For someone who hasn't been to therapy, it could be a scary or intimidating world to explore. But therapy is just an instrument to help you discover who you really are and to reach your goals as a person. This article by The Mind helps debunk some of the longstanding myths surrounding therapy to help you have a clearer understanding of what it is.
I’ll be the first one to put my hands up to admit that being a clinical psychologist isn’t the most conventional of occupations, especially not here in Malaysia. Usually when I tell people what I do, there are a few responses that seem to always find a way to repeat itself.
“Can you read my mind? Don’t!”
“Please don’t control me and make me do something I don’t want to!”
“How’s it like seeing crazy people everyday?”
I think it’s easy to identify that the main theme here is one of curiosity and a lack of understanding of what it is that we do and what therapy is all about. I suppose this is the result of having the bulk of the Malaysian population experience psychology via TV shows, movies and the like, you tend to adopt a Hollywood version of things.
If you watch an episode too many of Grey’s Anatomy or House, you’d assume that everyone has a bomb in their chest or Lupus. But in reality, a usual day for the average doctor revolves around more runny noses and constipated kids than some new-fangled treatment method.
In a way, I hope that this piece that you’re reading will go to some way to help debunk what a typical experience with therapy can be like. I promise, that therapy isn’t all that scary, and once we’ve gone through some of the myths I’ve listed, you’ll begin to see what I mean.
Myth 1: I’m not crazy. Only crazy people see a clinical psychologist
Right. If I earned a dollar every time I heard this line, I’d probably have already retired and would be typing this from the comfort of a poolside villa sipping on some coconuts. Alas no, but this is one of the biggest misconceptions about therapy ever. So let me take a whack at this one first.
No. You do not have to be crazy to see a therapist.
Right, so that’s out of the way, but do let me explain a little.
Yes, a large part of our work as clinical psychologists has to do with working with patients who suffer from severe mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and various personality disorders. But that’s just one half of our job description.
A large part of job also entails working with individuals who suffer from disabilities in their everyday life and they are struggling to cope. For example, we see individuals who need help with things like school refusal, grief, burnout at work, conflict resolution and sometimes even helping someone get over a break up. In fact, the latter cases are what make up the bulk of the clients that we see.
The thing about therapy is that it’s a journey of self-discovery.
From the most depressed of individuals, to those suffering from sleepless nights because SPM is just around the corner, therapy helps you to go on a journey to truly understand who you are.
Whilst there are times in therapy that may not always be fun and games, but at the very least, you learn that much more about yourself and now you can go on and make a change. The point is that anyone of us can benefit from therapy, not just the ‘crazy ones’.
However, one myth that does hold some water is that fact that as therapist, we’re encouraged to see our own therapist as well. Working with our client’s issues from a day-to-day basis can take a toll on anyone, so we’re encouraged to see someone professionally to help us unload and manage the experiences that we have.
Myth 2: Therapy takes forever. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
This is a tricky one as it’s both true and false at the same time.
In years past, therapy was almost always a lengthy endeavour that would last for years at a time. But nowadays, the focus of therapy has shifted to more of a brief, goal-oriented therapy. What this would mean in practical terms is that therapy today focuses more toward setting concrete as well as measurable goals that you and your therapist can work towards.
This would also mean that therapy could last for as long or as quick as you need it to last.
Your therapist and you will work together to determine how long would be needed to try and achieve the goals that you have set yourself.
For example, your goal can be a very specific one like wanting to learn how to manage stress, or something more long-term such as figuring out why most of your romantic relationships seem to fizzle out for the same reasons.
Another question that we get asked is how long does therapy usually last for.
This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer. As much as therapy is based on the theory of human cognitions and behaviour, oftentimes the application of theory in therapy is more of an art.
If we went strictly by the book, the usual length for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is about 8 weeks or thereabouts.
In my experience, my average session usually lasts between 8 to 14 sessions, depending on the severity of the case. But I also have clients whom I’ve seen for almost 3 years now, and other clients who have left only after 3 sessions.
So to answer the question of how long therapy takes, we just don’t know. I would usually encourage my clients to spend as long as necessary to reach the goals that you have set for yourself, instead of racing against a preset number of sessions, resources permitting of course.
One thing that’s important to remember is that the duration of therapy does not define how ‘good’ or how ‘bad’ you are.
I once had a client walk in and say that she was only having mild issues and would need only a couple of sessions at most. The fact that she couldn’t resolve her difficulties after her self-imposed session cap was highly distressing for her and she started getting very anxious about herself.
