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11 myths about therapy that you need to stop believing

by Amanda Collins

There are so many myths about therapy and counselling out there, that sometimes it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t.

Sometimes these myths even put us off therapy altogether.

To help you get to the truth, we chatted to beyondblue’s Policy, Research and Evaluation Leader, Dr Stephen Carbone, to get his expert insight into the most common myths out there.

Therapy is only for very serious mental conditions

This is definitely not true. In fact, psychological treatments are useful for everyone suffering a mental health condition, no matter what level of severity.

They are often particularly useful for people early on, who are suffering mild to moderate levels of a mental health condition, because they help to stop things getting worse, and the person is more likely to get better quicker without needing more complex interventions.

Whereas someone towards the more moderate to severe end of the spectrum will probably need therapy as well as medication.

Therapy is expensive

Again, no. In Australia, there is a subsidy or a rebate under a Mental Health Treatment Plan (which you can get by visiting your GP) so that tends to bring the cost down significantly. In some instances, people might also be bulk billed so there’s no out-of-pocket expense.

There’s also other avenues to receive psychological therapies as well, including online and phone programs. These are designed for people at the mild to moderate end of the spectrum, and are often provided free of charge.

*You can find the list of the major online and phone treatment programs by visiting the Government website mindhealthconnect.org.

You don’t need therapy, just good sense

I wouldn’t say it’s either/or. A big part of therapy is what we call psycho-education, which means teaching people about their condition, its causes, the signs and symptoms, what works, and what they can do for themselves.

As part of this education, people are encouraged to take charge and ownership of what’s right for them. Some of this may include fairly simple lifestyle measures: adequate sleep; regular physical activity; diets that are healthy; getting out and doing fun, relaxing and enjoyable things. All of these things are in some ways, common sense.

But by the same token, therapy is a little bit more structured, and is based on certain scientific principals. Therapy is about what causes these particular conditions, what the psychological characteristics of those conditions are, and offers treatments based on what we know from science and research.

So both therapy and common sense are are important. But good mental health is not all common sense, sometimes it’s about learning stuff that you wouldn’t have been taught ever in your life from therapists have got the expertise, the knowledge, the understanding that can offer you something over and above what you may be able to come up with yourself with common sense.

myths about therapy 2

All you do is lie down on a couch and discuss your dreams

What that myth relates to is a very specific type of treatment called psychoanalysis. This therapy is useful for very complex mental health conditions, and yes, I think they still lie down on a couch and discuss their dreams, but that’s only one part of it.

But psychoanalysis is not mainstream, current, contemporary psychological treatment. The vast majority of therapy nowadays is two people sitting in a comfortable room having face-to-face interaction. The therapy may not even touch upon your past, or your dreams. Commonly therapy is very focused on the here and now.

People who go to therapy are weak

That’s a sad, unfair and common myth. It’s ridiculous. Depression, anxiety and mental health conditions are health conditions.

It’s no weaker to have depression than it is to have cancer of some sort.

Mental health conditions are health conditions and we know that there are effective treatments for them.

They’re not a sign of a character flaw, or something that is the person’s fault. They’re things that can happen to any of us due to certain biological or genetic predispositions, and experiences that we have throughout our life.

In the current day, anyone who experiences significant loss or stress is at risk of developing a depression or anxiety condition and that is not a sign of weakness. It’s just a sign of being human.

All therapists are the same

No. Therapists are individuals, they have different personalities and different therapeutic approaches.

A lot of therapists would use a particular type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy to treat depression and anxiety nowadays. But there are many other treatment types, a whole long list of them.

So you have to find the individual that you click with and the therapy that’s right for your condition. For example, the treatment of PTSD is different from the treatment of a fear of heights.

Find more information on how to pick a therapist here.

I should manage my own issues

Therapy teaches people strategies so they can manage their own issues. It’s getting that helping hand where you can get to that point where you can help yourself.

It’s like being told someone should be able to play guitar themselves without going to a music teacher. Yeah you could make a bit of a noise, some people may even get good, but most people are going to benefit from having some support, some guidance, a sounding board, and someone to teach them the necessary skills.

Psychologists are in a sense the personal trainers of the mind.

myths about therapy debunked

I don’t need therapy, just medication

Psychological therapies are very useful regardless of the severity of the condition. But when you do start to get into certain types of conditions, such as psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar, medications become a bit more necessary.

Even with more severe forms of depression and anxiety medications might be first line, although usually they should be within a package of other treatments that include psychological therapies.

Therapy will make you feel bad

Therapy can be difficult. You’re talking about some very sensitive, personal and complex issues, and sometimes when you leave the room you may feel a little bit worse. But it’s a journey.

Over time, it may be your 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th session, you’ll start to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and you will have some new skills to cope with whatever has been causing and driving your condition.

So there is a little bit of discomfort involved, but it is the whole ‘no pain, no gain’ thing. Ultimately, the therapist is there for support and to look after your welfare. They’re not there to make you worse, but to make you better.

Learning to deal with some of the ups and downs is part of the skill that therapists give you. Sometimes experiencing, and learning to experience sadness without becoming depressed, and worry without becoming anxious, is what they’re trying to teach you.

So that’s a tricky myth, because it’s a little bit true but ultimately the vast majority of people are going to feel better at the end of the day, but every now and then a session will cause them a bit of distress.

myths about therapy

Once you start therapy, you’re in it for life

Definitely not. You can see by the statistics that come through Medicare, that the vast majority of people will go to somewhere between 6 and 10 sessions and then that’s the end of it.

Some may top up the following year, or at some other stage in their life. But most therapy will be concluded in a couple of months.

Therapy takes up too much time, and I don’t have time for that

There is a commitment get to the session. You may have therapy once a week for an hour, or it may be once every couple of weeks for an hour. Yes, there is some time and effort in getting to that appointment, but that’s all it takes.

With online therapies, you can do them any time of day or night from the comfort of your own home.

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