In May we are celebrating National Mental Health Awareness Month and want to advocate on behalf of mental health treatment for all people and educate you on what to expect to reduce some of the fear of the unknown.
Therapy, also known as mental health counseling or psychotherapy, is the process by which a licensed professional helps clients improve functioning and eliminate or control symptoms of a range of mental illnesses or emotional difficulties. In the US, approximately 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and less than half receive treatment for their illness. Mental illnesses or disorders include a range of challenges involving mood, behavior, and thinking.
Today, we want to give you more realistic expectations about what therapy is and debunk some of the myths.
Common Therapy Myths
- Myth: Therapy is for “crazy people.” Therapy is a way to address, manage and reduce symptoms of mental illness but can also help anyone to explore, navigate and process life transitions and stressors in a healthy way. Going to therapy does not need to mean admitting defeat or weakness.
- Myth: Therapy is a miracle cure. Therapists are not miracle workers and it is not their job to “fix” you or your family member in treatment. In fact, it is not the job of the therapist to give advice but rather to help you to gain insight about yourself in order to make your own decisions and changes. A therapist’s role is to listen actively to your story and your struggles and to help guide you to make connections to patterns or behaviors and assess whether they are serving you well or not.
- Myth: Therapy is the same as talking to your best friend. Therapy is always performed by a licensed clinician, someone who has advanced training in mental health treatment. A therapist is unbiased and only knows about your life as you present it to them. The therapeutic relationship can be one of the most powerful tools for change as you process struggles, challenges and trauma with an empathetic, non-biased trained professional. At the same time, having a connection with your therapist does matter. It’s important to remember that not all therapists are the same and use different methods and techniques which may lead to a very different experience in the therapy room. It is important to find a therapist who is a good fit for your needs as well as someone who makes you feel comfortable and supported.
- Myth: Therapy is for life. The goal of every therapist is to work themselves out of a job, meaning that they have helped you build the skills, tools and insights needed to more effectively handle life stressors that come your way and manage your mental illness symptoms on your own. You are always welcome to come back in the future though!
What You Can Expect in Therapy
Therapy is a tool for empowerment. A therapist will help you to identify your goals for yourself and then help you determine how you will meet these goals. Therapy can help you to reduce symptoms, improve communication or social skills, process trauma, build coping skills and so much more.
Therapy is a way to gain insight on yourself– the way you think, the way you act and the way you speak to yourself– and help you to become more aware of the unhealthy patterns you tend towards so that you have the power to change them. Change cannot happen without awareness, and sometimes we are too deep into our own patterns to see them clearly for ourselves.
Therapy is a safe space. The therapy room should always be a safe place, a place where you can be honest about your feelings and feel comfortable being your full self without fear of judgment. It is a confidential environment and your privacy is even protected by law.
Therapy is a place where you can focus on yourself. Unlike most relationships, the therapeutic relationship is not reciprocal. It is not your role to care for the needs or concerns of the clinician. Although it can feel uncomfortable at first, it can feel freeing and validating to have a designated time where it is not considered selfish to focus on yourself and your growth.
Therapy is challenging at times. Oftentimes, things feel worse before they feel better. This is because therapy often allows you to peel back your defense mechanisms and address underlying hurt and pain. Although there are plenty of days when clients leave a session feeling good, it is normal to also feel more emotional or sad because of the emotional energy expended during your time. It is important to normalize the roller coaster of emotions that happen during the therapeutic process and to be honest about where you are with your therapist along the way.
What About Therapy for Kids?
Therapy is about building emotional vocabulary and understanding. Building social-emotional intelligence in kids is so important and therapy is one avenue for helping kids to articulate what they are feeling and what the consequences of those feelings are. Oftentimes naming a feeling can create a sense of control and can help kids learn how to handle that feeling through becoming aware of how their mind and bodies react and what options they have in how they respond.
Therapy is about skill building for all people, but especially for our kids. Based on the developmental stage and insight level, therapists are focused on helping give kids practical tools for how to deal with big emotions. This could look like social skills, communication skills, coping skills, and breathing techniques to help deal with things like stress, anxiety or depression.
Therapy is less about strictly dialogue and more about incorporating creative treatment approaches such as art, play and music. This allows kids to engage more freely on their level and for the therapist to meet the child where they are instead of expecting the child to try to engage on an adult level.
Is Therapy Worth It?
Therapy is worth the pain and the process if you are in a place where you are motivated to change. Therapy can allow you to feel less alone in situations that often leave us feeling isolated. Therapy can help to illuminate what’s not working and help you to build strategies and skills to break old patterns and make lasting change. While it can be intimidating to begin a relationship with someone and then share the hardest parts of life, it can also be a freeing and validating endeavor. There is nothing magical about therapy, but it can often remind you how truly resilient you are and how able you are to make changes to live a more fulfilling life.
If you’re ready to take the next step, please contact us at Milestones and we would love to connect you with a therapist that is the right fit for you and your needs.