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Ending the Stigma Around Therapy--What to Expect

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

This blog post comes from a more personal place in my life. After a recent suicide touched our family, I couldn't stop asking the question, "Why didn't he seek help?” Of course, there are a hundred more unanswered questions that we all have, but since I am in the field of mental health this particular question kept coming up for me. I thought about all the people he knew that could have helped him find a resource, that he was a very intelligent man and easily could have found out where services in his area were offered, and how much he would have benefited from talking to a trusted, objective person; but after talking with his close family I realized that it wasn't that he didn't know where or how to find help, it was that the idea of opening up to complete stranger might have been a very scary thought.

I don't think our loved one is unlike a lot of other people. For many, the idea of therapy is scary and has a lot of unhelpful and false stigmas around it. So this is what is motivating me to write this blog post; ending the stigma and myths around therapy today.

Myth #1: My Therapist Will Tell Others That I Am Going to Therapy

This could not be farther from the truth. Every client that comes in for treatment is protected by HIPPA laws. "The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge" (CDC, 2018). None of the information that is shared in therapy can leave the therapy room unless, the client discloses they want to hurt themselves, someone else, or reports any child abuse or elder abuse, then these things need to be reported in order to keep people safe. If you have any questions at all about what a therapist can share without your consent just ask. It is your therapist's job to answer all of your questions and make sure you are feeling safe while in their office.

Myth #2: I Am Weak if I Need Therapy

No, no, no, and no... Think about your therapist as any other health provider. You are not weak if you need physical therapy for a hurt shoulder or need to see a cardiologist for a heart condition. Therapy is no different. Your therapist is there to help you care for your mind, arguably the most important part of your body! A trained therapist has a skill set that other providers or people in the general public do not have. We all need some extra help once in a while whether that is to strength our shoulder, heart, or mind.

Myth #3: There is Something Wrong with Me if I Need Therapy

Again, no, no, no, and no... You are not broken because you are choosing to make a healthy choice. Making the decision to see a therapist simply means that you have enough insight to recognize you are struggling and might need some extra tools to help you. People from all walks of life come to therapy, each of which brings their own unique struggles. I have seen CEOs of major companies, lawyers, other therapists, stay-at-home moms, professors, prison guards, police officers, stay-at-home dads, children, teachers, and the list goes on and on. No one is perfect (no matter what their social media account says) so therefore we all have something "wrong" with us!

Myth #4: My Therapist is a Miracle Worker and Can Fix My Problems Even if I Do Not Put Effort In

This is a hard one that I see all too often. Getting in the door for therapy is a huge step in the right direction, but the effort and motivation will need to continue. It is not enough to simply "talk" to a therapist. You need to make sure you are ready to put in the work outside of your therapist's office and the work is not always easy. Therapy at times may be uncomfortable, it is not always meant to be warm and fuzzy or simply validating the client. Your therapist will see things that sometimes you won't see or don't want to see, and they will ask you to work on challenging these things outside of session. Again, not always easy, but you will not see progress if you are not putting in work outside of session.

Myth #5: I Am Not Struggling "Enough" to Need Therapy

There is not a level of suffering that triggers when a therapist is needed. Wanting help comes at all different stages of a person's struggle. Often times people will wait to seek help until they have been suffering way too long because they didn't think they were struggling "enough" to get help. There are two problems with this mindset: 1) We often don't ever think we are struggling "enough." 2) If a person has waited a long time to seek therapy, they often have a lot more dynamics to their struggle than if they would have just come in when the struggle started. Seek help at any point of your journey!

Myth #6: I Am Going to Have to Lay on My Therapist's Couch

This is just great! Sometimes I bet this would actually be really nice, :) but this does not happen too much anymore. This idea comes from psychologist Sigmund Freud, who did have his clients lay on his couch and use a technique called psychoanalysis. Today's therapy session will most likely take place in a comfortable room sitting near your therapist. This should feel like you are having a comfortable conversation with a person you trust. Although, there are some therapist that still practice from a psychoanalytic perspective if this is what you are looking for. Make sure to research your therapist before going to see them. Everyone has a little different style and personality.

Myth #7: I Will Need to Share My Deepest, Darkest, Secrets Right Away

Everyone is different so if you do not feel comfortable sharing something with your therapist right away, that is okay. You can take as much time as you need to feel comfortable with your therapist. Your therapist should start where you are in your treatment process and travel at your speed. There may be times your therapist challenges you, but they will do so in an educated and calculated way and with your best interest in mind. Do not feel that you need to come to your first session and talk about everything in your life. If your therapist asks you a question that you don't feel comfortable answer yet, simply say, "I am not ready to talk about that yet." It is, however, important to understand that most of the time the things we don't want to talk about are the exact things that are going to help us the most.

Myth #8: I Will Get My Guns Taken Away, Be Locked Up, or Have My Children Taken Away

I want to be clear, that these outcomes are not the result of going to therapy but are possible in some very rare and severe cases. These would be the very last option for keeping you or someone else safe. The only time any of these are ever possible are if you are an immediate threat to yourself or someone else. That being said this is not a decision your therapist can make. If your therapist believes you are an immediate risk to yourself or someone else, they will need to contact law enforcement. Law enforcement will then contact their local county mental health department. They together will assess for safety of the client. There are a number of ways this scenario can end, but the moral of the story is, it takes a lot for these things to become a reality and is very rare in outpatient therapy.

Myth #9: You Can Only Talk About Feelings in Therapy

My theory is: If you can't talk to your therapist about the small things, you won't be able to talk to them about the big things either. What I am saying is that often times in therapy we are talking about anything, but our feelings! We are talking about the amazing family trip my client took, the silly thing their 3-year-old did, what they ate for dinner on Saturday at that great new restaurant... These are the conversation that build a strong therapeutic relationship with your therapist and the therapeutic relationship is the most important part of the therapy process.

Myth #10: My Therapist will Judge Me

Therapists understand that everyone comes from different backgrounds and has had different experiences that shape who each individual person is. They understand that sometimes when a person is put in a bad situation, that person will develop coping mechanisms to keep themselves safe. They understand that everyone responds to stress, sadness, guilt, anger, regret, loss, panic, and anxiety differently. They understand that the therapy process can sometimes be scary and difficult for people. They understand that the skills they are teaching you are not things that will change overnight. They understand the difference between an OCD obsession and being a danger to your child. They understand that hallucinations do not just happen to people who are "crazy." It is their goal to understand you better!

When you arrive at your therapist's office for the first time you can expect to fill out some brief paperwork, answer some insurance questions, and complete an intake session. This session is where your therapist will ask a lot of questions about you. In future sessions you will develop a treatment plan that both you and your therapist are comfortable with. You will then work towards achieving your goals. This will look a little different for everyone. Before starting therapy, I would encourage you to research different therapists before picking one. Make sure your therapist has similar ideas as you. Also, if you do not connect with your therapist, it is okay to switch! Remember the most important part of the therapy process is the therapeutic relationship.

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