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What therapy is, and what it isn't.

As a mental health counselor, (notice how I said mental HEALTH not mental ILLNESS), I talk to a lot of people who have incorrect assumptions about the function of therapy and the types of people who seek it. Today, I would like to touch on this issue because I fear these misconceptions may prevent people from getting the support they need. To start, let's talk about what therapy ISN'T.


Therapy is not:

  • something to seek out ONLY in times of crisis: (suicidal thoughts, likelihood of divorce, after infidelity or a breach of trust, when a child is at risk of failing a grade, living life in the depths of addiction, in the aftermath of criminal charges or risky behavior, after an emotional breakdown that affects jobs, relationships and daily life, hearing and seeing scary things that other people can't hear or see, while in an abusive or neglectful relationship or years after an abuse, etc). While the previously mentioned instances are NECESSARY reasons to seek support, the most effective therapy is preventative, meaning, we go when we sense a small part of us that needs to be seen and tended to BEFORE our lives become unmanageable.

Therapy is not:

  • a sign of weakness. Let's get this out there: being human is difficult. Anyone who says differently is either lying to themselves, or has somehow been immune to the reality of suffering. Sometimes, conversations with those close to us, who have their own experiences, biases and opinions, could lead to further confusion about what's right for us. Sometimes, we are afraid to be vulnerable with those who depend on us and on whom we depend. If this is the case, a skilled and licensed professional can offer an objective view of the situation, give us room to safely express ourselves, educate us about the brain and body connection, and ask the right questions, guiding us to find the solutions to problems that are true to who we are deep inside. Educated authors, teachers, researchers or presenters are other mediums in which we can find guidance for ourselves, taking what we need and leaving the rest.

Therapy is not:

  • "woo-woo", only for "hippies" or white, rich women, nor is it some abstract idea that peace, love or medications solve all problems. Good therapy is based on the latest findings of extensive research in neurobiology, brain science, multi-cultural understanding, best practices, and tried-and-true methods PROVEN to eventually help individuals feel better.

Therapy is not:

  • an indicator that an individual is "mentally ill". Unfortunately, our society still stigmatizes people who struggle with being human as "sick", "crazy", "weak", or "broken." Anyone who has the courage to reach out for support is actually authentic, humbled, willing to learn and seeking a better life for themselves and others. Aren't these qualities that deserve to be encouraged and celebrated, rather than judged and labeled?

Therapy is not:

  • a trend or fad. Humans have sought mental wellness from ancient wisdom, village healers, scientific discovery, religion/spirituality and doctors for centuries. Today's mental health culture not only pulls from these old ways, but evolves alongside them.

Therapy is not:

  • always ridiculously expensive. There are many therapists who want to help and make counseling available: therapists who offer sessions based on income, those who accept Medicaid, those who charge your employer for services, and those who would love to steer you in the direction of affordable therapy in your area.

Therapy is not:

  • unnecessary. Slowly, the health and wellness authorities and communities are beginning to recognize that mental health is not only as important as physical health, but directly related. Our stress response affects every organ in our body, and many of us have plenty to be stressed about.

Therapy is not:

  • always negative. Some people seek therapy for support and celebration when aiming to reach goals they set for themselves.

Therapy is not:

  • for those who are completely in control. Difficulties dealing with intense feelings, communicating effectively, getting out of bed in the morning, being ourselves, grieving the loss of a job, an expectation or a loved one, unpleasant memories from our past and strengthening our relationships are not only very HUMAN concerns, but often are not our fault. The things out of our control in life are not what define us, but the ways in which we choose to live and respond to these things are our responsibility. In school, most of us are not taught how to identify our feelings, healthy coping skills, what's "normal" and what our boundaries and needs are, how to express ourselves and how to care for ourselves so we can care for others. Good therapists understand and hope to fill these gaps in knowledge, through their own therapy and self-care, as well as their commitment to lifelong learning in the field of mental health.

Lastly, therapy is not:

  • easy. It is not a place to rant, rave and vent without taking some personal accountability and agency in our own lives. While a therapist could become one of the most influential, nonjudgmental and supportive people in our lives, a quality counselor empowers us to start making choices that result in positive changes. In the process, difficult realizations, emotions, obstacles and decisions will appear, but all in the safety of a therapeutic space that gives you the freedom to move through the pain, toward healing. Sometimes things seem to get "worse" before they can get better, but the glimmer of hope is that things CAN get better.

Do you have your own positive or negative experiences with therapy and/or something to contribute to this list? I would love to hear from you.


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