Written by Mercedes Miller
From movies that show therapy as lying on a couch while being asked probing questions by a stranger, to public confrontations on live TV (we’re looking at you, Dr. Phil), popular culture has not always portrayed counselling and therapy in a great light.
Although talk therapy has some roots in Freud asking clients to lay down on his couch, counselling has evolved into a field that is important, effective and growing.
But even though it is slowly becoming more normalized, some social stigma still exists around seeking therapy or counselling. Stigma and myths can keep people from getting the help they need to heal, so here we will try to debunk some myths surrounding therapy so you gain a better understanding of what counselling is and isn’t.
Myth 1: You don’t need therapy if you have good friends to talk to.
Therapy is a great resource because it is unbiased. In a friendship or relationship, there is an expectation of reciprocal sharing and support. In therapy, the therapist’s time is all yours. You won’t have to support your therapist through anything - they are just there to listen to you and use their training and experience to support you in what you’re going through.
Therapy is also different from a friendship because what is said in therapy remains confidential. Although there are some exceptions to confidentiality, such as reporting child abuse, therapists take every measure to ensure that your confidentiality is protected, which isn’t something that you’re guaranteed in a friendship. Friends and therapists are different forms of support, and both are important in living a healthy and full life.
Myth 2: All therapy and therapists are the same.
There are many different types of therapy and different theoretical orientations that counsellors can fall under. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on how your thinking, behaviour and feelings affect one another and gives you concrete tools to see change in your life, whereas narrative therapy focuses on the narratives that you tell yourself, the influence of society and others on those narratives, and works with you to empower you to re-author your story.
Research has shown that there isn’t one superior theoretical orientation; the most important and effective part of therapy is the therapeutic relationship that you develop with your counsellor. Most counsellors will advertise what type of therapy they do on their website or at their site, so you’re able to look it up or ask them questions about it to see if it is a good fit for you. Since so much of the success of therapy is the relationship, it’s important to know that if one therapist wasn’t the right fit for you, it’s worth trying a different therapist who might be a better fit.
Myth 3: Therapy is only for people who have psychiatric disorders, or people who are weak.
Therapy isn’t just for people who have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Therapy is for anyone, and there are many reasons why one can seek counselling: anything in life where you are trying to cope, relationships, stress, grief, or just simply wanting to live a more full, happy life.
Taking action against your problems and seeking to take more control of your life to pursue a life that is more fulfilling is the opposite of weak! Therapy can be hard work sometimes, and going to therapy indicates someone is strong, determined, and willing to put it effort to live a happier life.
So, what WILL therapists do? They will listen to you empathetically, show you unconditional positive regard, and be genuine with you. They will set goals with you, and they’ll focus on you and your experience.
If you’re new to therapy, I want to acknowledge your strength in trying something new. It can be scary to take that step, so I applaud you for taking action in your life and beginning a new journey of self-improvement and self-growth. If you are interested in starting some counselling, but aren’t sure where to begin, here is a great resource for finding registered clinical counsellors in British Columbia.
Avalon Recovery Society also offers one-to-one counselling services, please contact your Centre Manager for more information and details on availability.
Mercedes Miller is a Masters' student in Counselling Psychology at Adler University and recently completed her Social Justice Practicum with Avalon Recovery Society for the 2019/2020 academic year.
Mercedes has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and volunteered at ANOVA, a shelter for women experiencing domestic violence in her hometown of London, Ontario. She says her experiences have led her to be very passionate about feminism and supporting all women.