Millions of people all around the world face issues pertaining to mental health. In 2011, as per the WHO Report, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at thirty-six percent. According to doctors, roughly ten percent of India’s population suffers from depression. Approximately, one in five women and one in ten men are victims of a major depressive episode at some point in their life. This number is alarming because it means you have more than one person in your circle of friends and family who could be thoroughly depressed despite their brave exterior, and you’ve probably had no clue about their condition. In India, almost 11 people in every lakh complete suicide every year; hundreds more probably attempt it. Despite these alarming numbers, there has not been a significant shift in the attitude of people towards developing a more open mindset on mental health.
I have been involved in the field of mental health for over a decade now, and I still spend a considerable amount of time trying to clarify incorrect conceptions people have about therapy. The therapeutic process is confusing for many: as a client, people share some of their life’s most intimate details with a therapist yet know nothing about the therapist. The therapist does not give advice, does not fix things for the client, nor poses as the client’s spiritual guide or friend, yet as the process unfolds itself, things begin to transform. Yet this sacred space that feels so personal remains professional. However, therapy remains such a shrouded topic, marinated with so much stigma and contempt, and drizzled with so many misconceptions that many a time people shy away from seeking help.
One of my deepest prayers is for a world where people are not ridden with shame and guilt for seeking therapy. I understand that it is common to be confused or even scared of something one does not understand, therefore, dismissing therapy seems easier than participating in the process. The intention behind this post is to try and bust some common myths and misconceptions about therapy. These myths and misconceptions are based on statements that have come my way through my journey as a mental health practitioner.
“Therapy is for crazy people!”
Therapy is for people who are seeking help to deal with the effects of current or long-term stressors, or they wish to change patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that do not work for them anymore. Contrary to popular belief, therapy is not just for those who are seemingly not in control of their lives. Yes, some people who are in therapy are dealing with clinically diagnosed psychological issues, but others might just need a little extra help in coping with the different forms of stressors that life brings our way. All of us have emotional and cognitive issues for which we require external support – therapy is suitable for everyone. Even therapists have to go through therapy to ensure they are able professionals who have been through the healing and cathartic processes themselves. Therapy is not only for the “crazy” (whoever these people may be, and whatever subjective meaning that label carries for the reader!), it is for everyone.
“Talking to a therapist is for people who are weak or who don’t have enough will-power.”
Depression, anxiety, and other issues pertaining to mental health are health conditions. Just like people with a medical label like cancer are not weak-minded and lacking willpower, the same is applicable for people with mental health labels. Having a mental illness or struggling with issues pertaining to mental health is not a sign of character flaw, or something that is the person’s fault. Just like one does not instantly recover from diabetes, there is no snapping out of a mental or emotional state. Anyone can have an issue pertaining to mental health due to certain biological or genetic predispositions, and as a result of experiences that one has throughout life. In today’s day and age, everyone experiences stress and is at risk of developing a mental health condition. It is not a sign of weakness. It is simply a sign of being human.
“I don’t need a therapist. My friends listen to me. And, at the end of the day, isn’t therapy just common sense?”
People with the best of friends and with the most excellent of support-systems can be in therapy. People who come for therapy do not lack common sense. Therapy enhances your ability for introspection and insight. You are in the hands of a trained expert who understands the goals you have set for yourself and works with you in collaboration and with empathy to help you achieve them. A therapist is a trained professional who has spent years learning and practicing how to effectively understand and manage your cognitive, emotional, behavioural and relational issues. A therapist isn’t your friend which means that unlike intimate relationships which are a two-way street with both parties taking turns sharing their stories, a therapy session is devoted completely to you and your issues. Even if a therapist chooses to share a personal experience with you (a practice known as self-disclosure), it is with you in mind. You are not judged for what you say or do. Therapy is also confidential. It is a therapist’s professional mandate to not discuss what you say (as long as you aren’t harming yourself or another being) with people beyond the therapy-room. Strictly speaking, gossiping is a complete no-no! How many friends can promise you that? Also, while therapy often seems to be a casual conversation, the therapist may ask questions during your session to help you uncover meaning and reflect on life experiences and how those may have shaped your current situation. They may help you make connections to discover hidden emotions. They may help you look at your thoughts and how your self-talk contributes to your feelings. A good friend will be caring and supportive during difficult moments while a good therapist will be empowering, compassionate and insightful. Having both sets of people in your life is a win-win.
