There are several myths about the psychologist and/or psychology practice, which might influence people to not look for support.
Myth 1 “Only crazy people go to the psychologist!”
Although psychology has emerged with a focus on mental illness, it has been recognized that people without any diagnosis of this nature also benefit from psychological intervention by increasing knowledge of themselves or by working on any kind of experiential (existential) issues. Indeed, many people seek psychotherapy to learn how to better deal with personal issues (difficulties, conflicts, changes), as well as to know themselves better, and/or as an aid, to cope with new phases and life cycles. A person diagnosed with cancer faces the unexpected suddenly. Moreover, cancer is a life-threatening situation that can cause instability in many areas of life (family, employment, etc.), and for that reason, psychological support can be relevant to help the person understand and adjust to such changes.
Myth 2 “Psychotherapy is the same as self-help”
No. Psychological intervention is always based on scientific assumptions. On the other hand, self-help gives suggestions disregarding the particularities of each individual, and therefore can be risky or even disastrous in some situations.
Myth 3 “Seeking a psychologist is a sign of weakness”
There is no weakness or strength when we are talking about psychological traits; there are instead different ways of dealing with specific situations. Among several possible causes, seeking a psychologist means recognizing the existence of a problem/situation in which someone feels the need for help. Above all, it is not about weakness but about commitment to your own well-being.
Myth 4 “Going to the psychologist is only talk. I prefer to talk to someone else!”
While conversation is an essential work tool for the psychologist, psychotherapy is much more than “talk”. Although we may feel relief when we have a “good talk” with someone, it is often difficult to express oneself and even harder to be understood. Moreover, in many situations, those who are listening to us tend to give advice that may not be best for our reality and characteristics. The psychologist facilitates not only the expression of our emotions, but also their understanding and interaction with our thoughts and actions. Thus, the strategies implemented help the patient to understand their thinking and behavior pattern and, subsequently, they can respond to situations in an autonomous and more adjusted way.
Myth 5 “I have my own psychiatrist, so I don’t need a psychologist as well”
There are several differences between the work done by the psychologist and the work done by the psychiatrist. In Portugal, only the psychiatrist can prescribe medication, since psychiatry is a medical specialty. Thus, the use of medication is a key element in psychiatric therapy and may be justified in situations of deeper mental illness or transiently in acute states. In psychology, the work develops by the relationship between the patient and the psychologist, through learning strategies and reformulation of thoughts, so that the patient can adjust to problematic situations autonomously and effectively. The support provided by the psychologist and psychiatrist is often complementary, i.e. depending on the clinical situation, the patient may benefit from follow-up by both.