Counseling Myths

20 Myths about Counselling & Psychotherapy

1.         There is some fundamental difference between Counselling & Psychotherapy

In fact, there is no clear difference; both are “Talking Therapies” or Psychological Therapies”.

What matters to a client in distress is that the professional helper who works with them can listen to their problems and help them find some better way forward. In some contexts the term “Counsellor” is used more often (e.g. “Addiction Counsellor”); in other settings the term “Psychotherapist” is preferred (e.g. in private practice). Whether someone is called a Counsellor or a Psychotherapist, or both, they should be able to work with a client on a range of issues, for short-term or long-term work, as needed.

More important for the client is to look at the education qualifications, continuing education, supervision, years of practice and certifications the therapist has. In Singapore, unlike the Untied States of America, there is no regulation. People with Bachelor degrees, or short term diplomas use these labels freely. Check the qualifications of the person. At a minimum they should have a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counselling, Psychology or Social Work. Remember all qualified Master Degree level therapists, whether they call themselves counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists are studying the same theories, the same techniques.

2.         Counselling /Psychotherapy never works

3.         Counselling /Psychotherapy always works

Therapy, like many other forms of helping (medicine, personal training, etc) can help people to a greater or lesser extent depending on many factors – other sources of support, emotional readiness to change, clarity and realism of goals, etc…

The “chemistry” between therapist and client can also be an important factor, so any particular client will find that some therapists will suit them better than others. Clients may even have a preference in relation to the gender or age of their therapist.

The working relationship, or “Therapeutic Alliance” seems to be the main thing that gives Counselling /Psychotherapy its value, though a range of useful techniques have also been discovered over the years, from Graded Exposure in the case of anxiety problems through to the Empty Chair technique (imagining someone sitting in the chair and expressing feelings to them) in the case of anger etc.

4.         Counselling /Psychotherapy is no good for Depression

5.         Counselling /Psychotherapy is always good for Depression

Depression is a good example of what we were saying above – therapy can help some people, in some circumstances, to some extent… sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little; sometime with the added support of medication or a support group, sometimes without.

While medication may help to directly intervene at the physiological level, raising serotonin levels (regular aerobic exercise can also do this), talking therapy can help in changing stuckness in areas such as fixed negative thinking, self-sabotaging habits, withdrawal from contact with people etc. Therapy can also help clients to explore the history and possible roots of their depression.

Research tracking people over 2 years found that those only using medication without some sort of talk therapy did WORSE in the long term than those doing medication and talk therapy. The medication groups compared to the talk therapy only group, the talk therapy did better in the long run. Medications, help lift the veil just enough so the person can start addressing the thinking that is leading to their depression.

6.         Counselling /Psychotherapy should always take a long time

7.         Counselling /Psychotherapy should always take a short time

As they say, “How long is a piece of string?” Some problems are bigger, some are smaller. Some people want to address all their issues, some people just want to make a slight improvement in their lives. Sometimes further issues emerge as therapy develops. Some therapy approaches believe that all clients need long-term therapy, and some believe that no one should ever need to be in therapy a long time, but the reality is that it just depends.

In our therapy, we really help clients to define what they want. The more targeted our goal or description of what the clients wants and how they want to be or feel at the end of successful counselling, can help us be more specific. We work with a client’s past in terms of how it is affecting them TODAY. We don’t’ need to spend months and months reviewing their past. Remember under age 7 you have no conscious memory. So every memory or recall is highly manipulated and massaged by the recall. We are focused on how you think the past is affecting you today. Today is the only place we can make change.

8.         Only psychiatrists can do Counselling /Psychotherapy

9.         Only psychologists can do Counselling /Psychotherapy

Either of these professional groups can provide Counselling /Psychotherapy if they are qualified to do so (many aren’t), but so can qualified Counsellors /Psychotherapists who don’t have any such background, but have been trained to the proper standard.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized in the area of Mental Health. Their primary role is still to prescribe medication, though most have some training in Counselling/Psychotherapy as well. They rarely have the time to provide much of it, however, except maybe in a private practice setting.

