A psychologist’s opinion
«I have wanted to visit you for a long time,” an 11th grade student smiles guiltily and adds: “I was scared. I worried that people would think I’m insane».
I encouraged him, called him a good fellow and even a little bit of a hero – and it is true. He overcame the fear of being labelled a mentally ill person and came to see a psychotherapist. Now the teenager will deal with the challenges in his life more easily such as stress related to his graduation and [university] entrance exams.
Misconceptions about seeking help prevent many people – much older and experienced than him – from visiting a therapist and are thus alone in coping with their challenges.
This is why it’s happening:
Myth #1: Psychologists are for ‘psychos’
Psychiatry treats mentally ill people. Psychology helps a mentally healthy people who feel that they cannot solve problems on their own at some moment in their lives.
Myth #2: Strong people solve problems on their own; they do not need help.
This is not true. Sometimes you rely on your own strength and sometimes you need to seek help and support. The one who does not seek help is not strong, but tough, and that toughness breaks at the very first blow.
Let me explain it through a metaphor. A strong man can dig an entire field by himself. But he should know the basics of farming to make his efforts have any effect on the land. You need to know how to drive a tractor, how deep to plow without damaging the roots of plants and polluting the nearest water stream. You should do all this without dying of exhaustion, otherwise all your actions are wasted or harmful.
This is the case with psychotherapy. It is not enough to be strong and ready to fix your problems alone. You need to be able to handle yourself in the best possible way in a difficult situation. Ask the right questions, understand and acknowledge your motives. Take into account your weaknesses and strengths and understand your effectiveness. Often we need tools that increases self-awareness, self-esteem and develop the ability to cope with difficulties, the ability to be self-reliant and rely on others.
This is not a question of strength, but the ability to manage yourself. This ability increases when a person visits a therapist. First you learn it with the help of a therapist, and then you gain the skills to cope on your own.
Myth #3: “I have friends, why do I need a psychotherapist?”
Friends are a great resource! When you have a headache or have a bloated stomach, they will help – they will stay by your side, open the window, bring medicine from the pharmacy and give you a glass of water. But if you have had a headache for three days in a row, and the discomfort in your stomach turns into pain and is accompanied by nausea, then you call an ambulance or phone your doctor. Why? You do it because your friends’ knowledge and their ability to help is limited. In such cases, you share responsibility for your life and health with a specialist with the right expertise.
The same is true for psychotherapy.
Myth #4: “The psychologist will tell everyone about everything or accidentally blab about my problems.”
Psychologists and psychotherapists guarantee confidentiality to their patients. This is one of the basic rules that are discussed at the first meeting.
Your friend is horrified by the fact that her psychologist talks about the problems of her other patients, calls them by name, and their place of work and residence?
Are they visiting a self-proclaimed guru or charlatan? Or a ‘specialist’ with a fake psychologist-parapsychologist-astrologer-therapeutist-occultist certificate? How did she find him/her and who recommended them?
If you use credible channels and try to find a therapist among legally certified professionals, you are likely find an honest person. First, psychologists themselves pre-pass personal therapy and know first-hand about the importance of confidentiality. Secondly, their reputation is important to them. They still earn money from it.
Myth #5: “I can read about my problem online, and learn psychology from books. The psychologist will not say anything new to me, I know everything about myself and so I know everything.”
Many of my friends like to hone their knowledge by learning some psychological terminology. Put the items in order on the shelves. More often self-education does not go beyond superficial undersanding of the topics and putting right labels on issues.
Self-education in any sphere is commendable as long as it does not replace professional assistance. It is useful to know that the crown of a tooth consists of enamel, dentine and pulp, and to understand the origin of pain. But it is a dentist’s work to treat the damaged tooth, isn’t it?
Psychotherapy, like any professional service, is not so much about how quickly you diagnose the problem, but about how you learn to listen and understand yourself, accept yourself, and turn to yourself in difficult situations.
Myths plague those who arrive at a psychotherapist’s office.
Myth #6: “Therapists know everything about how to make right decisions and will instruct me and give some advice; I will be perfect.”
There is no magic bullet. There is not one right pathway to follow in your life. Neither are there ideal people. Therapists help each patient to chart out their own path. Together they find new opportunities to improve themselves.
One solution cannot be right for all patients. A therapist does not give advice either. Instead, you find answers to your own problems on your own.
Myth #7: “After working with a psychotherapist, all of my problems will go away. Alternatively, I will become indifferent to them.”
Problems do not go anywhere. And you do not become a Madame Tussauds’ doll.
You are gaining self-confidence to solve your own problems, in the most suitable way for you. The best possible outcome of therapy is an independent patient, capable of embracing himself and making decisions.
This does not mean that you will not have to go through painful experiences, be hurt or scared.
These are the most prevalent myths about seeing a therapist in Azerbaijan.
Let me share one more myth with you as a bonus to the end of this story. The most common myth and the most inaccurate is the following one:
“No one goes to psychologists in Azerbaijan.”
Qualified specialists have full schedules for online and face-to-face therapists. Those who want to improve their quality of life go to therapists.
A considerable part of them are residents from outlying regions.
“We’ve been fighting lately and do not get along in our intimate relationship either.” A couple coming from Shemakh visited me recently; they left their children with their relatives and left for Baku at dawn to make it for the appointment.
An old proverb is applicable: “Dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”