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The Skeptic’s Guide to Therapy

Whatever side of the therapy couch you’re on, let’s face it, you probably know someone who thinks it’s a whole lot of mumbo jumbo. The path to becoming a therapist isn’t a fast or easy one, and years of graduate training plus years in low or unpaying jobs plus state exams equals a lot of discussing, writing, listening and reading about feelings.  So much so that it can become easy to lose touch with a world where that’s the exception and not the norm.


Clients tend to exist somewhere on a broad spectrum from actively choosing to be in therapy to feeling forced to come by a frustrated spouse, disgruntled boss, or even the legal system.  You name it I’ve heard it.  So if you’re reading this because you’re the frustrated spouse with a depressed partner who won’t seek help, you’re the depressed partner who’s refusing help, or you’re the therapist to the depressed partner of the frustrated spouse here’s a survival guide for the therapy skeptic.


I’ve gone before and it was a stupid waste of time and money.

I’m sorry you had a bad experience.  I really am.  Nothing frustrates me more as a therapist than hearing this, but I do hope you won’t write off all therapists and the whole field.  When it comes to therapy there are easily more flavors than a Baskin Robbins (or Bi-Rite for you SF readers) and a lot of it is about finding the right fit.  If you are eventually open to trying again think about what you didn’t like the last time.   Let that guide your future decisions. Letting a prospective new therapist know about your past experiences and discussing it, even briefly, can give you both some helpful information about the other.  I sincerely hope you are able to have a better experience in the future.   

I go to work every day and am a functional person so what if I hate my job (boss, team, etc) a lot of people do.

Factoring in sleep, it’s very likely that you spend more time at your job, dealing with your job, and thinking about your job than just about anything else in your life.  You also may spend more time with your coworkers than your friends or family. Our jobs easily shape our lives.  Commute times dictate where we live, bosses dictate our on/off hours, salary dictates what we do with those on/off hours.  Work life and non-work life must co-exist, so chances are if you’re miserable at work, you’re miserable when you’re not at work.  We’ve all had a bad day here or there, a week or even a month and sure you can flop down on the couch and shut off your brain with the latest tv hit du jour or some solid social media browsing, but that just makes us one step closer to the zombie apocalypse.  There’s a difference between some healthy relaxation and numbing yourself to the world. So, if the majority of your off time is being spent shutting out, worrying, complaining or being depressed about something happening during your on time then it’s worth talking to an unbiased ear in a neutral space. You may find yourself surprised at how much some constructive discussion can help you gain a different perspective and shift your experience of work, and possibly the world around you.   

Therapists are touchy-feely weirdos.  

I’ve worked with therapists from all different backgrounds ranging from attorney to investment banker to researcher to artist and everything in between.  Therapists are not one size fits all.  What works for one person won’t work for another and just because your best friend, your sister, or your dog sitter’s cousin referred you to someone they loved doesn’t mean you will automatically feel the same way.  A quick google search or even a (gasp!) phone call may help you get a sense of a potential therapist’s background.  Yes, we can be notoriously tight-lipped, but it’s okay to be a conscientious consumer. Any therapist should be able to give you a solid answer in regards to experience, schooling and training.  If you can, try and take note of how comfortable you feel during this discussion.  You might be surprised with who you feel most comfortable talking to.  Listen to your instincts.  

I don’t have a problem and I’m sick of people telling me I do.  Therapy is for the weak.

In the age of social media and constant oversharing, I’m always bemused by this one.  You know what’s weak?  Not facing up to a problem.  Everyone has “stuff.”  Look around, this is a big world with a lot of people in it- everyone’s got “something.” Going to therapy isn’t easy.  It’s not easy to open up to a stranger, to honestly discuss whatever’s brought you there and it takes an even stronger person to be able to actively look at themselves and say hey, I don’t like this, I’m going to try and change it.  Emotional pain isn’t for the weak. 

I’m not spending my hard earned money to cry in front of some stranger and have her tell me what to do.

Little known fact, therapists shouldn’t be telling you what to do.  You can get opinions and advice anywhere.  Ask facebook, ask google, ask the New York Times.  In a world where everyone has a platform, everyone also has an opinion.  Ideally, therapy should function as the opposite of this.  It’s a quiet place to filter out all that noise and to sort out your feelings without interpretations or judgments.  Over time, the experience of going to therapy should help you develop your own skill set for making decisions and choices that will be the best for you.  And that may be different than what is best for your therapist, or friend, or that dog sitter’s cousin.

Therapy isn’t even a real thing.  It’s not based on science.

If this is a concern there are plenty of evidence-based theories and practitioners out there.  Debates over the efficacy of evidence-based and non-evidence-based approaches are plentiful.  In my experience, regardless of theoretical orientation, the quality of the relationship between client and therapist is ultimately one of the most overriding factors.

Only crazy people go to therapy.

If the term crazy isn’t politically incorrect yet, it should be.  Sane people go to therapy because they’re sane enough to realize something isn’t working for them and they want to change it and/or are needing some extra support in their life which, by the way, is something everyone needs.   No man is an island.

They probably go home and tell their friends/spouses all about me.

No, we don’t.  

And since money keeps coming up, let’s wrap up with a brief discussion on the cost of therapy.  If private practice fees are what’s stopping you here are a few options.  If you have health insurance a quick call should be able to tell you how much they will be able to cover.  Next, be sure to ask any prospective therapist their policies around insurance and find out if you will be expected to pay out of pocket before insurance reimburses you.  If that isn’t in your budget you may be able to find someone who works on a sliding scale.  In fact, some therapists even keep a certain number of client slots open for this scenario.  If that still feels like a financial stretch, there are some fantastic training facilities in most major cities filled with therapists accruing their hours who charge extremely low fees.   

So there you have it, no more excuses.  See ya on the couch!

Alyssa Levine Mass

Alyssa Levine Mass

Alyssa Levine Mass, MA, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist, new to the Bay Area, and thrilled to be writing for Psyched Magazine. Previously, Alyssa worked at a community counseling center in Los Angeles seeing adults, adolescents, and children, as well as families and couples. She also led, and co-led, a wide range of groups. She utilizes a strengths- based approach, incorporating various post- modern and relational modalities, and enjoys translating what that means for clients so they can feel as informed as possible in the process of seeking help.

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