Things People in Therapy Don't Want to Hear

March 8th 2016

Justin Reynolds

It’s true that you might never need to go to a therapist yourself. That’s great, you should count your blessings.

Still, recent data suggests one in five American adults seek out the services of mental health professionals. Maybe they had traumatic childhoods. Maybe they’re not getting along with their spouses. Maybe they’re finding out that being a parent is harder than they could have imagined.

Whatever their individual reasons may be, countless people rely on therapy to help them boost mental health, deal with repressed emotions, gain new perspectives, and get an overall better handle on how to deal with the everyday pressures and challenges of life.

If one in five adults are in therapy, 80 percent of them are not (though perhaps some of them would be if it weren’t for mental health stigmas). According to these statistics, there’s a good chance you aren’t seeing a therapist right now, but just because you may not need to talk to a mental health professional yourself, doesn’t mean people in therapy are wasting their time.

With that in mind, here are five things you should never say to someone in therapy.

1. “Only weak people go to therapy.”

You never know what happened in someone else’s past unless they’ve told you explicitly. If you find out one of your friends is in therapy and they didn’t tell you, don’t automatically assume that person is weak.

“I always tell my patients that I deeply admire them,” therapist William McKenna told Verily. “They are the bravest people I know because they are willing to admit they need help and will do what is necessary to receive help.”

It takes guts to decide to see a therapist and open up to that person..

2. “Your therapist just agrees with everything you say to make you feel better.”

It’s true that therapists are focusing on improving the mental health and self-esteem of their patients. But they really wouldn’t be much help if they just sat there listening to them talk and acknowledged that everything they verbalize is already right.

Great therapists make their patients think about their lives in different ways by offering different perspectives. Some therapists even assign homework like journaling and worksheets to help patients process information, feel empowered and hold them accountable to goals. In other words, therapy is a very active process.

3. “Don’t you just sit there and cry and talk?”

Yes, those in therapy might have sessions where they can’t stop crying. When you’re going deep and rehashing childhood traumas, discussing infidelity, or talking about the death of a loved one, it can be very difficult to maintain composure. And that's not a bad thing; crying in therapy is good for you.

But therapy is way more than “crying and talking.”

“The benefits of therapy extend far beyond periods of crisis,” Dr. Ryan Howes, a psychologist based in California, told Greatist. “Many people want more than to be ‘not depressed.’ They wonder what they can do to be the happiest, most productive, most loving version of themselves.”

Sure, therapy-goers might feel sadness from time to time. But they can also feel a ton of other emotions like happiness, anger, fear, and nostalgia. Don’t belittle your friends who are in therapy by suggesting they simply go somewhere just to cry.

4. “Therapy is a waste of money.”

If you don’t need to see a therapist, then yes, therapy is probably a waste of time and money. But there are tons of people out there who want to get through a tough time or just want to improve their lives, and a mental health professional can help them accomplish that.

Indeed, therapy is not a waste of time and money particularly when you know deep down you have a problem or issue to discuss.

"We're social creatures, fundamentally, so talking to people can be a real source of support and help," said Dr. David Spiegel, associated chair of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Stanford, in an interview with The Huffington Post.

5. “Why don’t you talk to your friends and family members instead?”

Yes, people can talk to their friends and family members about their problems. In some cases, they will be able to offer great advice and free of charge, too (hopefully).

But there’s a difference between therapists and people who are good listeners: Therapists have been professionally trained and their credentials actually mean something. Due to their training, they can pick up on things others can’t for example, certain patterns or behaviors that might indicate childhood trauma. They also provide a level of confidentiality that friends and loved ones simply cannot.

Beyond that, choosing an impartial therapist helps you avoid creating dual relationships — or a relationship that occurs "when people are in two very different types of relationships at the same time," according to About Mental Health.

While friends and family members may be perfectly good sounding boards for some lighter problems, therapists may be required to help with some of the more complex issues.

At the end of the day, the people you know who are in therapy are trying to improve the way they see life and become better people however they can. Be supportive of them — you never know how much they may be struggling.