There are still a number of common myths about counselling that either prevents people from seeking out counselling and psychotherapy, talking about therapy, or openly discussing when they are in the process of counselling.
As a psychotherapist in private practice and a mental health advocate, I feel counselling is still stigmatised, largely because it is misunderstood, misrepresented and highly undervalued.
In recent years there has been an increase in public awareness and an understanding of how important the role of therapy can play in overall mental health and wellbeing.
Yet, the myths around counselling and therapy are still prevalent. There are a lot of misconceptions from the media and other sources about counselling and what you can expect when going to see a therapist.
"Seeking help for mental health or wellbeing should be as normal as seeing a doctor when you have a broken leg"
There is still an air of mystery and uncertainty, which I see often when clients are coming to therapy for the very first time.
The more we all continue to talk about mental health and normalise the fact that we all have mental health, the easier it will be to access help and support when you need it, instead of thinking it is something to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. Seeking help for mental health or wellbeing should be as normal as seeing a doctor when you have a broken leg.
There are some common beliefs within a personal and professional capacity that I hear frequently, which prevents people from reaching out and accessing talking therapies, which research suggests can actually make the road to recovery more difficult when you delay in actively seeking help.
Here, I explore some of these ideas to dispel some of the common myths about counselling.
Talking about my problems just make it worse
This is far from the truth, in fact being able to talk to another person who is not emotionally invested in your situation allows an unbiased listening ear. This allows you to think and process in your own way without fear of judgement, or criticism.
Being able to truly hear yourself, perhaps for the first time can help you to gain clarity and develop more understanding about your self, your behaviours and how this might impact some of your closest relationships.
What many people are not aware of is that talking therapies i.e. counselling, is empirically researched and proven to help improve mental health and wellbeing.
Many people find that as a result of counselling, they are able to build in confidence and relieve some of the anxieties that have been troubling them, which have significantly impacted their lives and their relationships.
People find that they are able to improve their relationships, by having a better awareness of themselves and an improved ability to communicate in an effective way.
I’ve seen the movies: I have to lie on a couch with my back to the therapist. The therapist is a blank screen, so what’s the point?!
Years ago, psychoanalysis was the go to therapy, further cemented by an exaggerated portrayal within film and television. Psychoanalysis is still very much around, although this approach is more modernised these days.
I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find a psychotherapist who still works in this way. However, there are many years of development within counselling and psychotherapy and research has shown that the therapeutic relationship (i.e. the relationship between the client and the therapist) is an important factor for therapeutic change.
As such, a therapist becoming a blank screen is counterproductive and you might find this stance cold or unhelpful.
You should be able to have a comfortable rapport with your therapist who is able to engage with you, after all, you are likely to be revealing to them parts of yourself that you would consider to be personal and possibly intimate. It is the therapists’ job to facilitate this ethically and professionally but also be warm and essentially, human!
"It takes real courage and strength to be able to ask for help and actively seek support when you need to"
Counselling is for people who have mental health and I don’t have serious mental health problems
Firstly, we all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health. There is an unhelpful and unhealthy stigma attached to mental health which prevents people from seeking professional help. Much like a physical illness such as a broken limb, or even cancer, having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and should be treated with the same priority and empathy as a physical health issue.
Mental health does not discriminate and we are all affected by the loss of a job, the ending of a meaningful relationship, or a deterioration to our physical health.
These challenges are a natural yet difficult part of life, if you are finding something particularly difficult, you do not have to go through it alone.
Counselling is a sign of weakness
This is quite the opposite. Weakness could mean hiding from the problem, pretending that it doesn’t exist and developing unhelpful coping strategies to help relive your distress temporarily, leading to further ongoing health problems. Ignoring the problem, keeping it to yourself and self medicating can exacerbate the problem, leaving you feeling alone and isolated from those closest to you.
It takes real courage and strength to be able to ask for help and actively seek support when you need to. It shows tenacity and a willingness to change and improve things for the better.
Taking an active role in your overall wellbeing shows you are being responsible and accountable for your own health and wellbeing.
Why talk to a counsellor when I can talk to a friend?
Talking to a friend can be helpful, but more often than not, our well meaning friends come with biases about our circumstances and at times offer unhelpful advice.
Often friends will offer you advice from the their own perspectives and their own experiences.
This can come with comparing their own circumstances to yours with comments such as “I know what you mean, when this happened to me this is what I did and it really helped me” which you might find useful, but often I hear that it’s just not helpful and it really doesn’t feel good at all when a friend just really doesn’t understand the essence of what it is that you are trying to say.
Counselling provides a different non judgemental perspective where your decisions and beliefs will be valued. Counselling does not offer advice but may suggest alternatives, allowing you to make your decisions based on what is right for you.
A skilled counsellor will not only offer different perspectives but facilitate in you helping to know more about yourself, make connections between past situations and relationships, and understand how that might be influencing you in the here and now. This does not come with the assumption that you need to be fixed, which can really feel quite liberating to have a space that is essentially just for you and not just swapping stories.
Counselling is too expensive, I don’t have the luxury of talking to a professional about my mental health
Financial constraints can be a real deterrent to seeking help, but let’s reframe the negative perception of spending money on your wellbeing and identify why investing in your health is a necessary and worthwhile investment.
We spend money on countless things we don’t necessarily need, hair appointments, nail appointments, buying gadgets, luxury coffees, nights out, cigarettes, alcohol – the list goes on.
How much better could your life be if you were able to take just some of that capital and solely invest it in you, to your wellbeing, feeling better about yourself , improving your relationships or finding better ways to manage a mental health condition that you may have been struggling with for years.
Sometimes taking care of you means making yourself and your health a priority and being really honest and upfront about how you can make that happen.
There are counsellors who offer concessional rates for those on lower incomes, so it’s always worth just asking, most therapists are able to advise on low cost services within the area if that’s something you require.
Some people prefer the flexibility of private counselling, it allows you the freedom to choose a therapist who you feel comfortable with, you can choose the location and preferential times for therapy.
Alternatively, if you are in the UK you can contact your nearest Mind to see how they might be able to help.
My hope is to help to create awareness of the benefits and the need to access talking therapy when you need it, and to not allow the common myths about counselling to prevent those in need from accessing the extra support that they need.
Do not underestimate the importance of looking after your mental wellbeing as much you would look after your physical health, there is a real connection between body and mind, it’s very difficult to have one without the other.
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and my private practice New Frame Counselling & Psychotherapy is based in St Albans, Hertfordshire where I see individuals and couples. My specialist areas are working with relationships, anxiety and trauma. If you would like to get in touch and see how counselling can help you, please email me directly or call today to book a consultation.