10 Therapy Myths Debunked (And the Mostly Wonderful Truth)
More people are recognizing that therapy can benefit just about anyone who gets it. But we haven’t completely embraced it yet. We’re still wary of what it means to get therapy.
Our understanding of what therapy is, how it works, and who it’s for is still shrouded in myth.
Many people resist therapy because of what they fear it means is true about them if they go. Some fear that it will be too painful and difficult to bear, while others wave it off as too easy or simple to be of any use. Yet others fear it will change them in ways they don’t want to change.
If you’ve hesitated to seek therapy for any of these reasons, this article is for you. Read on to learn more about the reality behind some of the most common therapy myths.
On This Page
- Myth #1: "Going to therapy means that I'm weak."
- Myth #2: "Going to therapy means something is wrong with me."
- Myth #3: "Therapy takes too much time and costs too much money."
- Myth #4: "Talking about my problems won't really change anything."
- Myth #5: "Talking to a therapist is the same as talking to a friend."
- Myth #6: "We're just going to talk about my childhood the whole time."
- Myth #7: "I'll lose myself, my passion, or my creative ability if I go to therapy."
- Myth #8: "Being honest with my therapist will get me in trouble."
- Myth #9: "Therapy is easy. All I have to do for therapy to work is show up for my sessions."
- Myth #10: "Therapy is hard. It will be so stressful that it will break me down."
"Going to therapy means that I'm weak."
If you’ve delayed starting therapy hoping that you’ll get better on your own, you’re not alone. It can seem like it’s what everyone—friends, family, society—thinks you should do. Bootstraps and all that.
If you can’t, it’s easy to believe that you’re the exception. Everyone else can tough it out and get their lives together without having to go cry about their problems in therapy, so why can’t you? It must be because you’re weaker than everyone else.
This is the myth-iest of all therapy myths. It isn’t true from any angle. First, most people don’t have their lives together—they just make sure they look like they do on social media.
Second, people don’t work through deep emotional challenges by shoving aside their emotions and “toughing it out.” This is a form of denial and repression that preserves conflicted feelings in amber.
Going to therapy is an act of strength. It takes courage to face yourself and your struggles and talk to another person about them. It means you’re willing to invest your time and energy into truly resolving your problems. It means you’re willing to bravely face whatever challenges you’ll meet along the way, like the hero in the hero’s journey.
Good therapy helps you become stronger. In therapy, you’ll get to know who you really are and what really matters to you. You’ll get more comfortable with yourself and your feelings so you don’t have to waste so much energy and strength avoiding them. You’ll release old hurts and faulty beliefs that chip away at your sense of confidence and self-worth.
Therapy is for strong people and it makes you stronger.
This isn’t just a nice thing therapists say to make you feel better. You’ll know it if you’ve been there (even if you haven’t gone to therapy): facing hard truths and revisiting painful memories to try to figure out what’s holding you back requires inner fortitude.
Therapy is like a workout for your emotions: the more you do it, the more easily you can manage them, and the less likely you are to have the temper tantrums or meltdowns that make you feel or look weak.
"Going to therapy means something is wrong with me."
You don’t have to have a mental health condition to go to therapy, and if you do, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you—at least not in the way you might be thinking.
In addition to treating mental health conditions, therapists also help people work through relationship problems, navigate career transitions, and address personal growth goals that don’t have anything to do with a diagnosis or disorder.
But even if you do meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a mental health condition, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you in the sense that you are “flawed” relative to others and need to be “fixed.”
Our understanding of the mind is still quite small. We honestly don’t know what “normal” is. That said, if “normal” even exists, feeling lots of complicated feelings and struggling through life in an imperfect world are certainly part of it.
We’re all a little weird behind closed doors and we all accumulate various unhealthy coping strategies by the time we reach adulthood. Wanting to heal your wounds and improve your life means there is less wrong with you than with people who don’t want to deal.
"Therapy takes too much time and costs too much money."
Have you thought about going to therapy, then worried, “But I’ll have to be in therapy forever?” With therapy rates ranging to $200 an hour or more, calculating how much you’ll end up spending on years of therapy can be nerve-wracking. It can make therapy seem like something that isn’t meant for you.
Fortunately, that’s not the case. Therapy doesn’t have to be so prolonged or expensive. There are a lot of inexpensive options you may not be aware of that you can find out about by surfing the articles and listings on our site, including university counseling departments, integrated health clinics, local mental health non-profits, and the public mental health system.
You Can Negotiate Therapy Rates
Also keep in mind that therapists charge variable rates. Many therapists offer sliding-scale rates and some even offer pro bono sessions. They may not advertise that on their profiles but you can always ask when you call.
Many times, it’s possible to negotiate rates with a therapist. I’ve personally gotten discounts based on my income both times I’ve done therapy. Our sponsor, BetterHelp, offers income-based discounts that take 10 to 40 percent off their base rate.
