Four Common Misconceptions About Mental Health Help, Professionals and Approaches

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

I have been learning a lot through this process of contributing to Barry Davis’ The Spin on 960AM talking about mental health on Wellness Wednesdays (wow – that’s a mouthful!).

So incredibly grateful for this opportunity to share the knowledge I have that’s hopefully helpful, but to also be learning so much in this process.

A significant thing I learned this past week is that many people may not have a clear understanding of what therapy might be like, what kinds of professionals are available and also some confusion over different therapeutic approaches.

So in this post, I’d like to try and clear up some common misconceptions about mental health treatments, professionals and available therapies.

Misconception #1 – Therapy involves lying down on a couch and talking to a therapist with a notepad who says very little.

The most common representation of talk therapy in movies, TV shows and other entertainment mediums are of the therapy couch and a therapist sitting almost mysteriously with a notepad. Listening, but maybe not saying a whole lot.

This style, or modality, of this particular form therapy is called psychoanalysis.

And in terms of professionals that provide psychoanalysis, it can run the gamut of psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists and other qualified professionals. The thing to keep in mind is that it’s a therapeutic approach, not what all talk therapy looks like.

And the difference between psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, at least in Ontario, is that the majority of psychiatrists don’t provide talk therapy. And even if they do, their therapeutic approach probably would not be psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis involves meeting one on one and to bring the unconscious to the conscious awareness by talking.

The primary differences between psychoanalysis and other forms of talk therapy is that in psychoanalysis, it generally involves meeting several times a week.

But like other forms of talk therapy, it’s also focused on the ability to learn to talk about yourself and to put spoken words to thoughts and feelings without applying too much editing or filter.

Also, as thoughts and feelings are spoken, they can take on a different context or understanding when they are heard aloud, which can lead to insights.

This approach is only one specific approach to talk therapy. But if it is a style that you’re interested in exploring, I would suggest conducting a Google search specifically for “psychoanalyst near me” or something like that.

The key takeaway here is: Not all talk therapy is and looks like psychoanalysis.

Misconception #2 – All mental health professionals are the same. Aren’t psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists all the same things and do the same things?

The short answer is: No.

I believe that one of the biggest issues, specifically here in Ontario, is that folks out there who are looking for mental health help generally don’t know who or to turn to.

There are different titles and while the services they provide can be similar, the approach, style and expertise might differ.

There are a number of different mental health professionals who are regulated, in other words, registered or licensed, to provide mental health support in Ontario.

The registered professionals here in Ontario are Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Registered Psychotherapists.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, the main differences are:
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health issues and generally don’t provide talk therapy, but are covered by OHIP.

Psychotherapy services provided by clinical psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists, outside of institutional settings such as hospitals and schools, are out-of-pocket.

But if you have insurance coverage, it’s good to check with your benefits provider to make sure which professionals are covered under your plan.

One other thing here, since psychiatrists don’t often provide talk therapy, it’s not uncommon for individuals with mental health difficulties to have both a psychiatrist and a talk therapist (psychotherapist).

Misconception #3 – Psychotherapy or talking is the only option to treat mental health.

A lot of the conversations we currently have about mental health treatments seems mostly to be focused on talking.

Talking and learning how to effectively express thoughts and feelings are crucial components of treating mental health difficulties.

And to be clear: Taking the big step to talking, whether it’s to a friend, loved one or professional, is the first and very important step to take.

But as we mentioned a moment ago, consulting a psychiatrist or if you decide to talk to your family doctor, the likely treatment option that will be suggested would be medication, a medical intervention.

For some people, the help of short or indefinite term of taking medication may be one answer.

But there are also other kinds of mental health treatments like 12 step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), body-based treatments, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and biofeedback, just to name a few.

The right treatment fit is specific for every individual.

With that said, I want to make sure to stress, the first step is talking.

And if the chosen form of primarily treatment is medication, I think it’s valuable to note that studies have shown that the most effective outcome is usually a combination of both talk therapy and medication.

Misconception #4 – All talk therapy or psychotherapy is the same.

So another way that it can be confusing to seek psychotherapy help is that not all talk therapies and approaches are the same.

Psychoanalysis is different from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is different from Gestalt Therapy which is different from Psychodynamic Therapies.

There are more than 50 types of different psychotherapy approaches.

And to make it that much more complicated, a specific helping professional doesn’t necessarily mean that they practice a certain therapeutic approach.

For instance, one clinical psychologist may specialize in practicing CBT (which is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) while another might be focused on Emotion-Focused Therapy, while another psychologist might work from a Mindfulness-Based approach.

After all that, what’s a good way to start looking for a talk therapist?

We’ve talked about this before: Sometimes Dr. Google can have a whole lot of unhelpful health-based information.

But in this case, going to Google and typing in “psychotherapist or therapist near me” will pull up a list of private practitioners.

By going through the different websites and profiles, you can determine who might feel like a good fit for you.

It might be their bio, their area of specialization or perhaps their approach.

Or if you have a specific approach in mind, you can do a Google search on say, “Attachment Based Therapy near me” and it should pull up a list of therapists who specialize in that particular approach.

The important thing here is to find the right fit and approach for you, since studies have shown that this is one of the main indicators of therapeutic effectiveness.

Is There Something About Mental Health Help You’re Not Clear About?

Leave your questions in the comments below and I will either give an answer right here in the blog or maybe answer your questions on-air on one of the upcoming episodes of Wellness Wednesdays on 960AM’s The Spin with Barry Davis.

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