Therapy — often the world can picture it as the room which houses the patient at breaking point, head in their hands, speaking to the all-knowing counsellor. The counsellor tells the patient something profound and an epiphany happens! The patient leaves the leather black couch behind, healed and happy — the end.
This is just one of many scenes that might play in someone’s mind when they hear the word “therapy”. But this, like many other misconceptions, are only myths. After speaking with students and a counsellor from Ryerson University’s Center for Student Development and Counselling, we can begin the conversation on debunking a few of the misconceptions often believed about therapy.
Myth: Therapy works for everyone
“Everyone should get therapy” is sprinkled all over mental health Instagram posts and inspirational videos. This mindset sets up the expectation that it will work for everyone, all the time, in every walk of life — but it doesn’t.
Sometimes therapy may not be right for you at a particular time in your life. When there is too much going on and life is overwhelming, your focus may just be on day-to-day survival. Those difficult emotions might be something you want to put aside rather than bring forward when you are navigating daily life — and that is okay.
Your readiness for change is also what determines whether or not it’s beneficial to make that first appointment. You may think, “the way I usually adapt is safe and comfortable for me. I’m not ready to take that seat”. Or even, “these sessions don’t seem to be helping me”. Regardless, there is nothing wrong with you for thinking this way. Therapy is helpful for a number of reasons, but it is not for everyone.
At the end of the day, only you will know when you’re ready — and when that happens, only you will know if therapy is something that benefits you. There is always something you might learn by going.
Myth: Your therapist has all the answers
Your therapist will not have all the answers but they will have helpful questions. These are to get to know you and help you unpack, navigate, and understand your feelings and experiences. What they give is not a to-do list on how to make things better. Instead, you’ll practice and gain skills that will help you improve.
Let’s put it this way: your mind already has pathways set in place that have helped you adapt to situations before. The skills you gain won’t remove those roads, but repave them, bridge them, paint the cracks with new colour. Your therapist will suggest these changes, but it’s you who takes the strides and decides what fits for you.
Myth: Therapy is a linear process that inspires dramatic change
Change never occurs in a straight line. Like a tide, it flows, sometimes forward and other times back. Challenging issues, habits, and emotions may come up again. This change is not necessarily leading to a “Eureka!” moment. Although that definitely can happen, more often it is subtle inklings of change that show a bigger difference over time.
Some people find this disappointing, but change can happen both in and out of the therapy room if it’s suitable for you.
Myth: Therapy is impersonal and transactional
“Would I pay to talk to a stranger that might not really care?” This doubt may come up for those seeking therapy or counselling as a possible option. Notice two concerns here — talking to a stranger, and talking to a stranger that may be getting paid to listen.
What surprises some clients is that talking to a stranger is, in some ways, more beneficial than speaking to a friend. A therapist will not have the same stakes in your life than a loved one might. This way, there is no fear of judgement or reputation.
Even so, your therapist is still someone who cares. The client and the therapist develop a kind of relationship — and in any healthy relationship, there must be care, trust, and teamwork. This means you do not need to trust them until you decide to. Building trust takes time, and like anyone who cares for you, they have your well being and comfort in mind. Plus, relationships are never one-way streets. When you collaborate, you are allowed to ask your own questions, speak about what you want to explore, and say what hasn’t been working for you. Therapists are empathetic and curious about what you have to share, without bringing in any personal bias.
Myth: Seeking therapy is weak
Some think that therapy means you are too weak to handle things on your own, or too weak to take what life has thrown your way. For many reasons, this is untrue. Anyone who has ever opened up to someone knows that it takes incredible strength and courage to be vulnerable. It takes strength to climb out of your comfort zone. It takes bravery to seek a solution that may or may not be right for you, but to try anyway.
Even the therapy process itself, long- or short-term, takes a lot of strength, especially because it’s the work you put in between the sessions that matters most. That time between contains you living your life, putting your skills to use in real time. In short, seeking help, in whatever shape or form, is powerful.
Myth: You have to be at breaking point to ask for help
The truth is, there is no qualification to seek therapy or counselling. The point is to meet you where you are, no matter if it’s “not as bad as it could be”. In fact, you might fall into the trap of thinking that what you’re struggling with is normal and not a big deal. A flower planted in sand won’t know what soil feels like unless it’s actually there. If you’re always in chaos or a state of high stress, you might not notice it because that is your “normal”. But you don’t need to wait until the last leaf falls to ask for help. Your struggles are valid as they are.
These myths only scratch the surface of the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding therapy. If you feel this may be worth exploring for you, you can go to the Ryerson Centre for Student Development and Counselling website for information and resources, or to contact them. During this pandemic, it may seem like you’re just one in millions struggling with their mental health. But remember, you don’t have to wait. Now may be the ideal time to find what works for you and your mental wellness.