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12 Incorrect Beliefs About Psychotherapy

Have you ever been in therapy? If so, what did you like about it? What did you dislike about it?

Psychotherapy isn’t as cut and dry as it may appear to some. You don’t just go in to an office and talk. You can do that with a friend. Psychotherapy includes the building of a professional relationship with boundaries and goals of the client to improve, learn, and grow. It is a relationship in which the therapist, trained for many years, listens and watches the client to psycho-analyze or evaluate need, barriers, and challenges. It is a limited relationship due to the power differential, knowledge obtained, and ethical as well as legal limits.

Sadly for some, it is not a friendship, a personal relationship, or a balanced relationship.

This article will discuss 12 misconceptions about therapy with the goal of encouraging you to think more realistically about the process.

7 Comments to
12 Incorrect Beliefs About Psychotherapy

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  1. Hi Tamara,
    Love this article! I wish these things were explained at the beginning of EVERY course of therapy.
    I know I have held a few of these misconceptions when I was younger, before getting my undergraduate degrees in the field and also before/during my first experience with therapy.
    I remember thinking that I’d go to therapy for “a few weeks and no more than a month and I’ll have put the past behind me!” The therapist at the time explained to me that given the length of my abuse, the earlier reporting of it and the family’s subsequent reaction and, later abuse it wasn’t reasonable to expect that 4 or 5 sessions would resolve my pain. I think maybe on some level I might have suspected as much but I was really good at minimizing back then without even realizing that is what I was doing!
    The other belief I held for a short time is that if I got along well with the therapist and we worked well together, we could be friends. I will admit to wanting that at times. It didn’t help that the first therapist I had blurred those boundaries on her own which made me think I was correct in thinking perhaps we’d be friends. It took quite some time before I was able to see that was NOT appropriate on her part, and also that I was mistaken to think it was a normal and possible option.
    The hospitalization misconception is another one. When I was acutely suicidal and my therapist had me hospitalized I remember crying and blurting out “I’ll be good! What did I do wrong?” I felt as if I were a burden, a “bad client” and I was scared that the therapist was angry that I’d made things difficult and might quit because of it.
    I can now SEE (and could understand back then once I began feeling better) why it was done but it really is a tough issue for both parties, Tamara. For the therapist, there is the obvious concerns for the client’s wellbeing, the impact on the therapy relationship etc. For me, as a client, I remember struggling with feelings of betrayal initially “But you said it was safe to tell you ANYTHING!” I remember the logical side of me understanding, and yet it was a struggle emotionally. I lost my freedom for a brief period, I felt like control was taken away on a most basic level and that can be hard/triggering for a survivor. Yet I KNOW it is not easy for the therapist either!
    Well I’ve rambled on enough for now lol. Enjoy the upcoming weekend!

    • Hi Lori!
      Thanks so much. Glad you liked it.
      You bring up some very real perspectives for many of my clients. We’ve been so poorly educated, as a society, on what constitutes healing and therapy that we believe we understand how the process goes. Most people, because of societal standards and negative perceptions, don’t want to admit they need someone to talk too much less stay in therapy for long periods of time. As a result, they feel a few sessions should be enough and then drop out.

      I’m really sorry that you experienced a hospitalization at the hands of your therapist. As you point out, that’s tough for us to decide. Many therapists haven’t been trained well in this area unless, like me, you have worked in hospitals, institutions, residential treatment centers, and other similar places for years. It took me over 5 years before I understood what was worth me hospitalizing and what was not. I often tell my clients that they are safe to tell me anything and if something comes up that I am concerned about, I will want to talk it through with them first (if possible). If the end result of the conversation is that the client’s safety remains a concern, I may have to hospitalize the client if they refuse to go to the hospital on their own. I only hospitalize when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary. Many therapists struggle with this.

      Take care

      • I love your response, Tamara –that is the way my current therapist operates as well re: hospitalization. However, I don’t worry about it QUITE so much with her because we do phone therapy and she is not in my area. It’s strange but that can be a positive or negative thing sometimes. Positive because I can talk about feeling suicidal if that be the case and I know she is safe to tell; but negative on rare occasion when I feel like it is viewed as not being a danger since I have had these feelings before and even though I have had attempts I have either been “together” enough to call for help or even if I don’t, I survived anyway. During THOSE rare occasions, it can feel like I am not being taken seriously if she doesn’t acknowledge the depth of pain by at least asking if I think I should go to the hospital. Does that make any sense? The majority of the time though, she is right on target so to speak and I feel I am as fortunate to have her as your clients are blessed to have YOU!

  2. I’ve been a psychotherapist for 40+ years, and I think you have covered this topic well. I will just reinforce some of your pertinent points.

    85% of the + change that occurs in therapy is due to a combination of clinician factors and client factors; what I consider the “working therapeutic alliance”. client factors include their strengths and resources. About 75 to 80% of clients will show significant improvement in intra and inter-personal functioning.

    And I have petitioned for involuntary hospitalization when I assess clients as a “clear and present danger to self and/or others; decisions I’ve never regretted.

    And I have a published article on Brain Blogger and the importance of maintaining clinical boundaries and conflicts of interests that can harm clients when deviated from. I am guided by our ethical commitments to do no harm, if clinically necessary, do the least amount of harm, and consistently act in their best interests.

    Thanks so much for this very pertinent article, and I am proud to have you as a colleague.
    Rich, MSW

    • Hi Rich,
      Thank you so much for your kind comment. We never know how much a person needs to hear (especially us therapists) that our work counts for something.
      I also appreciate your wisdom as it added an element of knowledge we needed.
      Take care

  3. You make some very good points. I think I would have benefited from seeing this laid out before I started the different therapies that I’ve pursued. I would be tempted to add another very simple point: not all problems have solutions. You may get to the end of your therapy understanding yourself better, understanding why you are where you are, but understanding that nothing much will or can change. You just have to live with what you’ve got. Make the best of the cards that life has dealt you.

    After thirty plus years of marriage, my wife ‘came out’ to herself and to me as a lesbian. Which of course explains the dissonance and disconnect in our physical relationship. So therapy and internet groups and research have turned me into something of an expert on human sexuality and orientation(and its basically unchanging nature). But my reality remains unchanged.

    • Hi Brassyhub,
      Thanks for your comment. I do agree that “not all problems have solutions.” Very well said!
      I think a lot of clients come to therapy believing that they are going to find the #1 solution to their problem without any challenges only to later find out that they were wrong. When this is recognized, the person drops out of therapy believing the therapist is a bad therapist!
      Thankfully, though, some situations do change but others do not. A balanced perspective is indeed needed with psychotherapy.

      Take good care


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