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4 Myths About Mental Health Therapy
Health & Fitness

4 Myths About Mental Health Therapy

Psy. D. Allyson Cole presents 4 myths about mental health therapy and the truth behind them.

Frame Therapy


4 min read

August 18, 2022

FrameAllyson Cole, Psy.D., is a Licensed Psychologist in California and New York and the co-founder of Create Outcomes Psychological Services. Allyson specializes in empowering women by developing their self-worth and confidence through individual therapy, group therapy, and specialized retreats. 

Have you ever been curious enough to try mental health therapy but weren’t sure it would be worth your time or money? Maybe you are in therapy now and unsure of what to expect as you work on your skills to ensure good mental health. There are a plethora of misconceptions around therapy, and we’re here to explore them and provide science-based therapy facts to support them.

Myth #1: The Type of Therapy I Choose Will Determine Whether I Have Positive Outcomes.

The alliance you form with your therapist determines whether or not the outcome will be positive or negative.

Fact: With so many types of therapy available, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when selecting the right kind for you. Luckily, research shows that it is not the type of therapy you choose, rather the therapist’s level of competency as well as the alliance you form together that will determine whether you will have positive results on your mental wellbeing. There is a book published on just this in 2021 called Effective Psychotherapists by William R. Miller and Theresa B. Moyers if you’d like to dig deeper.

Myth #2: Your Therapist Is Like a Friend.

You should feel very comfortable with your therapist, but always remember that they are not friends.

Fact: Your therapist is not a friend, but you need to feel comfortable enough to share difficult feelings and experiences with them. The therapeutic relationship should be like no other dynamic between two people. In most relationships, there is an expectation of reciprocity where you consider the feelings and needs of the other person even when you are receiving support. Therapy is a service you are paying for and it should allow you to feel a sense of freedom to receive support without worrying about how it is impacting the therapist. A friend often relates to your story or shares uncensored reactions, whereas a therapist should be contemplating something known as accurate empathy. According to Miller and Moyers (2021), accurate empathy is the most important therapeutic factor in achieving positive outcomes.

Here’s an example of how therapy differs from friendship. Let’s assume someone in therapy shared that she recently lost her father. The intuitive reaction of a friend or unskilled therapist would be to say something like, “Oh, I am so sorry for your loss” while perhaps baring a very heartbroken face. This is a perfectly normal reaction to news of such a loss. It could be though, that in reality, this person never knew their father—he left the family when she was still a baby and she has resented him since for leaving. It is the therapist’s job to be curious and ask helpful questions instead of react. In order to do so, they need to try to understand you in a way that will result in you better understanding of yourself, while really feeling seen.

Remember that a therapist is being paid to think deeply about the best ways to help you. Responding to the example above with gut-reaction empathy would not be helpful. This is why the therapeutic relationship is entirely different from a friend giving support.

Myth #3: I Don’t Need to Have Goals in Therapy; Venting to My Therapist Is Enough.

Setting goals with your therapist will help you reach long-term solutions.

Fact: It is true that therapy is a place to allow yourself to share what feels most pressing. At the same time, it should be noted that it is a big investment of time, emotional energy, and finances, which should not be wasted solely on venting. Therapists who develop goals collaboratively with clients tend to have better outcomes according to Miller and Moyers (2021). As you learn more about yourself and your values through the process of therapy, your goals may change and that is growth in itself! You are gaining clarity about your true desires and needs for the future. If the goals weren’t there in the first place, you might not recognize your growth.

It is true that some treatment goals can be meaningless and only serve the purpose of checking boxes for insurance. When done right, treatment goals help an individual focus on the personal work that makes their time spent in therapy worth the money. Treatment goals may not always capture exactly what you are working on, but they can provide clarity if you start to wonder if the therapy is working. Being aware of your personal treatment goals is also a great way to create meaningful relationships with people who will listen. Treatment goals can be set in writing or something you revisit verbally with your therapist.

The reality is that sometimes people don’t notice when they get better. Treatment goals serve as a record of the goals achieved along the way. They are a sense of reassurance that the energy spent was indeed worth it. You can always try both approaches; vent to friends when you need to while also getting valuable treatment in therapy.

Myth #4: Once My Problems Are Solved, I Will Be Happy.

The work doesn’t end where psychotherapy does.

Fact: Solving problems and healing symptoms can be done with short-term, solution-focused psychotherapy but the work does not end there. It takes time to build a life in alignment with your values and your authentic self to prevent problems from resurfacing. Achieving complete happiness is a therapy myth in itself when we consider that we will all inevitably experience loss in our lifetime. This doesn’t mean you do not have the right to feel scared and sad; you do and should. But this existential awareness should not lead you to self-disconnect entirely. The world is filled with actual and potential sadness and pain, and with proper therapy, you can learn to live your best life with your loved ones with a minimal amount of regrets and the most harmony possible.

Even in life's toughest moments, when life might be boring, lonely, sad, or scary, with a good therapist's proper strategy development, you can learn to stay connected and not run low on self-compassion.

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