Nearly 20% of US adults have some form of mental illness, with almost 1 in 4 of those considered serious. Yet less than half of American adults with mental illness seek help from a mental health professional. Why?
Though we’ve gotten much better at talking about mental health, there’s still a stigma about it that keeps people from asking for help. Plus millions of Americans don’t have health insurance—and even if they do, many healthcare policies don’t cover mental health treatments. The problem is, myths and misconceptions about therapy and mental health prevent people from learning about the benefits of therapy.
What is mental health therapy?
Therapy is a strategy for addressing mental and behavioral concerns through communication and self-discovery. Therapy isn’t just for people with serious mental illnesses—it also helps cope with grief, trauma, stress, balancing relationships, and the wear and tear of life.
Within different fields of therapy there are innumerable tools and methods therapists use to help clients and patients work toward success.
Perhaps you’ve heard of popular therapy tools like:
Emotion-focused therapy (EFT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Some therapists specialize in a particular modality, while others adapt a variety of tools depending on the goal. Whatever the case, the first step of therapy is evaluation, through which the therapist gathers information (for social workers, that includes biological, psychological, and social history) and then makes an assessment to determine diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan. Because each person is unique, the treatment plan is highly individualized.
The difference between social work vs. psychology vs. psychiatry
There are a host of qualifications that therapists add to the end of their names to expand their knowledge and ability. Think of it like an RPG videogame where your character levels up through various experiences, training programs, and tool acquisition that enables them to tackle more difficult quests, defeat more powerful adversaries, and access hidden avenues of success.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the BS, BA, BSW, MSW, MS, PhD, MD, NCAC, LCSW, LPC, LMFT, CCBT, ABPP, CST, etc...
For our purposes we’ll stick with MSW, LCSW, and CST.
Valerie McDonnell, LCSW means Licensed Clinical Social Worker (in Richmond, VA). In this case with a Master’s in Social Work (MSW). That title will soon include CST (Certified Sex Therapist). The main difference between social work vs. psychology is the emphasis on social justice and bigger-picture aspects of how mental health fits within society and social constructs.
Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Examining thought and consciousness as well as emotion and the subconscious. Psychology is further broken into behavioral, social, and cognitive studies, with psychologists often specializing in their research.
Psychiatry is a field of mental health science that combines psychology with medical school. Having an MD degree means psychiatrists can prescribe medicine as part of a treatment regimen. But that often means they find themselves without time for behavioral therapy or client relationships.
8 Common Misconceptions About Mental Health Therapy
Treatment modalities are mutually exclusive
Therapy for the past; life-coach for the future
Therapy is only for people with serious problems or severe mental illness
Going to therapy means I’ll get diagnosed with something forever
My therapist will think I’m crazy if I tell my story
My therapist will tell my parents or spouse what I say
I just have to show up for weekly sessions and I’ll make adequate progress
Therapy means quick progress
What does therapy do?
Therapy helps people process and understand the complex workings of their mental and behavioral functions. Therapists can help formulate and support a plan of action that may include journaling and communication goals, habit-correcting practices, self-care exercises, and more.
Think of a therapist as a guide, rather than a programmer. Therapy is a journey—not a result. It can be difficult and uncomfortable to look inward and explore unaddressed issues and experiences that have had a sustained ripple effect for years or decades. But therapy can help people balance or redirect those ripples to empower rather than capsize.
Looking for a therapist in Richmond, VA? Got more questions?
Produced with Quillpower