As far as how long therapy takes, that is absolutely and always up to you. It depends on what you want to get out of it.
How long it will take to achieve your therapy goals depends on what your therapy goals are. If you’ve got a very specific, circumstantial problem, you might be able to address it in just a few weeks. If you want to untangle complex trauma, it will probably take longer. But you always have the freedom to pause or take a break from therapy as needed to honor your financial and other needs.
It’s actually helpful to the process to take a break from therapy here and there if you’re working through longer-term issues. Pauses can help you integrate and apply the work you’ve already done.
Once you’ve made progress in therapy, it’s something no one can take away from you. It’s an incredible investment in your future even if you don’t finish the work all at once.
"Talking about my problems won't really change anything."
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Talk is cheap.” This unfortunate saying is based on a partial truth.
It’s true that people often find it easier to talk about problems than to take specific steps to address them, and it’s also true that talk doesn’t always lead to action. But it’s equally true that you have to talk about something before you can take effective action to address it.
On the simplest level, the talking you do in therapy helps you develop insights that you can turn into actions. For example, you need to realize that you don’t have good boundaries with certain people before you can start to work on improving those boundaries. You need to understand that your perspective is a depressed perspective before you can start to question it.
It’s also easier to notice that certain thoughts are irrational when you talk about them with someone else. One thing that happens in therapy sessions is that you start to listen to and hear yourself in ways you never could before. This can help you have insights, shift your perspective, and figure out what you need to do even if your therapist doesn’t give you any advice.
It’s not just a trick that talking can make you feel lighter. It’s the only way to start the process of change and the only way to heal your relationship with yourself.
"Talking to a therapist is the same as talking to a friend."
So, you might think, if talking is so helpful, why pay a therapist when I could just talk to a friend?
Well, while it’s true that talking to friends can be helpful and healing, it’s definitely not the same as talking to a therapist.
Therapy is not simply venting, chatting, or getting advice. It is a unique process that can only happen if you’re with someone who’s been trained to provide it.
One thing that distinguishes a therapist from a friend is therapists intentionally limit how much they talk about themselves. Their focus is on you and helping you through a process of self-examination, catharsis, and insight.
By keeping the focus on you, a therapist can help you go deeper than a friend can.
A good therapist is also more neutral and less reactive than a friend. Even well-intentioned friends can sometimes make you feel worse when you tell them something that they don’t understand or that they find threatening. A therapist helps you open up by creating a safe space where you can share your thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged.
Unlike a friend, a good therapist doesn’t just give you advice based on their beliefs. In therapy, you are the expert on your own life, not your therapist.
Think of your therapist as a guide with a torch to light the way through your inner world as you navigate it together, not a guru who has all the answers.
Think of your therapist as the wizard or sage who tells the hero the things they don’t want to hear and helps them look at the things they don’t want to see. They’re a wise advisor who challenges you to grow, not a friend who just tries to cheer you up or tell you what they think will make you feel better.
"We're just going to talk about my childhood the whole time."
It’s true that reflecting on childhood experiences can be a source of powerful insights in therapy.
So many of the hurtful or limiting things you believe about yourself, your relationships, and life in general are rooted in what you learned as a child.
In therapy, you can finally examine and challenge these assumptions and free yourself to think and live differently as an adult.
You Don't Always Have to Talk About the Past in Therapy
That said, there is a lot of therapeutic work you can do that doesn’t require delving into your childhood at all.
Not only do many modern therapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) require no information about your childhood experiences to work, it’s not necessary for you to talk about your childhood to treat many mental health conditions or achieve many therapeutic goals.
If you’re getting CBT for depression, you’ll need to examine and modify old beliefs in order to address your symptoms, but you won’t need to pinpoint exactly where those beliefs came from. And if you’re trying to recover from a recent trauma, you’ll focus more on that event in your sessions than on your early life.
Keep an open mind, though. You might start working on an issue that doesn’t seem to relate to your childhood experiences—like a communication issue in your relationship with your partner—only to find that it does, and that the only way to resolve the issue is to clarify and release the beliefs your parents passed on to you.
You might be surprised how light and liberating these moments in therapy can be, and how rarely you need to dwell on them.
"I'll lose myself, my passion, or my creative ability if I go to therapy."
For as long as we’ve misunderstood mental health, we’ve misunderstood the creative process, too.
In the past, at the same time people shunned and stigmatized people with mental health conditions, they also glorified creative masterminds who experienced depression and mania as needing their “madness” to make their art. To create works of genius, artists must suffer, they believed.
If you go to therapy and start to work out your issues, will you be less yourself than you were before? Will you be less creative, less driven, less interesting? Will you feel less passion? Will your adventurous spirit fade and become more conventional? Will you put down your paints, your guitar, or your pen, start working as a clerk, and forget all the artistic dreams and visions you once had?
The answer is an emphatic no. In fact, therapy should have the opposite effect: it should make it easier to be you, fully and authentically, without fear and without apology.
