Humans are social creatures. It's part of our evolution and our DNA and we can't avoid this. Although there are many ways to help ourselves if we are struggling, as is evidenced by the huge self-help industry, unfortunately many of our problems can't be solved on our own. This is because of our innate social instincts and their entwinement with our survival as a species. We learn about how to "do" relationships from birth, however we don't always learn the healthiest of relationship skills. This is one of the main reasons that talking therapies are so effective. We work through our problems through talking to our therapist, and as such the therapeutic relationship becomes the tool to move forward. Through seeing ourselves reflected in our non-judgmental therapist, we can then begin to learn a new way of interacting with others and understanding how and why others behave the way they do.
However, there are a lot of myths about what it means to see a psychologist. Although western society is beginning to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, many people are still resistant to using mental health services when they are struggling, despite the evidence that shows the benefits of psychological therapy. I have heard many of these myths over my years of experience as a psychologist, so I will address some of these here.
"They will ask me to lie down on the couch". This comes from the portrayal of psychologists in entertainment and usually is a reference back to an early version of a style of psychotherapy called psychoanalysis. Psychiatrists in the 1970s and earlier would often use this style of therapy and patients would come, lie down on the couch and talk in a very unstructured format. Often the therapist would barely say a word. Although psychoanalysis is still widely used as a therapeutic modality, most therapists do not work in this particular style any more.
"If you talk about your feelings it just makes it worse". Many of us in western societies, particularly men, have been taught to suppress our emotions, and hide them away for fear of being seen as weak. However, talking to someone who is non-judgmental about how we feel is a huge relief for our physical and mental health. Often talking about it helps us to understand and move through our problems much quicker than trying to push how we feel away.
"Seeing a psychologist is only for people with a mental illness". Although psychologists are well trained in helping people with diagnosed mental illnesses, psychologists have the skills to help with a range of different life situations. Psychologists are experts in behaviour, thoughts and emotions and how these interact with the environment around us. Psychologists can help with a range of life situations: interpersonal or relationship difficulties; a major life change, or thinking about making a change in your life; coping with grief or transitions; helping to understand something that has happened in your life; assisting with career choices or study; helping to change a habit that is no longer serving you. Whatever the situation is, a psychologist is someone who can objectively listen, and apply psychological theories relevant to your situation and give you strategies and goals that will help you.
"I'm taking medication for my mental health issue, so I don't need to see a psychologist". Although medication can be very helpful in many cases and is sometimes necessary, it works in a different way to talking therapy. Medication can help with a physiological mechanism that is affecting your mental health. However, most mental health issues involve psychological, emotional, behaviour and biological elements. Psychological therapy can help with the psychological, emotional and behavioural elements of your mental health issue and work very well in conjunction with medical treatment.
"If I go to a psychologist I won't know what to talk about". Again this comes from the myth that the therapist will sit there silently and you will have to think about things to talk about each week. A psychologist will ask you specific questions to find out more about you and to understand the reason that you have come for therapy. Then they will discuss with you a clear plan that you both agree to and you will have goals and strategies to work on each session. You are free to talk about whatever you want in therapy without judgment, but your psychologist will help guide the conversation to ensure you move towards the plan and goals that you have set.
If you are struggling with something in your life, or wanting to make a change, then seeing a psychologist might be the step you have been looking for to make that change. If your mood or anxiety has been getting you down, then a psychologist has the training and tools to help you with this. One of the great benefits of seeing a psychologist is that the strategies that you learn will stay with you, and when you encounter another difficult situation, you will know what to do!
If you would like to know more, please get in touch to discuss how we might be able to help you!