NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're "Weak"

In a prior blog article, Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time, I addressed one of the biggest misperceptions about therapy that has lingered for many years.  In my current article, I'll address another common myth, namely, that if a person goes to therapy, it means that he or she is a "weak" person.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak

In the United States, we live in a society where rugged individualism is admired and encouraged in many areas.  The idea of "picking yourself up by your bootstraps" is also admirable to many people.  And while there is much to admire about people who overcome adversity, it's also true that if any of us is put through enough stress, we will need help and emotional support to get through it.

For people who seek psychological help in therapy, it's not a sign of weakness--rather, it's a sign of strength and courage to seek help, especially when we live in a culture that often doesn't encourage reaching out for psychological help.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates what I'm talking about:

John grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other and family friendships often went back generations.

His family struggled financially, especially when his father lost his job.  And, even though the family was entitled to public assistance to help them through the tough financial times, his parents adamantly refused to apply for it.  His father said he didn't believe in it, and he felt that each family should make their own way rather than relying on, from his perspective, "handouts."

During the lean times, John and his sister, Betty, knew better than to complain.  They watched their parents maintain a stoic attitude and they took their cue from them.

His parents never talked about their feelings, and John saw little in the way of affection between them.  So, John learned to keep his feelings to himself and he never wanted to "bother" anyone with his problems.  Even as a young child, who felt lonely much of the time because his parents wouldn't allow friends to come over, John didn't complain.

Whenever John's father heard anyone talking about feeling sad or anxious, he would just shake his head and say that, personally, he didn't have time to think about how sad or anxious he might feel, and he considered "complaining" about it to be a luxury.

Years later, after John graduated college and moved out to NYC to settle into a career, he felt guilty and self indulgent whenever he realized that he felt sad, lonely or anxious.  Instead of focusing on his emotions, he just worked harder and tried to forget about his feelings.

But when he began developing physical problems, including back pain, headaches and gastrointestinal problems and he went to see his medical doctor, his doctor told him that he couldn't find a medical cause for John's physical problems, and he recommended that John see a psychotherapist.

John was shocked to hear his doctor tell him that there were probably underlying psychological issues  involved with his medical problems.  So then, his doctor explained the mind-body connection to John to help John understand that his body was taking the toll for his unexamined and unresolved emotional problems.

No one in John's family would ever think of seeing a psychotherapist, so he felt ashamed and "weak" for not being able to handle his problems on his own, especially as a man.  He shuttered to think what his parents, especially his father, would think if they knew that he set up a consultation with a psychotherapist.  He knew, even if they didn't say it out loud, that they would think he was "weak."

Over time, John learned in therapy how hard he was being on himself and that his rigid views about what people "should" and "shouldn't" do were getting in his way and creating more problems for himself.  He also discovered that an experienced psychotherapist could help him to access his own strengths in ways that he couldn't do on his own.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak
It took a while before John was able to feel that it actually takes courage to get help in therapy.  As he worked through his emotional problems, his medical symptoms were alleviated and he realized that his unresolved emotional issues had turned into medical problems because he wasn't dealing with them in the past.  But now that he was dealing with them directly, he also no longer felt sad or anxious, and he didn't feel lonely because he was learning new and effective ways to relate to people, so he was making friends.

Distorted Perceptions About Being "Weak" Are Often Deeply Ingrained
One of the reason why a myth like "going to therapy means you're weak" lingers is that it is a distorted perception that remains ingrained in the minds of many people.  Unfortunately, it also makes it difficult for people who need help to ask for help (see my article: Tips on Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help ).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you recognize yourself in the vignette above, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you work through your problems and lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me:
I'm a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with adult individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

See my article:  Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time