The More You Know: Myths and Ethics in Therapy
Contrary to what is shown in many movies and TV shows, therapists abide by a code of ethics which restricts how much information is disclosed to others, what type of relationship is formed with a client outside of a session, and what type interaction occurs in session. The code of ethics is designed to facilitate the therapeutic process and protect clients emotionally and physically. Below, we chose to highlight some common misconceptions about therapy, and the ethical answers for some dilemmas. (For a complete list of the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, please click here. )
Myth #1: Therapy means I will lie down on a couch and the therapist will listen to me for an hour straight.
The world of therapy and counseling has changed drastically since the times of Sigmund Freud! Mental health professionals today base their techniques and interventions on empirically validated research. What does this mean for you? It means that we are not just going to let you talk. It means we will build a professional relationship with you, get to know your patterns, and use that knowledge to gently challenge you towards changing behaviors and thoughts that are not so helpful in the long run. You will still be doing most of the talking (After all, the session is about you!), but as you and your therapist get more comfortable with each other, you can expect to start being challenged. Think of us as the equivalent of personal fitness instructors for your brain and mind. But don’t worry, we won’t push you too hard if you let us know that you are not ready. We have an ethical obligation to do no harm and keep the best interests of our clients in mind.
If you have a therapist like this, you better look for a new one!
Myth #2: It feels like my therapist is such a great friend! I should invite them to that barbecue I’m going to next weekend.
We know we're friendly, but we cannot blur the lines between a compassionate, therapeutic relationship and an actual friendship. The therapeutic relationship is considered a professional relationship, because the dynamic of the interaction is very much one-sided. Although we will give you lots of input in session, you may notice that you don’t really get to know a lot about our personal lives. This is designed so that your therapy hour is for you, and only you. Every once in a while, we may disclose something personal, but only if we feel it will help you in your progress. By blurring our boundaries, we are potentially harming your progress and placing you in an odd predicament. How will you introduce us to your family and friends? How will your spouse or partner feel about the fact that we have knowledge of intimate details? What else will we talk about besides that issues we discussed in therapy? And on that note, would you even want us to bring up an issue outside of a session? These are only a few examples of situations that could make a friendship with your therapist confusing and even inappropriate.
Your therapist will be happy for you...from afar.
Myth #3: I’ll go to a therapist so they can tell me exactly what to do. After all, they’re the experts, right?
Yes and no. By the time we graduate we have typically completed 6 to 7 years of school and training. So we are experts in regards to mental health, but we are not experts on you. We cannot give you a black and white answer to certain issues, because we can only work with the information you give us. As an example, if you go to an attorney, the situation you are in and the solutions you are seeking are typically concrete. In therapy, there are multiple factors that influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, whether you are aware of them or not. If we gave you an answer, it would probably be an answer that you or your loved ones have already discussed. However, something might be holding you back from doing what you need to do. This means our job is not to give you the answer, but rather to help you understand how to arrive to the solution that you already know you need to apply.
If therapy were simply about giving advice, then a session might go something like this:
Well, that didn’t seem very helpful...
Myth #4: I talk about work with my friends, so I’m sure my therapist talks about me too.
This one is a big NO! We cannot disclose your name, personal information, diagnosis, or issues with anyone unless you have authorized us to do so. We may consult on your case with other therapists if we feel we need some extra help, but this is usually done in a closed, private setting, and is also frequently done with your consent. It’s a small world, and we never know who in our friend circle may potentially know you. If you are referred by a mutual friend, we also cannot disclose any details to that friend about your case.