Therapy has always held a certain mystique. Some patients lay down on a couch. Some analysts don’t say a word. The office is dimly lit. Secrets are uncovered in a seemingly endless treatment. Age-old problems evaporate and childhood comes alive. Sex takes on new importance.
Right? Not exactly. Let’s take another look.
Myth #1 “How Does That Make You Feel”? This myth holds that therapy still operates according to the Freudian model in which the patient reclines on a couch and is required to speak without holding back while the therapist provides occasional interpretations about the unconscious meaning of your statements.
Today, patience still lay on the couch, but they also sit up, face to face with their therapist. Clinicians practice in a wide variety of modalities and styles. Some clinicians tend to work more quietly, allowing for silence and for the patient to become aware of his or her inner life, others speak frequently, asking questions, directing the session, and offering opinions and advice.
Myth #2 “Tell Me About Your Mother.” This myth holds that therapy is mostly interested in your past, focusing on your history instead of what bothers you in the present and how to fix it.
A good clinician understands that our personal histories inform who we are and how we behave today. But a good clinician also understands that merely pointing out the historical origin of harmful or negative behavior patterns will do little to help the patient improve. A good clinician also works effectively in the here and now.
Myth #3 “Therapy Goes On Forever.” This myth holds that therapy is endless, mostly because clear goals are not set, and it’s difficult to arrive at a satisfying outcome.
We all understand that it takes time before you feel safe enough and comfortable enough with your therapist to speak about the deeply painful and often shaming aspects of your problems. But therapists are trained professionals. They are able to help you get to what’s bothering you, able to keep the sessions focused and on track, and able to prevent them from turning into casual, meandering conversation with little therapeutic effect.
Myth #4 “Therapy Is For Crazy People.” This myth holds that you have to be seriously mentally ill to seek therapy.
Today, people use therapy to help them find answers or solutions to life’s many complex and vexing problems such as: “Should I change jobs;” or “How can I improve my relationship.” Ironically, it takes courage and a fair degree of functionality to benefit from therapy. In a world that’s increasingly complicated and emotionally stressful, therapy offers an island of guidance, support and wise encouragement.
Myth #5 “You’ll Fall in Love With Your Therapist.” This myth holds that patients fall in love with their therapists and either the treatment ends in a stalemate, or the two run off into the sunset.
Strict legal and ethical guidelines govern standards of professional conduct, precluding personal relationships between patient and clinician. Even though your fantasies and longings have a central place in the treatment, your therapist will not enact them with you. Rather, he or she will look to discuss them openly and safely in the context of the whole treatment and in the context of working toward your goals for the therapy.