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Seven Facts That Debunk Common Misperceptions About Therapy

Read this article to learn facts about psychotherapy that may improve your understanding of how it works.

Engaging in therapy can be a healthy and helpful practice for many people.

The science and practice of psychotherapy is a fairly young profession. Most of us have heard about early founding members, especially figures like Sigmund Freud. Early practices of psychotherapy were often run largely by the therapist, who would listen, interpret, and likely decide what was wrong with the patient based on his or her own theories. Since that time, the practice of psychotherapy has evolved greatly; however, many people still hold mistaken beliefs about what therapy is, and what it’s like.

Here are a few good things to know about modern therapy, and what to expect.

Therapy Fact #1: Therapists aren’t trying to trick you.

I get questions all the time about whether the rearranging of furniture in the office is intended to manipulate people, or whether the walls are painted a certain color to try and get people to feel a certain way. As a provider, I would say that this is often one of the biggest fears about coming to therapy. People are worried about coming to someone who is going to try and manipulate them to get a reaction, or sit back and try to “analyze them.” Don’t get me wrong, as therapists, we want to understand what is going on, but most therapy in the present day is based on connecting with you as a person, being open and transparent, and trying to create a comfortable and safe space for you to explore what’s going on with you.

Therapy Fact #2: Most therapists work from science.

In the old days of therapy, the therapist had his or her own ideas about why people are the way they are, how they developed, and how things could go wrong, and the treatment was built around these theories. Over time, the science behind this has evolved greatly. Psychology as a field conducts research to study how people behave, what impacts them, and what helps them. Of course, therapists can bring their own perspectives to treatment, but the process of therapy, and the interventions that are used, are based on scientific research. 

Therapy Fact #3: You don’t have to lay down.

In my office, I have a couch so that folks have plenty of space to spread out, but laying down is uncommon in modern therapy. In my practice, my clients sit across from me. There’s a table with small fidgets, and space to set your coffee. There’s a bright window, plants, and paintings. You’re not there to lay back and be analyzed; you’re there to participate, interact, and work together.

Therapy Fact #4: Therapy can’t be done TO you.

Your therapist will want to learn about you, including your life experiences, your thoughts, your feelings, your relationships, your goals, and more. With that information, your therapist is going to ask you to participate and put in work. You’ll need to monitor your own patterns outside of session. You’ll be asked to make small changes, or practice small strategies outside of session, and then report back on how it went. When you come in for session, you’ll be asked to talk about what you’re experiencing, what you’re wanting to work on, and how things have been going. Your therapist will have guidance and ideas, but you’ll have to invest in working on them.

Therapy Fact #5: Therapists care.

I can’t speak for every therapist out there, but I can tell you that the vast majority of the other therapists I’ve met have a story of why they chose the field. They may or may not be willing to share that story with you, but typically, they chose to become a therapist because they care about people, and they know how hard life can be. Therapists are there to help you because they genuinely care about helping people lead more satisfied and fulfilling lives. Don’t forget that this may mean that they will challenge you at times. The goal is not to hurt you, or to push you too hard; rather, the goal is to help you see your life in new ways, make the changes that you want to make, and feel more able to move toward the life that you want to have.

Therapy Fact #6: You decide what you want to talk about.

We only want to talk about your mother if you need to talk about your mother. I’m mostly joking here, but this is one of those old stereotypes of therapy that gets a lot of attention when we learn about Freud in high school courses, and it really doesn’t hold true today. Sure, we think moms are really important. But we aren’t going to try and make everything about your mom unless you come in wanting to work on your relationship with your mom. Therapy is your opportunity to talk about what is hard for you, what is important to you, and what you want to be different. As therapists, we reserve the right to ask about things we think might be important, but therapy goes better when you feel like you’re addressing what is important to you, and understanding it in a way that makes sense to you and your life.

Therapy Fact #7: Therapy is here to help.

We want you to feel safe, connected, and empowered to make meaningful changes in your life, and we’re personally and professionally invested in helping you do so.

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