Do I really need therapy? Let’s clear up some misconceptions

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

With therapy services becoming more readily available in the country, the question that lingers in many minds is: Do I really need therapy?

Despite its availability, the stigma surrounding help-seeking has not been tackled entirely. As highlighted in the article published last week, statistics presented by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.

It appears that there are certain misconceptions that cement the stigma surrounding psychotherapy, preventing people from accessing mental healthcare resources when necessary.

Let’s first establish what psychotherapy is. Psychotherapy at its core is a form of talk therapy, where you discuss a variety of concerns pertaining to mental health. Most forms of psychotherapy are aimed at mediating in a way that the concerns that trouble a person can be eliminated or managed. This allows a person to function better. In addition, psychotherapy is also concerned with improving wellbeing, bringing about healing, and providing a space for someone to explore who they are, in order to be the best version of themselves. Psychotherapy may be provided on a one-to-one basis, to a family or in a group setup. It can be short term or long term, based on factors such as the modality of treatment; frequency, severity, and pervasiveness of a set of characteristic symptoms; attainment of goals of therapy; and availability of resources, among other factors.

So how is it any different from talking to your friends or family members, you may ask. For starters, psychotherapy is provided by a professional in the field accumulating years of training and experience. Therein lies a sense of accountability in providing the best possible service for the client in order to improve their wellbeing. To put it simply, you can be assured that they know what they are talking about. You also get space and time to talk freely and wonder out loud without fear of judgment.

Often enough, due to our hectic lifestyles, our friends, family members, and other members of our support system may not always be available to dedicate time to actively hear us out. Besides, everyone’s life experiences are unique, and sometimes unbeknownst to us, we may pass judgment when we can’t relate to something. For example, someone may wonder why you felt jittery and on edge and had to rush to the bathroom multiple times before your presentation in university. You might even be told to “get a grip”. When there is lessened understanding about the experiences of another person, we may resort to giving unhelpful advice, assuming we are helping.

Within the bounds of psychotherapy, you can be assured that you will not be judged for your experiences and that the professional will make every attempt possible to understand you deeply.

Having understood what psychotherapy is, let’s turn to three of the most common misconceptions surrounding psychotherapy that keep people from making use of these professional services.


Misconception #1: Therapy is only for people with mental disorders


There is a reason the people presenting in therapy are referred to as “clients” and not “patients”. The average client who seeks help is someone grappling with similar life situations as you and I, such as stress at university, striking a work-life balance, concerns about body image, lowered self-esteem, difficulties in adjusting, difficulties in coping with strong emotions, self-doubt, and the like.

Sure, when certain thought patterns and behavioural tendencies pass a threshold and bring about significant distress and impairments in daily functioning, they may be considered symptoms of a disorder; while these are addressed by psychotherapy too, psychotherapy is not limited to only addressing disorders.

It can be an effective tool that could help you manage everyday psychosocial concerns, as well as for self-discovery and self-improvement, even if you are currently not experiencing any stress. Hence, the bottom line is that psychotherapy is for everyone.


Misconception #2: A quick Google search will tell you what you need to do


With information about anything and everything being readily available at our fingertips, we often run the risk of self-diagnosis. While we may turn to Google for help with things like fixing a bulb or reading up on Lincoln, we must take great care when we refer to it for any health condition, let alone a mental health condition. There is a reason why even the professionals have to use screening and clinical assessment tools besides their own professional judgment to decipher what certain cognitive, emotional, and behavioural patterns represent.

For instance, you may falsely conclude that you have a psychological syndrome when the symptoms may be organic or relating to a medical condition. Given that you have self-diagnosed, you may also try to seek remedies online, which would leave you in harm’s way. When it comes to mental health conditions, it is better to not resort to quick fixes and “home remedies”, and instead trust a professional for guidance.


Misconception #3: Wait it out, the symptoms go away


It is also commonplace for people to “wait it out” when they are experiencing distress. We are so used to phrases such as “time will solve everything”, that even when experiencing emotional pain, we keep quiet hoping that time will remedy the condition. We suppress our emotions and try to muster all the energy we can in order to carry on with our lives as usual. In continuously doing this, we lower our thresholds of resilience and run out of energy. Much like the fizz that erupts upon opening the lid of a Coca Cola bottle, we humans too can experience fulminating emotional distress when certain situations leave us with a metaphorical “opened lid”. When it comes to health conditions, especially mental health conditions, early intervention proves to be very beneficial.