Myths

... AROUND MENTAL HEALTH

MYTH: Something must have happened to make us like this

Some say that lesbians don’t like men because they were hurt by them somewhere in the past, either through rape or various forms of abuse. Some women might feel safer with woman than with men, and they could have had a difficult experience with men, finding it difficult to trust them. Then there is the nature versus nurture debate – are you born lesbian or did something happen to “make” you lesbian. None of the two arguments can be scientifically proven in any way. On the other hand, you don’t need any reason to be a proud lesbian woman, you can just be who you are, love who you want to and have sex with whom you choose to (as long as it is safe…).
MYTH: I have to be crazy to see a therapist.

Although psychotherapy first started with ‘crazy people’, it has become a norm for all sorts of people to use psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors. Oddly enough, the most productive therapies happen with high functioning people who wish to explore their own internal worlds and come to understand themselves better. These people do not necessarily present with mental illness and approach therapists voluntarily or after crisis and stay in therapy for many years as a way of enriching themselves and growing as people.

Of course, for some people, psychotherapy is a necessity because of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders and other disorders that are classed as ‘mental disorders’. Different types of therapies have been devised and expanded to suit different types of people and different types of disorders. Some people will be in short-term therapies and some will be in longer and long-term therapies depending on their own needs and commitment. The more long-standing the disorder or the more severe the disorder, the longer the therapy might be. However, people who go into therapy to explore themselves can stay in therapy for years, sometimes more than once a week. Although once weekly is a norm, more frequent therapy over a longer period of time can be beneficial for people who wish to explore themselves and grow, while this can also apply to supportive therapy for those who need therapy through the years as they live with mental illness.

Brief and short-term therapies appeal to different people and are more suitable for crisis management, trauma, phobias and other situations and disorders that can benefit. The best thing to do is to be informed about the choices and options available and to approach a therapist with this in mind.

MYTH: If I want to see a therapist, any therapist can help me.

This is not true at all. Different therapists have different orientations to therapy, while some only work with certain disorders because of a specialization. Not all therapists are trained to work in all psychotherapy orientations, some practice psychoanalytic psychotherapy, some practice cognitive-behavioural therapy, others practice existential therapy and a myriad of other types of therapy. Although the expertise and skills of a therapist are crucial, the strongest factor in any therapy is a comfortable and nurturing relationship with the therapist. Therapy is not a comfortable place and is made easier when you embark on a journey of therapy with someone with whom you feel comfortable.

Phone a prospective therapist and ask them how they work and whether they think you could come see them for a few sessions and then decide (any therapist worth their salt will suggest this anyhow). Meet the therapist and see if this is someone you can sit with for one (or more) hour a week over a period of months or years. Question their experience, their training and their expertise with respect to the reason you are going to see them.

MYTH: All psychological issues are psychiatric issues and need medication.

Psychiatric disorders are not the only reason people go to see therapists. But severe psychiatric disorders usually require medication. It is best to have your psychologist and psychiatrist (and dietician and other relevant medical professionals, for that matter) to have some contact with each other with respect to treating psychiatric disorders. People can have psychological issues (“baggage”) which does not constitute a psychiatric disorder in any way. This does not usually need medication or even therapy. Therapy is possible without medication. The other way around, however, is not really true.

MYTH: If I take medication, I don’t need therapy.

Unfortunately general medical practitioners and psychiatrists do not always insist that their patients enter therapy if they are prescribed psychiatric medication. The reason the medication is needed is usually biological and psychological and it is counter-productive not to complement pharmacotherapy (pills) with psychotherapy. The two work synergistically and, often, psychotherapy works best for mental illness when patients/clients are appropriately medicated. Your psychologist is also the person who will monitor the effect of your medication over time, feedback that is very useful for you and for your psychiatrist.

MYTH: Therapists and psychiatrists think that homosexuality is a mental illness.

Sadly, there are some that still do think so. And there are still some that discriminate against or ‘pathologise’ (find disorders that are not there) people who are gay. If you approach a therapist, ask directly what their views on homosexuality are; if they are evasive or avoid answering, decide whether you are comfortable with this, but remember a therapist is not obliged to answer questions about their own sexual orientation. Rely on a referral you trust from a friend, a G.P. you know well, from a psychiatrist or psychologist or whatever source you feel comfortable with. You have the right to choose a psychologist you feel comfortable with.