If anything, you’re more likely to take that trip around the world, start that YouTube channel, or write that novel when you’ve addressed the psychological issues that have been holding you back. It’s so much easier to create when you have a clear mind and feel safe enough to play and express who you really are.
"Being honest with my therapist will get me in trouble."
It’s easy to turn a therapist into an authority figure. One of the classic principles of therapy is transference, in which you project feelings related to your parents onto your therapist.
This means that if you feel anxious around your parents, you’ll probably feel similar anxieties with your therapist. It also means you’ll expect your therapist to think about you and react to you the same way your parents did. If you grew up with a parent who judged and punished you harshly, you’re likely to expect your therapist to be the same way.
The truth is, the last thing most therapists want to do is judge, hurt, or hinder you. (Read our article on how to spot unethical therapists for tips on how to avoid the few bad apples who do.)
One common trait that draws therapists to the field is empathy—they are sensitive to others’ emotions and feel good when they help others feel better. The best therapists take pride in being open-minded, appreciate the diversity of human experience, and genuinely find their clients interesting.
Therapists believe the only way to heal is to talk about what happened, so their natural reaction is not to want to get you in trouble for it. Therapists are also bound to strict confidentiality requirements. They can lose their licenses if they talk about clients outside of the office.
There are exceptions: if you tell your therapist that you actively want to harm yourself or someone else or that you are abusing a child, they have to report it.
For More Information
For more information about exceptions to confidentiality and the few rare times when telling your therapist something could get you in trouble, you can read our article, “Should I Tell My Therapist Everything?”
But even though therapists have a professional duty to disclose a few things you might tell them (they can seek to have you admitted involuntarily to emergency inpatient treatment if you’re planning to harm yourself or others and will report child abuse to child protective agencies), they’re required to limit even these allowable disclosures to when they think a risk is serious and active.
They don’t want or need to report or have you punished for your past “sins”—they want to help you heal and find peace.
"Therapy is easy. All I have to do for therapy to work is show up for my sessions."
You can’t simply pay your therapist, lean back, and let them do all the work. Therapists aren’t like mechanics, who work on your car while you sit in the waiting room, or surgeons, who work on you while you’re under anesthesia.
Being an active participant in the therapeutic process means doing the work both inside and outside of the therapy room.
Your sessions will be a lot more powerful if you’re open, honest, and ask deep questions. Therapy is also more effective if you identify and track your goals and discuss your progress with your therapist.
It’s just as important to do your homework in therapy. Sometimes, that means doing actual assignments your therapist gives you, such as tracking your moods, creating a healthy reward system for positive change, or trying different communication techniques in your relationships.
Sometimes, it means doing homework even when it isn’t assigned, such as keeping a journal on therapy-related topics or applying therapeutic insights to everyday life.
For more tips on how to get more out of therapy, read our article, “88 Tips for How to Get the Most Out of Online Therapy” (most of our tips also apply to traditional offline therapy).
"Therapy is hard. It will be so stressful that it will break me down."
You might fear that therapy is like Pandora’s box—once you open the lid on your psyche, all sorts of fearsome creatures will leap out, overwhelming your defenses and leaving you helpless.
Will you start bursting into tears at work? Will you lie in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep as a flood of traumatic memories surges through your brain? Will you have to endure intense emotional pain every time you’re in session?
The simple answer is no. While therapy isn’t effortless, and while there are times it’s hard, it’s not a constant struggle, either.
Your therapist will probably become easier to talk to than anyone else you know. You might be surprised by how much you’ll laugh in your sessions. And when you do cry in therapy, it’s just as, if not more likely to be out of relief or catharsis than pain or sadness.
A lot of the things that therapy gets you to do are only difficult because you’re not used to doing them. Your habitual way of being in the world is what’s uncomfortable.
As you do your homework, adjust your boundaries, and give yourself permission to seek joy, life will start to feel easier and less hostile. It’s only hard at first because you have to face the fears and beliefs that limit you. But even the growing pains don’t have to be too painful—releasing what’s been holding you down is liberating. The only things therapy breaks down are the walls you’ve built.
Therapy is fueled by the tension between hope and fear. The hope that you can heal and live a more fulfilled life is what drives you to face and work through your fears.
Your therapist is a caring guide who will encourage, reassure, and challenge you as you work through what has been holding you back.
Neither difficult nor easy, therapy is a gently challenging confrontation with yourself that can reconnect you to a more natural way of being in the world.
It’s as normal and natural to see a therapist to help you heal and grow as it is to go to a doctor to address physical conditions or to go back to school so you can start a new career.
Therapy doesn’t limit or diminish you. Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you’re weak, defective, or “messed up.” It simply means that you’re ready to change your life for the better.
Therapy can help you do so many amazing things. It can help you in ways nothing else can. So, if you’re ready, reach out. The first step in changing your life could be just a call or click away.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.