By Jessica Douglass MSS, LSW, behavioral therapist, Crozer-Keystone Community Health Centers
Most people get an annual physical to make sure their body is well and to detect the early signs of illness, but how often do you get a mental health checkup? Mental health is an important aspect of your physical health that we often overlook or ignore.
Getting a mental health checkup with a behavioral therapist can help you detect early symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Getting help early can allow you to keep symptoms from spiraling out of your control. When you aren’t feeling like yourself or struggle to do things you once loved, behavioral therapy can help get you on your feet and can make it easier to live your life.
Many people avoid seeing a therapist because of common misconceptions about what therapy actually is or why people go to therapy. Here are some of the most common myths about therapy and the truth behind them.
Myth: “Only crazy people need therapy!”
Truth: Therapy can be useful even for people even without a serious or permanent diagnosis.
Some reasons for going to therapy include:
- Depression or anxiety symptoms
- Significant life changes such as marriage, divorce, relocation, getting older, starting college or births
- Occupational stress due to job loss or other issues in the workplace
- Marital/couple disagreements
- Family rules and boundary issues
- Grief related to death or loss
- Habits inhibiting health and happiness such as over or under eating, smoking or insomnia
Myth: “A therapist would just tell me what to do.”
Truth: Therapists listen to what you have to say. They will help you make changes in your life, but you are the ultimate decision maker with regard to what happens when you leave the therapy session.
Myth: “At therapy, I have to lie on a couch while the therapist analyzes my childhood.”
Truth: The couch is an image of therapy from popular culture. That is not how therapy always works. Sometimes it is useful to revisit issues from childhood, but often therapy focuses on current issues. In addition, you lead therapy, so if you’d rather not talk about your childhood, you don’t have to. Not to mention, most therapists’ offices have chairs!
Myth: “I don’t need therapy because I can talk to my friends.”
Truth: Support from friends is important, but it can’t replace therapy. Therapy sessions are all about you. There is no need to censor yourself or consider how something may sound. Relationships with friends require a give-and-take that can be difficult to manage when you are having a particularly hard time. Finally, therapy is completely confidential (with very few exceptions) so you will have the ability to work on yourself in a safe and secure environment.
Myth: “I’m on medication, so I don’t need therapy.” or “I don’t want to take medication, so I shouldn’t go to therapy.”
Truth: Studies show that medication is most effective when paired with behavioral therapy. Therapy can be an effective treatment even without taking medication. Mental health is not one-size-fits-all and a therapist can help you decide the most appropriate combination of medication and therapy to suit your life.
Myth: “Going to therapy means I’m weak.”
Truth: It takes great strength to ask for help. Would you call someone weak for going to a doctor or for going to classes to learn a skill? Therapy is part skill learning and part healing. Neither of those are signs of weakness.
Myth: “Going to therapy will automatically fix my problems.”
Truth: Therapy is a step in feeling better, but it is not an automatic or quick fix. The real lasting change comes from you. Like any big change, it will take work outside of therapy sessions. Your therapist will support you through your journey.
Myth: “I don’t have the time/money for therapy.”
Truth: A few hours each month is usually possible. Think about what other things you might spend an hour doing. Therapy is covered by insurance and there are even options for uninsured patients.
Give therapy a try! Setting aside time to focus on you is a great step towards healing. A therapist will listen to your concerns and set up a plan that works for you. There is no commitment—if you find therapy is not for you, you can stop at any time.