Psychotherapy will be part of the equation for many people trying to overcome a substance use issue. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than half of people with substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health issue. [https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness] These commonly include anxiety disorders, major depression, ADHD, PTSD, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders. These are often the driving force behind addiction and therefore need to be addressed for recovery to last.
For people without co-occurring disorders, therapy can be a way to help deal with trauma and shame as well as learning strategies for regulating behavior. Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about psychotherapy and these may make some people reluctant to seek help. The following are some of the more common misconceptions about therapy.
This one seems like it should be outdated by now, but unfortunately, it’s not. There’s still a stigma attached to mental health issues. People don’t want to be seen as weak or unreliable, and they’re afraid that going to therapy is like admitting they aren’t in control of their lives. This is especially true of men, who are less likely than women to seek therapy. In reality, mental health problems, like physical health problems, are just something that happens. We all understand that having the flu isn’t a character flaw; it’s just your body’s way of fighting a virus. Seeking therapy for a mental health issue shows that you are willing to take responsibility for yourself, which is the opposite of weakness.
You often hear that going to therapy is just like paying someone to be your friend. Of course you’re going to feel better when, for perhaps the first time in your life, someone gives you their undivided attention for 50 minutes and seems interested in what you have to say. While that sense of validation is important, there’s more to therapy than just a gab session. A friend is not likely to bring years of psychological training and experience to bear on your conversations. A friend is not likely to have helped many people cope with similar problems or know how to help you overcome distorted thinking. What’s more, you don’t really want your therapist to be your friend. You want to get along and feel comfortable talking to them, but it’s also important to respect the therapeutic relationship.
A lot of what your therapist tells you may sound obvious after you hear it, but then you have to ask yourself, “If it’s so obvious, why didn’t I think of it myself?” As with any riddle, the solution is obvious once you know it. It’s often hardest to understand your own problems. We all have biases and blind spots, and even after we overcome those, we have defenses that prevent us from seeing the truth about ourselves. A therapist’s skill lies not only in understanding your problems, but also in helping you understand—and accept—your problems. And, of course, once you’ve reached that point, you have to know what you can do to solve your problems. Your therapist won’t do this for you or tell you what to do, but they will help you discover a solution.
A lot of people imagine that once they enter therapy, they’ll be in therapy for the rest of their lives. They may be thinking of the old stereotype of psychoanalysis, where you come in every day for years and talk about your childhood, your dreams, look at inkblots, and so on. While there are still practicing psychoanalysts, most therapists today have more of a cognitive-behavioral focus. Instead of going over your whole life in minute detail, you identify the problem you want to solve and you work on changing your thoughts and behaviors to help solve it. With this approach, people typically notice improvements in as little as a few weeks, but, of course, this varies considerably depending on your issues.
Therapy is too often seen as a luxury and it’s certainly true that mental health care is not as accessible as it should be. However, it may be more accessible than you think. Insurance often pays for therapy up to a certain amount each year and many therapists work on a sliding scale. Before you assume you can’t afford therapy, talk to a few therapists and see if they will work with you on the price.
A lot of people assume therapy is about placing blame, often on parents or a spouse. Understandably, this makes some parents and spouses resist their loved ones getting much needed treatment. However, therapy is not typically about placing blame but rather understanding dynamics. It’s true that dysfunctional relationships contribute to problems, but it’s also true that labeling one person as “the problem” doesn’t do much to improve the situation.
For a long time, there was this belief that mental health issues were all about chemical imbalances in the brain. That is probably true to some extent, but the idea that you can fix mental health issues with medication alone has been largely discredited. Medication may still be part of treatment, but these days, therapists are taking a much broader view of mental health that includes thinking, behavior, relationships, and healthy lifestyles.
Another common misconception about therapy is that by spending a lot of time talking about your problems, you’re only reinforcing them in your mind and embracing a narrative of victimization. While this might be true in some situations, it largely misunderstands how therapy works. It’s true that in the old psychoanalytic view, the client would talk and talk and when they finally uncovered the root of the problem, they would be cured. Today, therapy is typically more focused on specific problems and the thoughts and behaviors that might lead to a solution. So in a cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT session, you might describe a problem you’re having, but then your therapist may draw your attention to an underlying assumption that could be untrue. In this kind of approach, you are talking about your problems, but always in a way that challenges or reframes them.
It’s important to realize that most people’s objections to therapy are really just rationalizations for avoiding it. They are afraid of going for a variety of reasons, so they latch onto these rational-sounding excuses. It’s normal to be apprehensive about facing your demons. Therapy isn’t always easy, but it has improved a lot of lives. The only way to know if it will help you is to try it with an open mind. At Enlightened Solutions, we use evidence-based therapeutic techniques to help our clients overcome substance use issues. To learn more about our treatment programs, call us today at 833-801-LIVE or explore our website.
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