Seven Common Myths About Counseling

The large majority of adults and kids who might benefit from psychotherapy do not receive it. For example 14-22% of U.S. children meet criteria for a diagnosable psychological disorder, but only about 20% of these kids get effective care. And, even when kids get effective care they usually suffer for years before getting it. Similar statistics are available for adults. This is beneath us as a culture and often yields dramatically painful and unnecessary outcomes (e.g., suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24, depression has a higher mortality rate than cardiac disease, etc.).  This post reviews some of the common myths I’ve found that serve as barriers to understanding and healing.

If I enter therapy I might become too dependent on the therapist. Therapy will never end.

The goal of psychotherapy is to foster healthy independence, not unhealthy dependence. So, the aim of evidence-based psychotherapy is to reach measurable treatment goals as fast as possible. Indeed, the chief job of the competent therapist is to make her services obsolete.  While some problems require longer treatment, many do not.

Counseling costs too much money.

Most health insurance polices cover the lion’s portion of psychotherapy. Clients end up being out of pocket only for the part not covered by the insurance company. In addition, the costs are considered a medical expense and may be deductible from taxes. Studies also suggest that trips to a counselor can dramatically reduce trips to the medical doctor, sick days and an assortment of other expensive problems (e.g., divorce, addiction, etc.). Plus, think what it would be like to be rid of any significant psychological pains that inflict you or a loved one. What would that be worth? Finally, there are options for low fee services all across the country; for example, if your local university has a graduate program in the mental health professions they may have a low fee training clinic (the average fee in the clinic I direct is $10/visit), community mental health centers exist across the country, etc.

Only crazy people are in therapy.

This is really a bunch of nonsense. Putting aside the meaning of the word “crazy” for a moment, choosing to be in therapy is often a very rational act. It seems much more irrational to avoid therapy, because of silly myths, when therapy might be helpful in important ways. Effective therapy helps people to identify new methods for overcoming emotional pain and solving life’s problems. What is crazy about the pursuit of such learning?

People who spend significant time and resources on therapy are being self indulgent and selfish.

If effective therapy does anything, it increases a person’s freedom to love. Did you ever try to give to others when you have a sharp toothache? The same thing applies with psychological pain. Those who have been healed in counseling are in a position to be able to love others more and better. How can this be considered selfish?

I’ll get better eventually anyway.

According to studies on counseling, effective psychotherapy promotes healing and recovery. It may not be helpful to wait years for change. Even if change does come, the same problem may resurface later if the central issues have not been sufficiently resolved. Psychotherapy provides a way to confront and resolve problems at their source. It also provides tools for dealing with future problems. Moreover, a competent therapist can direct you to the evidence that supports the methods that he or she is prescribing.

Being in therapy is a sign of weakness. Strong, effective people don’t need help solving their problems.

Maybe in a Rambo movie. In the real world more vulnerability is often found in the person who fears acknowledging human limitations and faults and is unwilling to take the steps necessary to overcome them. Counseling is no panacea and not everybody is a candidate for counseling. However, those who can acknowledge the possible need for counseling may be stronger, and more secure in themselves, than those who cannot.

If I take my kid in for an evaluation, he’ll get the idea that there is something seriously wrong with him.

Experienced child therapists both know that parents are concerned about this and have developed procedures that minimize this risk (e.g., making sure to assess for your child’s and family’s strengths). Besides, a child or teen with a legitimate behavioral or emotional problem is much more likely to think that there is something wrong with him/her, and to have that reflected in others’ eyes, if she/he does not get help. Also keep in mind, as is the case in medicine, that behavioral and emotional problems are much more easily understood and resolved sooner rather than later.

If you are wondering if counseling might be of benefit to you or a loved one, why not look into it? A competent therapist will be able to evaluate whether or not counseling is advisable and, if advisable, what it might be able to accomplish and how long it might take to complete. What do you have to loose, really? (If you’d like a referral in your community, click here.)

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