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Myths about therapy and therapists: Part 2 (Let's talk about therapists!)

A now close friend of mine once told me that she was terrified when we first met after learning that I make a living as a therapist. She expressed that she was worried I was judging her. This statement surprised and saddened me, not just for her or for our friendship, but because I realized that this sentiment is not unique: the idea that a therapist’s job is to judge.


This led me, compelled, to delve more into other misconceptions folks might have about therapists.


Therapists (at least good ones) should always have unconditional nonjudgement for their clients. Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean that we will always agree with every choice you make, but therapy isn’t about us or what we agree with or believe in. It’s about you and what’s best for you. And do you know who knows what that is? You guessed it: you.


On that note, let’s get into some common myths about therapists.


· Myth #1: They have it all figured out

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been told that I should be able to handle something really difficult because I’m a therapist. This applies to conflicts in relationships, setting boundaries, or just dealing with stress.


The reality is that life is hard, and while we may be able to objectively help others identify ways they can cope with difficulties or make changes, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to deal with some of those same struggles ourselves. The world is filled with hard things that are hard to deal with, and we don’t always get it right.


The reality is (and I’m sure there are some therapists who will back me on this), sometimes it makes things harder. I have found myself in plenty of situations which led to me telling myself, “you should know better”. Hello shame, my old friend.


Humans make mistakes. They struggle, mess up, learn from those screw ups, and try again. If we can’t recognize our own humanity or allow others to see it in us, what kind of lesson are we teaching about what it means to be human? And with that, how can we expect to see the humanity in others?


That leads me to my next point:


· Myth #2: They won’t understand my problems

It may be true that therapists go through years of schooling plus regular continuing education to stay up to date on skills and new techniques. But most of us aren’t just walking textbooks.

Not all, but many therapists chose their career path due to their own personal experiences.


Perhaps they’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, or some combination of both. They may have experienced something traumatic in their own lives, leading them drawn to help others who have been through similar experiences.


Many of us have done much of our own work to process and deal with these experiences, and have learned things that have been helpful. That may or may not mean that those same things will be helpful for others.


I often have clients who have had experiences or are currently in a situation I couldn’t fathom myself. What I can relate to is the experience of feeling hopeless, angry, mournful, etc (take your pick of any of the following emotions). In fact, I often attribute my ability to feel joyful and grateful in my life now to past experiences of hardship.


One of the key tenets of being a good therapist is being able to have empathy. That fact inherently negates this myth!


· Myth #3: All therapists are the same

If you close your eyes and think of what a therapist looks like to you, there’s a good chance that a person of a certain demographic comes to mind. This could be informed by media portrayal or otherwise of who a therapist is.


I myself had a stereotype of who a therapist is and what they look like before I went into the field (think oversized cardigans, chunky beaded necklaces, and large handmade mugs filled with steeping tea). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for those things. I’m just more of a leather jacket and iced coffee type of gal.


In the days leading up to my grad program, I bought clothes to hide my tattoos and changed my purple hair back to blonde. I thought I had to conform to look more “professional” to be taken seriously.


Backing up several years, I found myself doing reception work at a substance recovery center. Here, we had very strict appearance guidelines, including no facial piercings, only two piercings per ear, and no visible tattoos.


I noticed that this contrasted with the highly tattooed and pierced clientele. It occurred to me that in forcing us to look a certain way, this could create a divide. Wouldn’t it be nice, as a client, to see someone who looks more like them and can maybe even relate to some of their experience?


What I realize now is that therapy is all about building relationships, and not everybody is going to get along with or be able to relate to everybody else. And if we want our clients to express who they are in an authentic way, why shouldn’t we do that for ourselves?


There used to be a school of thought that therapists should be totally blank slates for clients to process and reflect their feelings back to them. More and more, therapists are letting their personalities show through their work, offering clients a chance to get to know them more personally, to model authenticity and self-acceptance, and to build therapeutic relationships.


Because of this, not every therapist is right for every person. I give every client I work with permission on day one to find someone else if my approach doesn’t work for them or if they just don’t like me. Do we like every person we meet with in the world? Most people don’t. So why would it be different with finding a therapist?


A therapeutic bond is crucial, it consists of an ability to trust, open up, and be vulnerable with another person. We should be discerning about who we are able to do that with, which is why finding a therapist who is the right fit for you is important.


To be clear: a therapist’s personality is by no means a full indication of their ability to help you. There are plenty of people who I like that I would never want to be my therapist. As I indicated before, we spend a lot of time educating ourselves on new skills and techniques to be able to do our work well. If you have concerns about whether someone’s approach is right for you, I would fully encourage you to discuss this with your therapist in order for them to be able to have an earnest discussion about what your needs are and what their recommendations are.


In conclusion, there are lots of myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes we place on the world of therapy and therapists. While there may be some truth to some of these ideas, it’s impossible to lump them all together as the inherent nature of working with and for humans is so complex.


If you have any thoughts or questions about any of the topics I’ve covered, I’d love to hear about it! Drop me a line in the comments or email me at info@rebecca-lesesne.com.

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