Counselling myths abound, even in this day and age. We’ll see a GP if we’re feeling sick, or visit the dentist to keep our teeth and gums healthy. Yet when it comes to looking after our mental and emotional wellbeing? Many people still feel embarrassed, nervous or anxious about seeing a counsellor.
Most of this is due to the continued stigma surrounding mental health. There’s the public social stigma attached to people knowing that you’re seeking support for psychological, behavioural or relationship issues. Many people also struggle with the self-stigma that stems from negative perceptions about people who see a counsellor.
There’s absolutely no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed about attending counselling, nor is there any reason to feel nervous about it. Acknowledging that you’re ready to make changes in your life – and using professional support services to do so – is an act of courage, strength and common sense.
Taking care of our mental health is an essential aspect of overall wellbeing. The stigma around counselling is an unnecessary barrier to living life to the fullest. Below are the 5 most common counselling myths, and the truth behind them:
A lot of the stigma attached to counselling stems from the idea that therapy is only for people with mental health issues and psychological disorders.
Reality: Counselling is for everyone. Many people seek support for everyday matters like stress, relationship issues or life changes. Counsellors support clients across a range of concerns, from more serious mental health challenges like depression to common issues like fatigue and burnout. Counselling can also be preventative – seeking help early for something that’s bothering you can stop it from developing into a major problem later on.
There is a pervasive belief that the support of friends and family can substitute for professional counselling.
Reality: While social support is certainly important for everyone, counselling is very different from the relationships you have with your friends and family. A counsellor is a trained professional who has specialist skills in diagnosing and treating a range of cognitive, emotional and behavioural issues. Counselling is also completely confidential. This means that you can speak freely, without needing to censor yourself the way you might with family and friends.
A very common misconception about counselling is that clients spend their sessions rehashing the past, with a focus on their childhood and relationship to their parents.
Reality: Counselling is tailored to meet your needs. For some people, it can be immensely helpful to explore the ways their previous relationships with family members, friends and partners are impacting their current reality. For others, what is happening in the present moment is of utmost importance as a guide to future decisions and pathways. Counselling is a dynamic process, with a range of approaches to resolving concerns and achieving desired outcomes. Your counsellor will discuss your needs and customise sessions to suit your unique personal situation.
Many people believe that counselling is just extravagant common sense, and that if they start counselling they’ll be attending for years to come.
Reality: Modern counselling is affordable and outcome-focused. There are a range of Medicare and Private Health rebates available that can significantly reduce the cost of counselling, and many counsellors in private practice deliberately moderate their fees to ensure all clients have access to quality care and support. The goal of counselling is to help people effectively manage life’s challenges. Some people only need a few sessions to resolve their concerns, whilst other people may benefit from a few months of intensive support. Research shows that the majority of issues can be addressed with effective, short-term counselling.
People who have one bad experience with counselling assume that all counsellors will be the same.
Reality: Just because counselling with one person didn’t work, doesn’t mean that counselling isn’t for you. Finding the right counsellor is like finding a good GP. Unfortunately, the majority of us have had experiences with healthcare where there’s been a personality clash, or we haven’t received an appropriate level of care. Whenever that happens, it’s important to seek a second opinion.
There are thousands of counsellors and psychologists in practice – one of them will be a good fit for you and your needs. The ‘therapeutic alliance’, or relationship between you and your counsellor, is at the core of successful counselling. Trust, respect, and working together towards a common goal are the hallmarks of a strong therapeutic alliance, which is one of the most reliable predictors of positive counselling outcomes.
It’s worth spending some time finding the right counsellor for you.
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Lannin, D. G., Vogel, D. L., Brenner, R. E., Abraham, W. T., & Heath, P. J. (2016). Does self-stigma reduce the probability of seeking mental health information?. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 63(3), 351.
Seamark, D., & Gabriel, L. (2016). Barriers to support: a qualitative exploration into the help-seeking and avoidance factors of young adults. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 1-12.
White, R. G., Ramachandran, P., & Kumar, S. (2017). Addressing Mental Health-related Stigma in a Global Context. In The Palgrave Handbook of Sociocultural Perspectives on Global Mental Health (pp. 257-283). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.