Psychotherapy Myths Busted

"It's not me... it's you."

(Times Online) Here’s a couple of myths corrected… Click here to see the full list.

1. It’s all your parents’ fault

It’s a bit simplistic to say this, but there is something in it. I believe that we learn to communicate with others through our relationship with our first carer and if that carer was unresponsive, abusive, inconsistent or depressed it is likely that there will be psychological problems to overcome later in life. When a parent consistently fails in understanding or gives up trying, his or her child will have to adapt and compensate for that. Sometimes these modifications can end up forming the child’s world-views, which will not serve them well later in life.

But apportioning blame isn’t particularly useful: most parents do their best, even if they made serious mistakes or found themselves in a dangerous environment when rearing their children. If you are having problems communicating with others, therapy can be useful in making you more aware and reflective about your responses so that you have more choice about how to be. Therapy can be about raising consciousness and, to do that competently, understanding our personal histories helps.

2. Talking about yourself is self-indulgent

It may be self-indulgent to talk about ourselves. However it is not self-indulgent to seek to understand oneself; there is a difference.

If we react rather than reflect we are often susceptible to projection and transference. Projection happens when, instead of having pure contact with another, we project a part of ourselves on to the other person and relate to these own projected parts. Transference occurs when we make subconscious assumptions about the person before us based on our experience of people we have known in the past. Of course, we are all going to use experience to colour our expectations of new meetings a little, but the danger comes when this makes us less flexible and our preconceptions become baggage that is likely to weigh us down.

If we can become more aware of these projections we are less likely to project our “shadow side” on to others. It is very common to see ourselves as good and the other as bad, and when we do this we are often projecting our own bad side on to the other. Psychotherapy helps you to own the insecurities, fears and aggressive drives that hold you back.

3. In the end, it all comes down to sex

Your sexuality is part of who you are and so it is possible that to understand yourself you might need to look at your sexual development and your sexual behaviours.

Sex plays a part in all relationships. By sex I don’t mean sexual intercourse but the connection and energy we feel with other people. I believe that this warmth between two people is necessary for the emotional growth of either or both of them. After all, we don’t pop out of the womb being able to fully relate to others. We learn how to relate by being in relationships with our earliest carers and we carry on developing in relationships with others all our lives. For psychotherapy to work effectively, the relationship you have with your therapist needs a certain warmth: a type of energy that goes back and forth between you that feels alive.

4. Most therapists are mad anyway

There is something in that statement. Often therapists got so much from overcoming their own psychological hang-ups that they feel inspired to train in order to help others face and work through their issues. I’m not sure that a person with perfect genes who experienced a trauma-free, ideal environment for early development and subsequent growth would be sufficiently interested in psychology to make it his or her profession.

5. Depression is a chemical imbalance and best treated with medicine

This is true of some types of mental illness: it may be useful to medicate a client before he or she can begin therapy, or some people will use the support of therapy while they come off antidepression medication. But sometimes talking therapy will reach the parts that the drugs cannot.

6. There’s no point in raking over the past

There is no point in going round in circles, which is what people tend to do when they don’t have the support to tackle the source of their problems.

Sometimes I find it helpful to think of therapy like this: if we don’t face the origin of our pain and get to know what it is and where it comes from, we can condemn ourselves to a continuous low level of suffering by repeating the same self- sabotaging patterns. I think that a bit of digging will save us from too much raking.

Also see Are You Really Who You Think You Are? and Are You Your Worst Enemy?

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