Psychologists, in the US, this a PhD level, not a Master Degree level,  work in a variety of areas, as educational psychologists, research psychologists, forensic psychologists, etc. Some specialise as Clinical Psychologists, in which case they are likely to work with some Mental Health issues, though they might equally work in an area such as Intellectual Disability. Some specialise as Counselling Psychologists, in which case they do the same work as Counsellors/Psychotherapists, in other words “Talking Therapy”.

Most people who describe themselves as Mental Health Counsellors and/or Psychotherapists do not come from any of these related professional backgrounds (though some may). They are trained from scratch in the profession of Counselling & Psychotherapy. But they usually have at least a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counselling, Psychology or Social Work. The degree should be at least 2 to 2 ½ years, have a rigorous internship under the supervision of senior mental health professional. They will often go on to get training  They may or may not have worked in other careers before, but one way or another this now becomes their main qualification and their main career.

10.       Only one kind of Counselling /Psychotherapy works (Psychodynamic, CBT etc)

Counselling /Psychotherapy is still developing as a profession, and there are still a variety of approaches and theories. These will gradually become more and more integrated with each other – in the meantime, many Counsellors /Psychotherapists work in an “eclectic” way, using the best from different approaches depending on the client’s issues.

11.       Counselling /Psychotherapy is no use if the client is taking medication

It mainly depends on the medication in question.  In some cases, taking an anti-depressant can help a depressed client engage in therapy, by easing emotional pain without necessarily numbing emotions. Tranquilisers, however, have much more capacity to cut the client off from their emotions, and to provide them with a “quick fix” which may demotivate them from using therapy.

12.       Only someone who has experienced Addiction can provide Counselling /Psychotherapy to an addict

This myth is still met with commonly enough in and around the field of addiction counselling. It doesn’t really make any sense, and interestingly enough it is said much less often in relation to other problem areas, such as depression or relationship problems. We should rather assume that sufficient knowledge, skills, personal development and professional experience should enable any counsellor/psychotherapist to work with any problem area experienced by humans. As the Roman playwright Terence said, “I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me.”

The other reason this is false is that it assumes (incorrectly) that addiction only happens 1 way. That all addicts are the same. However, this is absolutely not true. Skills, knowledge and training are more important than firsthand experience with addiction.

13.       Counsellors/Psychotherapists have their own lives all worked out

Therapists can sometimes be seen that way, and might even believe it themselves sometimes, but it is definitely a myth! A good therapist will be doing their own on going therapy to ensure that their issues, big or small, ever enter the session with a client. A good therapist engages in what they are doing to their client. If your therapist has never done counselling, that should be a red flag.

14.       Clients always become over-dependent on their Counsellors/Psychotherapists

15.       Clients never become over-dependent on their Counsellors/Psychotherapists

It’s a risk, as with any situation where someone is helping someone else who is vulnerable, but it’s definitely not the norm, and a well-trained therapist will be able to handle it sensitively. A professional good therapist wants the client to no longer need them, achieve their goals, and get back to living.

16.       Only very intelligent/educated clients benefit from Counselling /Psychotherapy

Intelligence and education have nothing to do with success in therapy, unless the client or the therapist believes it to be the case, in which case it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What make the difference are the kinds of factors mentioned above – readiness, commitment, motivation, support etc.

17.       Counselling /Psychotherapy should always look at the client’s past

18.       Counselling /Psychotherapy should never look at the client’s past

This something that actually varies a lot, depending on the client’s issues and their roots, the approach of the therapist, the amount of time available, what the client wants to do, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all rule here.

19.       Nobody really needs Counselling /Psychotherapy

20.       Everybody really needs Counselling /Psychotherapy

Once again, as is often the case with myths and vague notions, neither extreme is true.

Many people may find themselves in a position at some point or points in their life when they could benefit from the kind of help that Counselling /Psychotherapy can offer. Some may never feel the need; others may decide that it suits them to make regular therapy an on-going support in their life.

There is nothing wrong with needing Counselling /Psychotherapy; there is nothing wrong with not needing Counselling /Psychotherapy.

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