It can be pretty anxiety-provoking making the decision to see a psychologist.

Many people tell us they have thought about it for a while but have debated whether they should or if they really need to. This is understandable due to the many myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes about seeing a psychologist.

These myths and misconceptions create a lot of stigma which gets in the way of them accessing psychologists who are well trained and able to assist them overcome life’s challenges, improve their wellbeing, and find ways to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Here is a list of some of the most common myths and misconceptions to demystify what psychologists actually do and how they can help.

Myth #1 Psychologists only see people with serious problems or a mental illness.

This is probably the most common myth due to the misunderstanding about what psychologists do and what their training involves.

Psychologists have a minimum of 6 years training which covers all facets of human behaviour. Psychology is a diverse area of study that explores the human experience. When undertaking a psychology degree, we study how people think, behave, feel, and learn across the different stages of life and in different contexts. We learn about the challenges and problems that people face and what contributes to this, but we also learn about what makes them thrive.

Assessment, diagnosis and treatment of serious psychological issues or mental health conditions which people often equate with ‘mental illness’ is only a part of the training that psychologists receive. And yes, many of us do see people with diagnosed mental health conditions but that’s not all we do.

Psychologists support people with a wide range of everyday issues in addition to anxiety and depression which are the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions.

People also see a psychologist to assist them:

  • Navigate a significant life event or adjust to changes
  • Learn skills to relax and feel less overwhelmed
  • Heal painful emotions or memories
  • Develop skills to improve their wellbeing or build their resilience
  • Get back to feeling their usual self
  • Understand themselves better so they can get the best out of themselves or change unhelpful patterns
  • Talk something out when they don’t want to speak with friends or family due to fear of judgement, being told what to do, or they don’t want to burden them
  • Feel more satisfied or fulfilled in life, especially if they feel stuck, lost or bored
  • Improve their relationships with others
  • Learn ways to cope with stress more effectively
  • Overcome barriers to achieving what they want in life

Myth #2 Psychologists always want to focus on your childhood.

This one is the second most common myth, and it’s something that people fear for one of two main reasons:

1) they’ve had a good childhood and don’t see the relevance of looking at their past, or they fear their parents will be blamed for something, or

2) they’ve had a very difficult childhood which is too painful to talk about.

Discussing your childhood depends on the reason you’ve come to see a psychologist and what you would like to be different in your life. All approaches are tailored toward your goals. Sometimes a few simple questions might be asked about your childhood experiences to help understand something you’re discussing.

People are often surprised when a few questions about their childhood lead to some big “aha” moments. The reason for this is that our childhood shapes who we are and how we see the world, ourselves, and other people and this influences our adult patterns.

Talking about your childhood in-depth will only happen if you want to go there. If your childhood is very painful to talk about but you would like to talk about it, you decide what you talk about and when. If you find it too difficult to manage strong emotions, you will be helped to develop skills for coping with them when they arise. You will never be forced to talk about anything you don’t want to.

Myth #3 There’s no difference between speaking with a psychologist and a family member or friend.

One of the main benefits in speaking to a psychologist is that you can say whatever you want without fear of being judged or told what you should do.

Talking to your friends and family is a healthy thing to do, however the discussion you have with a psychologist is different because they are not part of your everyday life. People feel much more comfortable being able to open up about what they are really thinking and feeling.

A lot of our clients also tell us they censure what they tell their family of friends as they don’t want to worry or burden them. For others, their friends and family are busy and not always available.

Psychologists are also trained to listen, not just hear what you are saying, which helps people feel understood. In conversing this way, people often gain a sense of clarity and perspective. Your sessions also give you the time to solely focus on yourself and what’s important to you.

Myth #4 Talking to psychologist means I’m weak as I should be able to sort out my own life.

We all need extra help or support at some time in our life but asking for help is one of the hardest things to do.

It’s only natural to want to view ourselves as resilient and be able to do things on our own. Seeing a psychologist doesn’t mean that you aren’t resilient or able to sort your own life out. This is a big one for men, but women also worry about this too.

If you want to improve your physical performance you would see a personal trainer, if you want to overcome an injury you would see a physio, if you weren’t feeling 100% you would see a doctor, if you want to improve your diet you would see a dietitian or a nutritionist. Seeing a psychologist is no different. We are just another health professional with a set of skills and strategies to help you improve your wellbeing.

One of the main barriers to asking for help is feeling embarrassed due to worrying what others will think. Often this is just a fear because we don’t openly talk about seeking support from a psychologist like we do other health professionals.

Seeking support is a strength more than a weakness!

Many people see psychologists. Think about professional athletes and sporting teams, they all have psychologists to help them overcome challenges and to get the best out of themselves. Why should it be any different for the average person?

Myth #5: Therapy is just talking, this won’t change anything.

If you just vent and rehash your problems over and over, or you are trying to change some-one else then talking probably won’t change anything. For things to change you have to be willing and motivated to think and/or do things differently.

Psychologists don’t have a magic wand to wave all your problems away, just like doctors don’t have a magic pill to take all your ailments away. Therapy is more than talking but talking is important because it’s the tool that creates the process of change.

By discussing your concerns with an open mindset, you can gain clarity or a new perspective which can help you make changes to the way you think about the issue or the way you react.

Many people feel able to make changes once they understand themselves or the situation better. Letting go of unresolved issues or pent-up emotions can also help you move forward and feel better.

Psychologists also have a range of evidenced-based strategies they teach people so they can manage their feelings, thoughts and behaviour in different ways. Common strategies include learning new thinking skills and ways to overcome unhelpful mindsets, breaking old habits and creating new ones, developing interpersonal skills such as assertiveness and effective communication, coping with difficult emotions, and learning to relax so you can calm your body and mind.