There’s little stigma in going to the doctor when you feel sick, but what about seeing a therapist to talk out problems or gain an ally to grapple with mental illness? People who go to therapy are finding a treatment for their mind and emotions — the same way a doctor treats your body — yet they deal with unfair misconceptions and assumptions about why they are going and what they must be like.
To replace these myths with reality, we reached out to therapists in and outside our network and spoke to people who go to therapy. Keep reading to fight the stigma around mental illness and learn the truth about why people work with therapists.
Only ‘Crazy’ People Go to Therapy
Most people who see therapists are not dangerous, violent or even eccentric. All of the therapists Talkspace interviewed said clients who posed a threat to anyone were rare. Mentally ill people are actually more likely to be victims of violence, according to a study published in the American Journal of Mental Health.
People Get Forced to See a Therapist
People form the above misconception because they assume clients are not going to therapy by choice. There’s a perception of someone being “crazy” to the point where their loved ones had to drag them to therapy.
The vast majority of people who see therapists do so of their own will. They want help and are willing to deal with the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health problems. People with mental illness that has reduced their functioning to the point where they are dangerous usually need psychiatric treatment before they commit to therapy.
Therapy Is Only for People with Mental Illness
In the same way people visit doctors when they aren’t sick — they might want a checkup, test, or advice — therapy is not exclusively for people with diagnosed mental illness. Good therapists listen to us without judgment and teach us how to solve problems in a healthy way and live a happier life. This is something all of us want, whether we seek help or not.
Therapists can only bill insurance companies once they diagnose someone or have a preexisting diagnosis, but not all therapists need to use health insurance. Good therapists are careful with labels.
“Clients are not their diagnosis,” said Talkspace therapist Leah Mcmanis, who argues therapists should treat the person and their situations, not only the symptoms.
People Who Go to Therapy Are Broken Or Something Is Wrong with Them
Felicia Barlow Clar has gone to therapy for decades and encourages her friends and family to see a therapist. But in the beginning, the stigma made it difficult to get started.
“I thought I was broken, that something was wrong with me because I sought out a therapist,” she told Talkspace.
After benefiting from therapy, her attitude changed.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said. “It’s just about being self-aware.”
Remember, therapy is a tool for people to explore themselves, which they believe will help them lead better lives and overcome sadness. It’s not a “fix.”
You Need To Have Lots of Money to Go to Therapy
The average one-hour therapy session costs around $100, but you don’t have to pay that much. For those who don’t have great mental health coverage on their insurance but want affordable therapy, you can use online therapy websites to facilitate it, take advantage of resources the government and schools offer or find a therapist who uses a sliding scale for payments.
People Who Go to Therapy Are Too Weak to Handle Things on Their Own
Imagine telling someone who was recently in a car accident that seeing a doctor meant they were too weak to recover from the injuries on their own. It sounds harsh, but it’s not so far from telling someone they are feeble because they use therapy to deal with trauma, mental illness and stress rather than toughing it out. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, and therapy is no exception.
“Therapy is hard work, and people who come to therapy are courageous and strong to ask for help and to make changes in their lives,” said therapist Holly LaBarbara.
Other therapists such as Toni Coleman have heard people describe those who see a therapist with words similar to “weak” including “neurotic” and “whiny.” Those ignorant of therapy perceive them as lazy or craving sympathy rather than help.
Actually, successful and ambitious people often seek therapy, according to psychotherapist Amy Morin, who has many hardworking clients. They view improving their mental health as another goal to reach.
Everyone Who is in Therapy Starts Going After Some Tragedy or Crisis Occurs
The desire for professional help can sneak up on people. Painful events such as deaths in the family don’t have to be the catalysts. Clients seek therapy for guidance navigating a new phase in life, dealing with general malaise, refuting long-held negative beliefs and more. Nothing horrible has to happen for people to want a happier life.
Therapy is also an effective treatment for preventing future crises such as divorces. Texas-based marriage and family therapist Kathryn Gates recommends couples seek counseling when their relationship is healthy rather than turning to it as a last resort.
“[Some] couples don’t tend to seek out couples counseling until the ‘D’ word [divorce] has come up,” Gates said. “And so then for many, at least one partner is already out the door but agrees to sit through a therapy session so they can say ‘we tried.’”
Hospitals aren’t only for emergency room visits and a therapist’s office doesn’t have to be your mental or emotional fallout shelter. If you feel like your life is great and your mind is healthy, therapy can maintain or improve that.
Clients Are Lazy – They Let the Therapist Do All the Work
This is where therapy is a far cry from seeing a doctor. If you sit back and let the therapist do everything, you won’t make much progress.
“The people who are the most successful in therapy can think for themselves,” said therapist Kate Siner, Ph.D.
This is especially true with clients who participate in cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT], where therapists often assign homework and exercises.
Either way, therapy is about working with the therapist as a team.
People Who See Therapists Don’t Have Friends, Family Members or a Significant Other Who are Willing to Listen
Unless one of your friends, family members or partner is a licensed therapist, you won’t receive the same mental health benefits from talking with them. You shouldn’t place that responsibility entirely on your loved ones anyway. Friends are for conversations, not venting. They will be there for you during hard times, but you shouldn’t regularly use them as a substitute for therapy.
People Who Go to Therapy Are on Medication
The majority of mental health professionals recommend people treat mental illness with a combination of psychotherapy and medication or therapy alone. Many clients choose the latter when they don’t need medication or think it would be an extraneous burden.
If You Go to Therapy, You Are Probably a Woman
This one is actually true, and it’s an issue we are trying to change. Women more often receive therapy because there is less stigma preventing them from doing so. If a woman cries or claims she is struggling, no one is going to say, “Be a woman!’ or “Woman up!” On the other hand, men experience societal pressure that makes them ambivalent towards therapy.
“I resisted going for a while, probably because I’m an obstinate man who thinks he can fix things by himself and doesn’t need anyone’s help,” said Dave Blackmer, the director of operations at a company that trains medical coders (more evidence of successful people going to therapy). “But my marriage was struggling and I finally admitted I was willing to look for outside help.”
Therapy has become a staple in Dave’s life and he is grateful for it. His wife and his adopted children benefit from it as well.
“We all have issues,” Blackmer said. “We probably all need therapy.”
Changing How We View Therapy
Therapy is more than a treatment. It is a lifestyle choice, therapist Siner said, like going to the gym or trying a diet. It is one of the many ways we cope with and understand emotions, change, stress, beliefs and relationships. Clar expressed a similar view.
“Some people go to church,”she said. “I go to therapy.”
To reduce these hurtful assumptions that stop people from receiving the help they need and enjoying happier lives, we need to push society towards accepting therapy as a choice that reflects positive characteristics. The reality is positive, so it’s time people know about it.