My best friend and I are constantly playing phone tag. But there's one person who promises to have my undivided attention once a week, no matter what: Dr. R, my therapist. For the past 2.5 years, we have spent 55 minutes every Tuesday evening together, and for that, I'm grateful.
My adventures in therapy began during my sophomore year in college, when I walked into my campus mental health center after a close friend suffered a mental breakdown. We were so alike that I knew that if I didn't do something, my fate would be similar. Now, five years later, I consider that decision the best choice I've ever made.
Just as many of us indulge in weekly nail salon trips to keep up our appearance, therapy sessions are essential to my emotional upkeep. But once I started being open with family, friends and even acquaintances about going to therapy, I started to realize there are more than a few misconceptions out there about it.
Here are some of the dumbest things I've heard people say to me about therapy and the actual truths about what really happens behind the white noise machine.
1. "Therapists just agree with everything you say to make you feel better about your life."
Let me paint you a picture of a typical session between Dr. R and me:
Me: Do you think that [insert person who makes me insecure] was right? Am I really like that? Is that true?
Dr. R: [Stares back at me in silence for a few seconds]
Me: [Throws head back with frustration] I know you're not going to answer that.
Dr. R: [Smiles] Well, what do you think about it?
Me: [I begin to verbally walk through my reasoning and begin to form a clearer idea how I'm feeling]
Therapists act as a guide through the winding road of personal convictions. During our sessions, Dr. R will ask questions or make a statement that may redirect me to examine things from a different perspective, but will never give a yes-or-no answer. It's true, Dr. R has raised my self-esteem, but not by inflating my ego. Therapy has increased my self-worth by teaching me to trust myself by through the art of self-awareness.
2. "Your therapist must think I'm a horrible person because of all the things you say about me."
Don't flatter yourself. Everyone in my life, both past and present, has been brought up in a therapy session at some point over the past five years.
By reflecting on dynamics in my relationships, I've become a better daughter, friend, girlfriend, colleague, and overall person. Just because we have a squabble, that doesn't mean that you will be the emphasis of my next session. It's rare that one issue or person is the topic of an entire appointment. And if you are that self-conscious, consider scheduling your own appointment to explore that concern.
3. "Isn't therapy just talking about how terrible your childhood was and blaming your parents for everything wrong with your life?"
During the course of my adventures in therapy, I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my entire past, not just my childhood. However, since I'm only 25, a majority of my past is my formative years. I don't use the past to place blame on bad habits or poor choices made in the present. The exploration of my childhood serves as a tool in identifying explanations for my reactions to certain situations and patterns I've repeated in certain relationships. It's just one piece of a very complex puzzle.
4. "Do you lay on a long couch and cry?"
In all of my years in therapy, never once have I lied down. Sometimes, when I'm tired after a long day of work, I'll lean my head on the side of the comfy couch in Dr. R's dimly lit office, but that's about it. We sit a few feet apart from each other, usually me with an ice coffee in hand, and her with a cup of tea.
While tissues are always available, I barely use them. The times I have cried during therapy have always been the most unexpected. More often, I find myself cursing in therapy while rehashing a situation. And surprisingly, there is also plenty of laughter during our sessions, especially when Dr. R. repeats something I said and it sounds so outlandish I can't help but giggle. (Particularly when it involves cursing.)
5. "Why not talk to your friends and family instead of a stranger?"
A friendship is a two-way street, where there is a mutual sharing of struggles, triumphs and opinions. That can make being an objective listener difficult.
My relationship with Dr. R. is one-sided. I have only ever seen her in one setting, and the irony isn't lost on me that I know nothing about the woman I pour my heart out to each week. She doesn't share her own experiences, nor does she use her own struggles as a point of reference. I can freely share without worrying about offending her.
She is also a doctor who has spent years mastering the therapeutic process. If I needed physical medical treatment like an examination or surgery, I wouldn't go to my best friend just because she cares about me. The same reasoning applies to mental healthcare: the experts know best.
6. "But the fact that you're paying her means she has to pretend to care about you."
Although I do write Dr. R. a check each week, that doesn't take away from the fact that she cares about my well-being. When I share an accomplishment we've talked about, her enthusiasm is authentic, since she has traveled the road alongside me to get there. In the moments when my voice trembles while talking about an especially difficult emotion, her empathetic voice and support helps me work through my thoughts.
7. "Is therapy really worth it?"
Honestly, without therapy, I would not be living up to my potential. It is the reason I have been able to really evolve as a young adult. The process is anything but easy, and it has actually given me the tools to more effectively deal with life's ups and downs.
The bottom line? If you have a friend in therapy, don't be a jerk about it. Hold the jokes, snarky comments, and invasive questions. Take it as a compliment that they confided in you about something so personal. Therapy may not your cup of tea, but if it is making your loved one a healthier and happier person, give them kudos for their dedication to self-improvement. And if you've been on the fence about therapy but are unsure about making the plunge, just try it. It's not a lifetime commitment, but it can be a life-changing decision.