Every one of us is different, and we go through life at our own pace. So take your time, kick back and relax.
Myth 3: Therapy is expensive
Unfortunately with this one, it’s not so much a myth, more of changing the way we see therapy.
I’ve had conversations with people who claim that spending hundreds of dollars on therapy is silly! Sure if you put it that way, then therapy is definitely silly.
Therapy takes up other resources as well; time. A typical therapy session goes for between 50 and 75 minutes, once a week for as long therapy is needed to reach your goals. Combine this with the amount of time needed, and suddenly therapy seems to take up a lot of resources after all.
But instead of thinking of the dollars and cents or time wasted, try viewing therapy as an investment in yourself.
In therapy, you work closely with a mental health professional who’s there to help you through the more difficult periods in your life. You’re investing on a journey of self-discovery that helps you know yourself better, to figure out why you do the things that you do. You’re investing in how to face your fears, and how to overcome them. Look at therapy this way and then maybe it won’t seem that pricey after all.
Myth 4: What if I fall asleep lying down on the couch
Right, this almost never happens anymore. Although you could lie down on a couch if you so desire, as long as you feel comfortable.
Myth 5: I don’t want to tell a random stranger my secrets. They’ll laugh!
Let me assure you that this never happens, almost anyway. But no, I jest. Jokes aside, properly trained and qualified therapists have undergone rigorous training and follow a strict ethical guideline that acts almost like a bible for us.
Confidentiality is a key tenet of therapy, where all information shared is kept strictly confidential and will not be shared with anyone.
There are some exceptions however where we would be required to break confidentiality. One such exception would be the possibility of harm such as with homicidal or suicidal intent as well as self-harming behaviours. This is to ensure your safety and the others around you, so if this is threatened, then breaking confidentiality would be imperative to keep everyone safe. Another exception is when we receive a court order to release information to assist in legal proceedings.
But you should know that if any of these situations were to arise, we would try to the best of our capabilities to inform you that we’ll be disclosing the information you have shared and break confidentiality. But aside from these few exceptions, we would never share your information with anyone.
And no, we won’t laugh. Promise!
Myth 6: All therapists are the same. If you seen one, you’ve seen them all!
I can’t emphasize enough that not all therapists are the same.
All of us are different, like the people that you meet are never the same.
This is important to remember because what this means is that you have plenty of options. Take the time to do your research and learn more about your therapist. Most therapists will have some information about the work that they do, their credentials as well as their backgrounds available.
There are many personalities out there, and you may not necessarily enjoy the company of all the people you’ve met in your life. Some people you prefer more than others, and the same goes for therapy as well.
Sites like Goodtherapy.org or psychologymatters.asia are great resources that provide a database of practitioners who have been verified by independent bodies. This helps you connect with therapists who are close to you and who provides legitimate services to you.
Given the plethora of options that you have, make sure that you find someone who fits you well. Have a few options prepared. Once you’ve found someone whom you feel would provide a good fit, make an appointment and try them out. Even after the first session, you still have the option of finding a second opinion if you would like.
Therapy works best when you and your therapist are able to form a good connection, a good therapeutic relationship if you will, so try your best to find someone that you really jive with.
Another thing to consider is the kind of therapy or help that you’re after. There are literally dozens of different therapeutic orientations available.
For example, I practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT which focuses on the individual and helping them by focusing on being aware of our thoughts and being able to elicit control over them.
Other techniques such as Emotion Focused Therapy focuses on the management of one’s emotions, or Family Systems Therapy that focuses on treating the family as a unit, instead of just the individual.
For those of us who have a more creative streak, perhaps Expressive Art Therapy may be more up your alley. These are just some of the variations available to you, so make sure you figure out what you’d like to try.
Myth 7: This article never seems to end!
Right, myth busted, this is the last paragraph I swear!
We’ve come to the end of our little myth-busting session. What I’ve covered here is just a snapshot of the colourful and diverse world that is therapy. But to be fair, we’ve only just begun to examine the intricacies of what therapy is.
What I hope is that this piece helps answer some of the more common questions about what therapy is, and my hope is that this would help you make a better-informed decision about therapy.
If you have any other questions, feel free to drop us an email at email@example.com, or visit our company website at themind.com.my for more articles and information about mental health.
Remember, therapy isn’t only for crazy people, anyone can benefit from it.