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In the Raw: Seven misconceptions about therapy

In my counseling office, I work with people from all different walks of life. Each person has a unique step, story, and understanding of the world.

My job as a counselor is to tune into each specific client’s need and focus in on the goal at hand.

One speed bump I often run into while I going down the journey with my clients is that they tend to have a incorrect beliefs about how therapy is supposed to turn out.

Some people are right on. They know it will be hard work and that counseling will take some time, but others have different expectations (or as I like to call them … misconceptions) about the counseling process.

Here are some of the more common misconceptions people have about (individual and couples) counseling:

1. Assuming one size fits all: Unlike certain clothing items that are "one size fits all," therapy is not! Picking the therapist that is right for you is very important, and no decision should be made in haste. One size does not fit all. With therapy you have to shop and research. Do you homework and interview them. You will know when it’s right after you have done your part. You need to know the therapist’s "school of thought" (or theory), your comfort level with the counselor, and their approach. Learn more on how to find a counselor here.

2. Asking your therapist to lie for you: Really …? Don’t ask the therapist to lie for you to simply prevent a fight between you and your partner. You are basically attempting to keep your relationship dynamic stuck and it can actually perpetuate the problem. Don’t try to get the counselor to lie that you tried to schedule the appointment earlier and it was the therapists fault to simply save a little heartache and conflict. If you are afraid of fighting, then stop lying!

3. Expecting the therapist to take a side: Not gonna happen. No matter how much you feel like your side is right (even when it most likely it is) my job as a therapist is not to take sides. Plain and simple. Plus, you probably have enough friends and family taking on that role. If I take sides, then I am simply jumping on board to a dynamic that isn’t working. Nothing will be accomplished and now the two of you have more ammo for your fight … such as, “The therapist agrees with me …” and the relationship stays stuck with no solution.

4. The therapist will make everything better: Nope! The therapist is in the room to help you understand the relationship on a deeper level, help you navigate through the struggles and create a safe environment. It is YOUR responsibility to work at the relationship. The therapist will do everything in his/her power to help you as a couple or individual, but if you aren’t willing to do the work … you will be wasting your time (and money).

5. Expecting the therapist to keep a secret: Secrets keep relationships apart and if it is a big secret, then to expect your therapist to keep set that information aside and try to work on your relationship (when they know exactly what issue needs to change) is unrealistic. If you are doing something that requires you to have it a “secret,” then open your eyes and take a peek at just that! On that same note, ask the counselor about their no-secrets policy. If you don’t want your partner to know something, don’t share it with your therapist.

6. Keeping important information from the therapist: If you don’t tell the therapist significant events, then the therapist doesn’t have the whole picture of the relationship. Don’t keep affairs, physical fights, or any other important events hidden. The more the therapist knows, the better.

7. The fights have slowed down, so we can stop early: Just because the fights have stopped for now or “things are getting better,” doesn’t mean to stop counseling. Many people stop prematurely and then things go back to the old way. Just because the fights have stopped, doesn’t mean you have a long-term change. If you think you hit the goals in therapy, speak with your therapist and make sure all the work is done.

Counseling isn’t something to take lightly. Your life is more important than money, time, or your ego. Don’t hold back and worry about the “what ifs.” Commit to it. Make this your start to a better you.

Jennine Estes is a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in San Diego with a private practice in Mission Valley. She has appeared as a Relationship Expert in Redbook Magazine, Martha Stewart Publications' Whole Living Magazine, Social Work Today Magazine, local San Diego news stations, and more. To learn more relationship advice from the author Jennine Estes MFC#47653, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw or her new San Diego Couples Therapy website.