White says. So trust the process and know that you might have to feel worse before you can feel better.
No, this wasn’t an #ad for Alma or therapy in general (though that would be cool, Dr. Sigmund Freud my Venmo is @sydneykaplan)—I just really want to stop dealing with you un-self-aware betches. So find yourself a therapist, and hop off my jock.
Images: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock; yashar, alyssalimp, busyphilipps / Twitter
For more, subscribe to our NEW Diet Starts Tomorrow newsletter.