In my experience, one of the greatest obstructions to healing is having unrealistic and unfair expectations of what a therapist does and what one can get from psychotherapy. These unreal beliefs lead to frustration, anger, and not following through with treatment.
In this piece, we shall take a long and hard look at these beliefs, what the truth is, and how to avoid falling into the trap of believing unrealistic things about your therapist and the therapy process.
The Top Three Unrealistic Beliefs About Therapists
While there are as many false beliefs about therapists as there are clients who see them, we are going to concentrate on only three.
On top of the list is the conviction that a therapist will tell you all you need to know to get well and will have a list of things for you to do so you can do them and check off each step as you go until one magic day you wake up cured.
This thought process is untrue because it is not the responsibility of the therapist to tell you how to live your life. Yes, they receive training to be a kind of seeing-eye-dog, leading you to heal but no, they will not tell you what to do. If they told you what to do, they would be telling you to live their own lives instead of helping you find your own.
So, don’t expect to walk into a therapist’s office and have them tell you, like a guru, the ten steps to your happiness because they won’t.
Second on the list and perhaps most important of the three is the skewed belief that a therapist should always be available. This belief is inappropriate and impossible. Therapists have families, become ill, and experience personal losses just like anyone else.
Therapists also MUST take vacations and personal days. They sit for many hours a week listening to their client’s traumatic and sometimes horrifying life stories. How would you feel if you did that? Wouldn’t you burn out after months of doing so?
If therapists don’t take care of themselves, they are no good to you or the rest of their clients.
The third and most widely held unconscious belief about therapists is that therapists should not show emotion. What an impossible and hurtful belief to have about therapists who are human beings and are certainly moved by the stories they endure hearing hours per month.
It is vital to keep in mind that therapists are highly trained human beings, no more and no less. One shouldn’t put their therapist on a pedestal, but also one shouldn’t think of a therapist as a paragon of strength who should not show their emotions.
The Top Three Unrealistic Beliefs About Psychotherapy
As we did with unrealistic beliefs about therapists, room and time will not allow discussion on more than three on our list.
The first unrealistic conviction about psychotherapy is that it is only for weak individuals who cannot face their flaws and problems.
I will state unequivocally here that this is a huge fallacy. People who enter psychotherapy and remain there are some of the strongest and most courageous people on the planet. Why? Because psychotherapy is an extremely painful process.
The whole point of psychotherapy is to take a long and hard look at oneself while talking to a total stranger about it. To take apart your defense mechanisms and find different ways to behave or to act is harsh, so harsh in fact that many who begin the process never finish it.
However, if you want to find out who you are, what you want from life, and learn to be truthful with yourself and others, enter psychotherapy, I dare you.
The second unrealistic belief about psychotherapy is that it will last for years. While this may be true that some mental health issues take years to overcome, most take only a few weeks or months. There is no scheme to keep people in therapy as the goal is to get people back on their feet and functioning. In other words, the whole reason for psychotherapy is to end it as soon as possible.
The third thought on psychotherapy is that only people who are insane to go it. This is completely false. People enter therapy for a variety of reasons including weight loss, smoking cessation, and to work out other non-mentally ill problems.
Ways to Avoid the Trap of False Beliefs about Psychotherapists and Therapy
Clearly, there are many things people believe about therapy and therapists that simply are not true. Avoiding those beliefs is not easy because pop-culture paints those who sit in a therapist’s office as “crazy”, “lazy”, or worse.
However, there are ways to avoid falling into the trap of the false beliefs I’ve mentioned above.
For one, ask questions. If you feel you need to see a therapist, call around to different friends or acquaintances and ask them what therapy is like. Inquire of your primary care physician asking them about the therapy process and if they have any recommendations.
You might also consider alternatives other than traditional therapists and therapies. Often churches offer some counseling through specially trained Pastors. Also, there is a myriad of different types of psychotherapeutic methods such as EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy, or drama therapy.
Carefully consider what it is you need from a therapist and therapy and why you are going. Were you a victim of childhood abuse and want to reconcile your problems relating to forming healthy partnerships? Or, are you interested in ending a habit? These two needs are different and require different approaches.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, there are two things to remember when it comes to therapists and psychotherapy.
One, therapists are humans first and will not give you the answers. It is up to you to find your own way and they are fragile humans just like you who deserve your respecting their boundaries.
Two, psychotherapy can be a really challenging experience where you find out who you truly are by using a therapist as a type of mirror and sounding board. If you don’t find a good fit with the therapist or don’t like the type of psychotherapy that’s offered, then move on and find someone else. It’s really that simple.
“In my early professional years, I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” ~ Carl R. Rogers
“To truly “show up” means making room for labeling your thoughts and emotions and seeing them for what they are: information rather than facts or directives. This is what allows us to step out to create distance from and gain perspective on our mental processes, which then defangs their power over us.” ~ Susan David