“I don’t need therapy. If I keep a positive attitude towards life, I shall be fine.”
While there is value in making the most out of every situation, there is a difference between feeling good and hiding negative emotions under the rug and pretending to feel good. During times of crises, especially when we are head into it, it is extremely difficult to focus on the bright side of life and be cheerful. There are times in everyone’s life where they can do with a little bit of extra help and some external support. Therapy helps you process difficult emotions of frustration, jealousy, anxiety, sadness, pain, anger and lead a life where you are able to authentically express your true self.
“Am I paying someone just to listen to me?”
Therapy is not a one-sided affair with you doing all the talking and the therapist doing all the listening. The therapist acts as a facilitator and works with you in collaboration to help you find solutions to your issues. It is an interactive process with active engagement from both parties.
“Therapy is expensive.”
Therapy can seem expensive especially when you look at the price-tag alone and not the total value. Therapy can confer significant benefits, including an improved financial outlook or better career prospects. People who are less productive because of anxiety or depression, who suffer from creative blocks, who struggle to identify the right career path, who engage in habits like compulsive shopping, overeating, gambling, smoking or alcohol, may ultimately have more money as a result of therapy. Even when therapy does not offer a direct economic benefit, it can greatly and permanently improve your life. Going to a therapist is no different from consulting a lawyer or a doctor, or eating out or shopping for clothes – you select the lawyer, doctor, the restaurant or the brand of clothes depending on your budget and what best fits your pocket. At the same time, charges for therapy can span across a wide range depending on the qualifications of the expert and the total years of experience. If personal wellbeing is your priority and you are thinking of signing up for therapy, consider its overall value and not just the cost.
“What is the guarantee that therapy will work for me?”
There is no guarantee that therapy will work for you. Surprised? At an ethical level, no counsellor or therapist can make you any promises, predictions or guarantees about what they can do. Just like doctors, physicians, physical trainers or surgeons, counsellors and therapists cannot know whether their efforts will turn out to be helpful – only time and a careful, continuous, collaborative commitment will tell. Visiting a therapist for one or two sessions and then claiming that therapy does not work is the same as going to a gym only once or twice and then stating that you weren’t able to meet your fitness goals. Therapy is about committing to yourself first and doing all the work that is needed to be done in order to overcome the issues you are battling. Therapy, like everything else, works if you do, or if you want it to. It is all a choice.
“What if I feel worse after a therapy session?”
So, this is a tricky myth to dispel as there is some truth to it. Therapy can be difficult. When you are talking about some very deep, sensitive, personal and complex issue, you may leave the room feeling raw and tender, and not feeling your best. However, it is a journey. Over time, as you start uncovering new pieces of the jigsaw and piecing the puzzle together, you will have gained new insights and developed new skills to help you cope. Yes, it can be a little uncomfortable at times, but the therapist is there to support you. Learning to deal with life’s ups and downs is a necessary skill that you may learn while in therapy. Sometimes, experiencing, and learning to experience sadness without sinking into the vicious cycle of depression, and worry without having an anxiety attack, is what a therapy session is trying to teach you. So, every now and then, a session may feel emotionally heavy and cause you some amount of distress, however, in the long run, you are going to come out of the experience feeling better.
“Will I be in therapy forever?”
The goal of therapy is always empowerment of the client. So, the client is always in charge. You get to set the pace of your sessions and decide when you want to achieve what, and you get to decide when you want to opt out of it. Although we are all works-in-progress and may go through periods where we require the guidance of a therapist, therapy is never endless. Good therapy is worth the time and money and therapy should take as long as it needs to take for there is a greater cost to not doing inner work to improve the quality of your life. The goal of the therapist is to enable you to function better which might take a couple of weeks, a month or two, sometimes, a year – the time-span depends entirely on you and how well you respond to the therapeutic methods.
“I don’t need therapy, I just need medicines.”
Therapy is essential for overcoming issues pertaining to mental health. Medication is a bandaid – it heals the pain temporarily. Without therapy, you run the risk of covering up your symptoms and not delving into working on the root-cause of your concern which results in the issues never going away. Medication helps in the management of symptoms alone, and while it can be a necessary supplement to therapy, it is seldom sufficient by itself.
The success of therapy lies in uncovering your issues, layer by layer, following which you work towards a healthier and happier future.
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