When I tell people I’m a therapist I get a variety of reactions. Some people tell me they don’t know how I have the patience to listen to other’s problems, while some express uninformed and incorrect views about the profession. No, I don’t have a couch in my office and no I don’t just tell people to take deep breaths when they are angry. Mental health is one of the most misunderstood fields, which leads to many people living their daily lives with undiagnosed mental illnesses. Research shows that Black women are more likely to suffer from depression and Black men are at a greater risk for suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience mental illnesses than the rest of the population. With diagnoses like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder being so prevalent in the Black community, therapy can help more than it can hurt, but stigmas keep people from facing their issues. Here are five of the biggest misconceptions about psychotherapy.
People of color don’t go to therapy
When someone told me that therapy was a “white people thing” I was appalled and disappointed. As an African-American therapist who treats people of color predominately, not only was it an insensitive statement but an enlightening one. It helped me see how people of color shun the idea of seeking mental health treatment. People of color are very resilient and deal with adversity on their own terms, but there are benefits to having someone to speak to that is unbiased, non-judgmental, encouraging, keeps your business private and empowers you when you feel like giving up.
Therapists tell you how to run your life
One of the biggest myths about therapy is that the therapist is there to tell you what to do. Therapists help clients come to a conclusion about what they want to do or how they want to handle a situation. We can’t tell you what to do with your life. It’s all about intrinsic motivation, resolving ambivalence, raising awareness and putting things into perspective. We use our interventions to help you figure out what’s best for you. So frankly, the client is doing most of the work. The therapist is just the agent of change.
Therapists haven’t learned from experience, only books
Many clinicians have been through their own trials and tribulations, but for some reason many clients believe otherwise. I’ve been told that I probably come from a predominately white neighborhood or that my childhood was stress-free, which are assumptions that are totally wrong. My past issues are exactly what landed me in my position. My education gave me the scholarly foundation and credentials needed to access and treat the people that I can relate to.
Therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists are the same thing
Folks always get my credentials or my role confused. I’ve been called a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, everything except what I am. As a clinical social worker I do assessments, diagnoses and psychotherapy. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who does psychiatric evaluations to see if there is a need for medication. Psychologists can also do therapy, but they are qualified to administer certain tests and assessments that explore cognitive and intellectual abilities as well.
All you have to do is show up to your session every week
Just because a client is consistently coming every week doesn’t mean that change is automatically going to happen. The client has to be ready to open up and address any issues they have. They have to be ready to implement some change, otherwise there will be no progress. Sometimes clients feel like nothing has gotten better since attending therapy and are quick to point the finger at the clinician. Yet they rarely stop and ask themselves what have they done to help the therapeutic process besides showing up. The client has to be ready and willing to put some effort into changing things about themselves and their life.