Mental health awareness has come a long way over the past five years but 43%1 of people in the UK believe there's still a stigma around having counselling and psychotherapy. And one in five (19%)2 of us believe it's self-indulgent to seek counselling or psychotherapy if you don’t have a serious problem.
Longstanding myths about therapy stop many people from getting the support they need. So here our members share the UK’s most common misconceptions about therapy,3 and why so many people (who have never tried it) have got the wrong impression…
1. Counselling is only for those with major issues
“Counselling can be accessed for many different reasons - from career changes and relationship difficulties to self-esteem issues and performance at work,” says Nicola Vanlint. “It’s a great way to help you understand yourself better and can be a form of wellbeing treatment – like going for a massage or having your hair done.”
“Many of my clients are initially concerned whether their difficulties are ‘enough’ to warrant my attention and care,” adds Helen Hazell-English, an online counsellor for mums and mums to be.
“I think this myth comes from historic ideas that personal distress is a private or family matter. Clients often feel ashamed about reaching out when ‘so many other people have things a lot worse’. I remind my clients that we all suffer. We are social creatures who benefit from warm, supportive, and nurturing relationships. And we heal best with one another.
“You don't have to be in crisis. Therapy can be about wanting and expecting more from life. You can have gratitude for all the good things you have going on and yet still feel stuck. And that is ‘enough’ of a reason to seek support from a counsellor or therapist.”
2. People think counsellors will give them direct advice and tell them what they need to do
“It’s a common misconception but, actually, counsellors do not offer advice,” says private practitioner Anthony Davis. “Instead, they support you to develop and help you to formulate solutions to your problems. You are the expert and counsellors just facilitate your journey of exploration and self-discovery.”
“But some clients do actively crave advice,” adds Helen. “Part of my role is to explore that very common human feeling of yearning for an answer or to be rescued. I help people untangle and explore their thoughts and feelings, and to hold a safe and welcoming space to do so. It takes a particular skill to be able to resist the temptation of advice-giving.”
3. Getting help means you’re weak
“Getting help is the opposite of weakness,” says Anthony. “It can be hard to ask for help and it takes significant strength to seek support for your mental health.”
“Starting work with a counsellor is a courageous act of hope, self-worth and imagination,” adds Helen. “People who go to therapy often want to squeeze more from life and are bravely exploring their inner world.”
4. Counsellors just want to talk about my childhood
“So, counselling does explore the past and your childhood,” says Anthony. “But it also focuses on the present and current concerns you experience. You will never be forced to discuss your childhood, or any other experience you do not feel comfortable or ready to discuss.”
5. If it doesn’t work with one, it won’t work with any counsellor
“If you unfortunately did not have a good experience with one counsellor, this will not dictate a similar experience with a different counsellor,” says Anthony. “The relationship between counsellor and client is paramount for therapy to be effective.”
“Like in life, there are some people we ‘click’ with others and others we don’t,” adds Nicola. “Most therapists offer a free compatibility call to explore whether you are a good fit. And if they don’t offer this, then feel free to ask them if they can. Remember, it’s ok to ask.”
6. Counsellors are going to judge me
“You will never be judged by your counsellor,” assures Anthony Davis. “At the core of counselling is offering a non-judgmental, compassionate, and empathetic environment for clients.”
“Judging others says more about ourselves then the other person. We judge people on our own beliefs and experiences. Counsellors have therapy as part of their training and ongoing personal development. During their training they learn how to be neutral and non-biased,” says Nicola.
7. They can’t help because they don’t know me
“Not knowing clients outside the therapy room is precisely what makes therapy so powerful,” states Helen. “I can offer my clients a warm, real relationship but without the bias and power struggles of normal social life when we are naturally very invested in and impacted by what our loved ones do.
“Clients find it a relief that unlike a good friendship they don’t have to be on sparkling form or consider whether they are burdening me. We can just get on with productively working on their ‘stuff’.”
8. There’s no end to it, counsellors will keep asking me for more money
“Counselling is not a never-ending process,” says Anthony. “The purpose of engaging in counselling is that eventually you will no longer need it. Therefore, counsellors frame the therapeutic process with the goal of ending with clients once the counsellor and client agree ending is appropriate.”
1 BACP’s Public Perceptions Survey 2023 - Q3_8. There is a stigma about having counselling or psychotherapy - 43% agree
2 BACP’s Public Perceptions Survey 2023 – Q3_1. It is self-indulgent to seek counselling or psychotherapy if you do not have a serious problem - 19% agree
3 BACP’s Mindometer Survey 2022 - most common counselling misconceptions as voted by BACP therapists
Thinking about therapy?
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Our campaign aims to demystify therapy, tackle misconceptions and answer common questions about seeing a therapist
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