Psychotherapy

Eight Common Misconceptions About Psychotherapy

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.

“Going to therapy means you’re weak.”

This one seems like it should be outdated by now, but unfortunately, it’s not.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.

“Therapy is just paying someone to be your friend.”

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.

“Therapy is all just common sense.”

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.

“Therapy goes on forever.”

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 expensive.”

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.

“Therapy is all about placing blame.”

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.

“All you really need is medication.”

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.

“Talking about your problems only makes them worse.”

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.


Journaling as a Tool for Recovery

Writing for twenty minutes a day, for just three days, can change your life. Does it sound unbelievable? James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas conducted research specifically investigating the positive effect journaling could have on emotion. He found that across the subjects of his studies, there was a positive and effective aftermath. Half of his subjects were asked to write about experiences in their lives which held distinguished emotional meaning. The other half of his subjects were asked to write about everyday occurrences and observations.

For those who spent the 20 minutes of writing a day focusing on heavy emotional experiences, Pennebaker discovered definite improvements, including, but not limited to:

  • Less depression
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved relationships, memory, physical health, mental health

Undeniably, in each of Pennebaker’s studies, the practice of expressing emotional experiences through journaling proves to be deeply therapeutic. Writing helped in coping with stress, grief, fear, and depression. Additionally, overtime, people who regularly journaled change their language. More importantly, they change their thinking. Insight, understanding, and perspective begin to develop, demonstrated through phrases such as “I realize”, and “I understand now”.

Journaling as a Tool for Recovery

How does journaling lead to a greater sense of wellbeing and understanding in the world? Your average “dear diary”, as exemplified in Pennebaker’s studies, doesn’t exactly cut it. The human brain processes billions of intricate and detailed thoughts throughout the day. Emotion is one of the curious things about human beings, which we have a language to express. However, most modern culture suggests, in one way or another, against expressing emotion. From trauma to tragedy, accomplishment to happiness, there is general instruction not to feel too much- or at least let anyone know about it.

Mistakenly, emotions are thought to be passing experiences. While it is true that “this too shall pass”, the energy of each emotion we experience does not just go away. When we lose that baseball tournament at 7 years old and our father says “suck it up”, we don’t just “suck it up” and forget about it. We experience a colorful array of emotions that, until dealt with, stay with us a lifetime. Guilt, shame, disappointment, fear, loneliness- so much can be felt and it is completely unique to who we are as individuals.

Many of us drank and used drugs as way to simultaneously “let loose” to express ourselves, and shut down our persisting emotions. We wanted to feel everything by feeling nothing at all. When we get sober and start living a life of recovery free from drugs and alcohol, we are suddenly presented with all those feelings. Though we thought we had done away with them for good, we had only anesthetized them temporarily. Begging to be reconciled, every single emotional experience begins to surface. The fact of the matter is it has to go somewhere. If we are lucky enough to be in treatment, we have multiple therapy sessions a day to divulge. Still, at the end of the day, there may be more to process. Just 20 minutes of writing at the end of the day can help unload and make sense of all those emotions.

Journaling as a tool for recovery is an important and useful tool because it helps support emotional regulation. After years of consistent substance abuse, we have trained our brains to run at the first hint of uncomfortable feelings. Journaling is a way to make peace with the art of emotion, and possibly learn a thing or two from feeling them.

Enlightened Solutions has seen the incredible transformations which take place from the simple act of asking for help. If you are ready to change your life and ask for help overcoming your battle with drug addiction or alcoholism, call us today. 833-801-5483.