Three common misconceptions regarding psychotherapy
22 March 2019
by Ioanna Hadjicharalambous
It is common for people to come to me and tell me their thoughts about psychotherapy. Although some people have a good understanding of psychotherapy, many are those who misunderstand what it means to be in therapy. Here are the three ideas that people believe, but are not so accurate:
- I have done many therapies.
- You will go and talk to a trained person, they will give you a solution.
- Why talk to a stranger and not to my friends?
For each of these, we could write a long essay to explain what is and what is not the case, but for now, I will give a short explanation of each.
I have done many therapies
People come to me and say that they had been through many therapies. They have gone to two different psychologists once or twice at each office, they have participated at a group training on somaesthetic therapies and screamed their problem out, and finally, they had gone to a workshop on addiction and talked about how fond they are of chocolate and had help from people to get over it. “I have had four therapies!!!”
Of course, talking about a problem is a calming and liberating experience that helps the person feel better, let alone when this happens with a mental health professional, who should be very empathic and supporting, so by nature as by training.
However, psychotherapy is a process, which helps people resolve complex behavioral patterns, which built up through the years and might have started after a traumatic experience or chronic experiences of emotional or physical deprivation. Such behavioral patterns cannot be changed by talking it out loud and taking some feedback. It requires a process that takes time and effort from people. Therefore, although we might all experience moments, which may feel psychotherapeutic, psychotherapy is much more than that.
You will go and talk to a trained person, they will give you a solution
Indeed, psychotherapists are educated and well-trained professionals with experience on how to help people overcome emotional and mental difficulties and change behavioral patterns, which are responsible for negative situations people find themselves in. They are not, however, handymen for emotional problems and they cannot give you a piece of advice, which will solve any kind of problem.
When you see a psychologist, you will be able to explore your options, think about the solutions you have tried and have either worked or failed, and think of other possibilities and so on. The psychotherapist is not there to tell you what to do! You should be responsible to make decisions about your life, because you will be the one bearing the consequences of each choice. Thus, if you decide to see a psychologist to find a solution to a problem, don’t ask them what you should do, rather use your time wisely to explore why you have so far not done what you believe it would take to resolve the issue.
Why talk to a stranger and not to my friends?
This seems to be the most common thought of people who are questioning psychotherapy. As discussed above, talking about a problem and feeling the understanding and the acceptance and the support of those around you, is a blissful and cathartic experience. We all need to be heard, understood, and accepted. Who is better than a close friend, a loving partner, or a caring relative to offer an ear and a shoulder to cry on? Of course, talking to your friends and loved ones is necessary and can help you solve problems.
It is time to go to a psychotherapist, when you recognize a pattern of behaviors, which tend to lead you to the same negative result repeatedly. When your emotions are unbearable and your thoughts are so negative that you cannot do much with your life. It is time to go to a psychotherapist, when you feel it is time to change a problem, rather than just finding the acceptance in the loving arms of the people around you.
A psychotherapist is there to help you understand yourself and your behaviors better, so you change your life and build it the way you want it. Many times, a successful psychotherapy involves a deep change in your relationships, your behaviors and your everyday routine. It is usual for people after successful therapy to realize that what they do is not what they want. They might give up their routine (life, work, relationships, even house) to start building a new one, which will be more suitable for them.
A friend, no matter how good of a friend he or she is cannot help you with changing yourself. This is because of two things; 1) they cannot be objective about who you are and 2) they cannot be indifferent about who you are. They are your friends, because they like you or they like certain attributes of you. If you need to change those attributes to be healthier and happier, they are at a loss, while a therapist is not.
These are three common misunderstandings about what psychotherapy is and is not. There are more false ideas and there are many more details we could share about each of these three. I am available to discuss more about it and would love to hear from you.
About the author
“I am a clinical psychologist and a practicing psychotherapist for the last five years. I have worked with people with difficulties ranging from issues with relationships and loss to substance use and to more serious mental health difficulties such as depression and cognitive disorders. I believe that people are able to lead fulfilling lives and I work with my clients to empower them to follow their passion, rather than resolving an issue they currently face.”
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