Many misconceptions about therapy exist. Like, isn’t it just talking about your problems, except you’re paying someone to listen to you and agree with you? How is it different from spilling the tea with your bestie? And for the introverts among us, how is revealing our deepest, darkest secrets to a total stranger helpful at all?
“Therapy helps to guide you to live your life according to your values, provide hope and reduce suffering,” said Nicole Wong, a senior psychologist with Department of Psychological Medicine at National University Hospital (NUH).
And it’s not a passive process where you lie on the couch and talk about your day to your therapist. “It’s a collaborative approach between the client and therapist, with the client as the expert in their own life, thoughts and feelings, and the therapist as the expert in psychological theories and interventions,” said Wong.
“It’s a safe space to share and explore your thoughts and feelings without judgement, and help you break difficult patterns in your life and make the meaningful changes that you want.”
MORE OPEN TO SEEKING HELP
The upside to the national mental health situation is that we’ve become more open to talking about our problems, according to the survey: 56.6 per cent were willing to seek help from health professionals in 2022 compared to 47.8 per cent in 2019. Close to 80 per cent were willing to seek help from informal support networks in 2022 compared to 74.5 per cent in 2019.
The openness appears to cut across the ages as well. “With the increased efforts to improve accessibility to mental health services, we are seeing a wide range of ages from as young as seven years old to the older adult population,” said Wong.
Chan agreed that the increased accessibility to help plays a part in more people seeking help. “People know where to find these resources and many of them are now closer to home and in the communities that they live in.”
Cost is another big one, continued Chan. “A very common reason we hear is the lack of knowledge as to where individuals can get professional help and the costs associated.”
But there are ways to get around that. For instance, some therapy services are free of charge, including TOUCH Community Services’ Youth Integrated Team, Singapore Association for Mental Health and Aware. You can also get “a referral from a polyclinic to access therapy in the polyclinic or at government restructured hospitals at a subsidised rate”, said Yee.
MORE THAN JUST TALKING
Still uncertain if you need therapy? If you have doubts or questions, here’s a look at some common misconceptions about therapy that may be stopping you from seeking the help you need:
Misconception 1: I don’t need therapy; I just go to the gym or have a good cry
The solutions from talking about your problems with a mental health expert can be quite different from those in your mind. “When you speak with someone, it is a dialogue and it can open more perspectives for you. It can also be helpful for you to ‘hear’ what you have been saying to yourself,” said Ho.
Indeed, being able to talk to a professional can help you to dissect your problems and put in place healthy coping mechanisms to better process your negative emotions and thus, improve your mental health, said Chan.
Moreover, these are professionals who are equipped with the skills and resources to facilitate conversations in a productive manner and help counsel you, said Chan. “The trained professional is able to take on an objective lens as compared to a friend or family member, who may feel more invested in your personal life.
“By talking about the difficulties you face, coupled with the therapeutic questioning from a trained counsellor, you allow your brain and your whole being to digest what is happening and how to cope moving forward”.
Misconception 3: I don’t feel comfortable sharing intimate details of my life with a stranger
Chan has this analogy: If you had a cold, wouldn’t you see your family doctor at the onset of a blocked nose or sore throat? You aren’t likely to wait for the symptoms to worsen before making your way to the clinic because by then, the recovery is going to take longer and the treatment may be more intensive.
The same goes for mental health issues, said Chan. “Mental health issues can be managed and are treatable, especially when addressed early. So, we encourage anyone who is struggling with their mental health to seek help early. Do not wait till you have full-blown symptoms before seeking professional help.”
Some people may not seek professional help early on if they have friends, relatives or religious organisations that can provide the support they need, said Ho. “However, if you still feel a sense of mental distress after talking to your friends and family, it is a sign that you need to consider seeking professional help.”
Misconception 5: I thought I only needed one session
Exploring and talking about your deepest vulnerabilities is an intimate process that can be emotionally draining, said Yee.
“Before attending each therapy session, make time to ground yourself, gather your thoughts and think about what you would like to bring into the session,” said Yee. To gain the most out of therapy, she suggested considering the following before meeting with your therapist:
What are the key difficulties that I am facing right now?What are my goals for therapy? What do I hope to get out from therapy?Am I ready to talk about the hard stuff and actively make changes to improve my situation/life? If I don’t feel ready, what are some steps I need to take before commencing therapy?
After each session, allow yourself to wind down and engage in activities that are self-soothing before returning to your usual responsibilities and duties, said Yee.
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