Myths keep some from getting help through therapy
BY DR. DELISE DICKARD
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” You probably know the beginning of this century-old poem by Robert Frost. And you probably know that the traveler was sorry he could not travel both but took the one less traveled “because it was grassy and wanted wear.”
I was reminded of it the other day when someone said to me of a troubled past: “I had to live through it once, and I’ll never waste a moment thinking of it again.” After a decade of specializing in treating trauma, I know that the method of just trying not to think about “it” rarely works in the long run.
The remark also reminded me of the many myths that people buy into about therapy, and how those who tackle the hard issues in therapy are often taking the road less traveled. It isn’t always the easiest path. Sometimes, we may have to whack back some weeds, learn the ivy that is poisonous to us, and find our own way when the path isn’t clear.
Below are some of the biggest myths about therapy—myths people debunk as they begin the journey toward mental wellness.
Myth No. 1: Traumatic experiences can be locked away and never cause trouble again.
As someone who has treated trauma for a decade, I would love to say this can happen without any work on the part of the victim. In fact, it may get packed away, but this baggage can fall right back in your lap at the most inconvenient times. If you’ve experienced trauma, you probably know this already.
Fortunately, we have effective treatment to help the brain process trauma, whether the violation occurred yesterday or many decades ago.
Myth No. 2: Only crazy people need to seek therapy.
I don’t like the word “crazy.” I think in terms of the difficult problems many people experience—sometimes because of life circumstances, and sometimes because of underlying differences in how our brains work.
People need therapy for all sorts of reasons, and those with the most severe problems may not recognize the need to get help on their own. (So if you are asking yourself “Am I crazy?” then you are probably not.)
Many people who seek therapy simply have some sort of struggle in their lives. It may be with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, family dysfunction, trauma, stress, parenting issues or marital problems. A therapist can help you understand your particular struggles and help you deal with them with tools you learn to incorporate into your life.
If it is discovered that your brain is misbehaving in some way, then that is all the more reason to find the tools to learn about it and move past it so you can lead a rich and more fulfilling life. Therapy is about healing, and not about negative labeling.
Myth No. 3: People only seek therapy because they don’t have good enough friendships.
While the bond between client and counselor should feel genuinely strong and healthy, like a great friendship, a therapist has something that a friend can’t offer. Objectivity is present, because the therapist is not involved in the problem personally. Plus, the time spent together should be all about you.
If you are connected with your therapist, you will care about them, but you don’t have to take care of them as you might need to take care of a friendship. Your situation, problems and opinion are seen as the most important aspect of the relationship.
Ideally, the therapist’s mental health expertise can help you find patterns that have created despair—and tools to help remedy the psychological wounds.
Myth No. 4: If you have been to therapy once and it wasn’t helpful, then therapy doesn’t work for you.
The match between client and therapist is very important. This involves not just the therapist’s speciality, but the mix of personality traits and therapeutic approaches he or she uses.
It isn’t one size fits all. Most therapists know they aren’t the perfect match for every client, and you may have to try one or two therapists before you feel the connection necessary to do good work together. It’s worth the effort.
Myth No. 5: If people know you have been to therapy, then they will see that as a weakness, illness or failure.
Typically, clients get better when they are getting the help they need, and when your true friends notice this improvement, instead of berating you, they might actually ask for a referral.
EXAMINING YOUR LIFE
Socrates’ bold statement that “The unexamined life is not worth living” has gotten much attention over many, many years. His words may conflict with messages we get from our culture like “in life, the person who accumulates the most stuff wins” or “life is a matter of simply maximizing fun.”
But many great thinkers believe that fulfillment comes from examination and learning from—not just escaping—pain. It comes in the hard work of finding a sense of purpose in our lives.
Not everyone needs therapy, of course, to lead a life of fulfillment. But if during self examination you find that you do need some healing or understanding in certain areas, hopefully these myths won’t cause you to shy away from getting the help you need through therapy.
You may know that many people, therapists and clients alike, got together last week to walk for mental wellness. May is a month when mental wellness will be celebrated all over the country.
In most communities, including ours, clinicians work together to help clients get back to wellness so that at the end of treatment, they can say in one way or another:
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Dr. Delise Dickard, a licensed professional counselor, is the director of Riverside Counseling in Fredericksburg. She welcomes reader comments and questions. For contact information, see riversidecounseling.org.