Deciding to see a psychologist is a positive step forward for your wellbeing and mental health, but it may take you a while to make that initial contact. That’s because there are so many popular myths about what a psychologist is like, how their sessions will work, and what you will get out of seeing a psychologist.
We’ve decided to bust some of the biggest myths about seeing a psychologist, and what it means to sign up for talking therapy.
You Have to Lie on a Couch
One of the biggest myths of seeing a psychologist and having psychotherapy centres around Sigmund Freud. Because Freud is often portrayed as conducting sessions from a chair, with his client laying on a chaise longue or couch facing away, this set-up has become the go-to representation of therapy in cartoons, comedy sketches and more; it’s a well-established TV trope. You can even visit the real-life couch, pictured above, in London.
Over the years at Christine Tizzard Psychology, we have had chairs and sofas in the room, but there is no suggestion you should lie back on a sofa and expect Freudian psychotherapy as you stare at the ceiling or close your eyes. Freud believed patients would be more open when led down and not making eye contact with their therapist, and his interest in hypnotism led him to use a hypnotist’s couch. Freudian psychoanalysis involves the patient doing most of the talking; this leads to prolonged silences if necessary, where patients fill the gaps and probe deeper into their own thoughts.
However, we believe in establishing face-to-face contact and building a trust-based relationship with clients, where dialogue is key. Some therapists around the world do still use a couch, but it’s much more common to sit down facing each other.
Only Stereotypically ‘Damaged’ People Have Psychotherapy
Television shows tend to use therapy scenes for characters who have experienced severe trauma, such as the death of someone close, or witnessing a crime or accident. Inpatient group therapy scenes tend to rely on the initial reluctance of a lead character to open up to the group, followed by their gradual disclosure of addiction or childhood trauma. This can lead to the false perception that you must have deep-seated trauma to justify attending therapy.
Alternatively, characters with marital issues are seen struggling through couples’ therapy in comedy shows, where their dysfunctional relationship or the behaviour of a bad therapist is the punchline. In reality, couples’ therapy is a constructive and smart step forward for people who want to improve their relationship.
You are much less likely to see a character talk about their anxiety, OCD or bipolar in a TV show if this condition doesn’t add to the on-screen drama. You won’t see everyday discussions about managing OCD triggers in the supermarket, or coping with anxiety during your commute, yet these outwardly simple scenarios can cause intense distress. Therapy helps you develop coping strategies and new techniques to face all kinds of challenging situations.
Getting Family Therapy Means You Have Failed as a Parent
Acknowledging you need family therapy is an important first step, but it takes guts – that’s because many mums or dads are worried they will be labelled ‘bad parents’, so they don’t come forward. In truth, a psychologist isn’t there to play the blame game.
Becoming a parent doesn’t require qualifications or a certain skillset, and nobody gives you a manual, though plenty of parenting gurus may have tried to make you pay for their wisdom. Whatever your background, income or personal situation, family issues can arise that need to be resolved with everyone’s input.
Family therapy is about finding the stumbling blocks in your relationships with each other, which you can’t always spot in your own family. Sessions don’t always involve the entire family, and the whole therapy programme is tailored to your individual needs. What’s important is that everyone has a voice and is willing to make or accept changes to improve family life.
If You Don’t Have a Rapport with Your Psychologist, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough
The relationship between a psychologist and their client is important, but it cannot be forced. Not all psychologists have the same way of working – they follow different types of psychological theory, for example, or may structure their sessions around tasks and games rather than a session-long rolling discussion.
Though psychotherapy is about the client, not the therapist, you will inevitably pick up on aspects of your psychologist’s personality: their dress sense, their turn of phrase, how chatty or matter-of-fact they are. There is no one-size-fits-all therapist, so you are perfectly entitled to move on if you don’t strike up a rapport.
It is crucial that you feel comfortable enough to share during your therapy, and the wrong therapist may leave you reluctant to open up. At Christine Tizzard Psychology, our therapists have a range of specialisms, so you can be assured there is a therapist for you with years of experience treating similar issues.
Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).
Image credit: Robert Huffstutter, via Flickr (flickr.com/photos/huffstutterrobertl).