I believe that there are several key misperceptions about therapy that can interfere with the success of therapy, and that can prevent people who could benefit from therapy from getting necessary help. These misperceptions are based upon conversations and observations I’ve had with both clients and those outside of the therapy session. Perhaps if these misperceptions are made known and addressed, the above unfortunate situations could be avoided. That is why I’ve listed below my “therapy wishes,” in an attempt to dispel these “therapy misperceptions.”
Therapy Wish #1:
My first wish is that every person would know that therapy is not for “crazy” people. When clients bring up this concern to me in session, I address it by saying that “crazy” is a black-and-white, or all-or-nothing term, that simply doesn’t apply to them. The truth is, our thoughts and behaviors fall along a spectrum from rational to irrational, and we are all somewhere in between these two extremes. Some may struggle to be more rational in their thought processes and behavioral responses compared to others, but that certainly does not mean that they are “crazy.” Furthermore, simply the fact that someone decides to seek help in therapy is a sign that they are aware of their need for help, and have sought out means to get that help. This is certainly not a sign that they are “crazy;” this is very much rational problem-solving. I would argue that the person who falls more along the irrational end of the spectrum, is the one who really needs the help of counseling, but refuses to seek it out.
Therapy Wish #2:
My second wish is that every person would know that they will only make changes in therapy if they are the ones willing to put the work into making those changes themselves. I have too often encountered clients who think that they will be able to make changes in their lives if I can give them just the right advice, skills, or insights. The truth is, no amount of therapeutic wisdom is going to change someone. A person first needs to see their need to change, and then they need to find what will motivate them to make those necessary changes. Only then can they apply therapeutic skills and wisdom. A great deal of frustration regarding therapy progress could be eliminated if clients understood that they, not the therapist, were the ones responsible to make changes.
Therapy Wish #3:
My third wish is that every person would know that therapy is not some deep, mystical journey into the unknown of people’s psyche. I think that such a misperception has sometimes been propagated by early descriptions of therapy or more humorous depictions of therapy in the media. The truth is, the cognitive-behavioral therapy that I practice is very practical. Its focus is to help clients to identify their irrational thoughts, replace these with more rational ones, and find more adaptive behaviors to replace the unhelpful behavior patterns in their lives. This is very much of a problem-solving approach, with the client and therapist working side-by-side to find solutions to the clients’ problems. It also allows clients to have very practical material to work with outside of sessions. And while insight is not ignored, it is not seen as an end in itself. Insight is helpful when it leads to changes in thought and behavior patterns, that eventually lead to a decrease in emotional symptoms.
This all said, I understand that “therapy misperceptions” are not always dispelled simply by rational argument. Many times, people need to challenge these misperceptions by committing to the therapy process themselves, and proving them to be untrue by their positive experiences in therapy. Certainly there will also be those out there who will choose to hold onto their views of therapy, no matter how inaccurate they may be. At the same time, if these “therapy wishes” can help some make more positive life changes in therapy, and make therapy more attractive to those who need it, it is certainly worthwhile to continue to wish away.