My Blog

October 10, 2016
Written by Bryan Robinson

Get It Right

Ten Misconceptions About Psychotherapy in Fiction

There is no shortage of schools of thought about psychotherapy, but if what you know about psychotherapy comes from novels, you might have some misguided notions about what really goes on in a practicing psychotherapist’s office. In fiction, psychotherapists are often portrayed as incompetent hacks, more disturbed than their clients. Some scenes are good, some bad, and others downright comical. There are numerous myths about psychotherapy that continue to show up in the written word and on the screen. Here are ten of the most common ones:

  1. People who go for psychotherapy are weak, mentally ill, or crazy. Untrue. Nowadays if you seek treatment, it’s viewed as a sign of resourcefulness. The average therapy client struggles with many of the same problems we all struggle with on a daily basis: relationships, self-doubt, confidence, self-esteem, work/life stress, life transitions, depression, and anxiety. The preferred designation for the person in therapy is “client,” not “patient,” for that very reason. Over my 20 years of experience, I’ve often said that the folks I treat in therapy are mentally healthier than some people walking the streets.
  2. Therapists sit behind desks taking notes while you lie on a couch. This is rarely the case. Trained clinicians know that the arrangement and distance between them and the client are critical for a safe and workable therapeutic alliance. Psychological or physical separation from the client can create subtle authority and intimidation and an inability on the client’s part to fully connect and disclose information pertinent to treatment. The typical therapeutic setting is much like your living room where both parties sit in comfortable chairs without barriers between them. Good therapists often ask if the distance is comfortable and refrain from taking notes until after the session so they can be present with clients.
  3. Psychotherapists and clients become best friends. There is no basis in the myth often seen in literature that you pay a psychotherapist to be nice to you and care for you. The therapeutic relationship is a psychologically intimate but strictly professional one. It’s the therapist’s absolute commitment and requirement of ethics and law that the relationship be limited to counseling sessions and necessary e-mail, phone, or text contacts. Clinicians who break the boundary between a professional relationship and friendship can lose their licenses for such infractions. The client’s name and personal story are strictly confidential. In an episode of the TV series The Sopranos, a serious ethical lapse occurred when one therapist revealed the name of another therapist’s client across a crowded table at a dinner party full of clinicians. Around the country the next day, the episode outraged clients and therapists because of this egregious ethical violation. Some fans even lost faith in their ability to maintain “belief” in the television program.
  4. Psychotherapy is mostly talk therapy. Therapy isn’t passive. Scenes in novels and TV shows where therapists just listen to clients vent, nod their heads in approval, and mirror back the same words are stereotypes. So are those cases in fiction where therapists interpret clients’ experiences for them instead of eliciting a client’s own interpretations. With today’s cutting-edge therapies, clinicians are trained in experiential and therapist-led modalities that engage both parties in an interactive collaborative process based on dialogue and the client’s active engagement in joint problem solving. Together psychotherapists and clients identify problems, set goals, and monitor progress sometimes with homework and reading assignments as part of the process.
  5. Psychotherapists have ready-made solutions for all of life’s problems. What is important in establishing the therapist-client alliance is not what the therapist thinks is important to bring about change but what the client thinks is important. A good therapist tailors treatment sessions around the needs of clients instead of plugging clients into ready-made formulas. In so doing, clinicians listen not just to the content of the story but for deeper themes and patterns that undergird the stories. This allows the professional to mirror feedback based on these emerging themes and patterns that can facilitate change, not just the repetitive words and phrases that clients supply.
  6. Psychotherapists blame a client’s problem on their upbringing. Despite the theatric antics of Dr. Phil, a well-trained therapist doesn’t blame or shame. They don’t blame clients or their parents. They bring an objective, bird’s-eye perspective to help clients see the water they’re swimming in, so they can take responsibility for their lives. Professional therapists never admonish, blame, or shame clients into change.
  7. Psychotherapists can prescribe medication. This is a common myth. The term “psychotherapist” is a broad umbrella that includes licensed social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed practicing counselors, and licensed psychologists. Although this practice has changed in some states, generally speaking psychotherapists are trained in the skill of helping clients work through their problems. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who usually limit their practices to prescribing and monitoring psychotropic medications while working with psychotherapists who conduct the actual therapy.
  8. Psychotherapy can solve problems in one or two sittings. While convenient for the writer to have a character “fixed” in a session or two, it doesn’t work that way in real life. The average session is around fifty-to-sixty minutes and the first session is basically an intake and getting acquainted session. To get to the heart of a problem, psychotherapy takes many more sessions over time. On the flipside, as in the Sopranos, psychotherapy rarely takes six or seven years. Generally speaking, something’s not working when a client works with the same therapist for excessively long periods of time. The average therapy course is three to four months.
  9. Psychotherapists believe that the personality is cemented by age five. The belief that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks is perhaps the biggest myth of all. When you read a novel in which a therapist says that personality is fixed by age five, it’s laughable and the story loses credibility. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain is malleable, and new MRI technology allows us to see this change. Some of the latest psychotherapy techniques utilize treatment based on neuroplasticity—the creation of new neural pathways in the brain and thus the potential for new beliefs and behaviors throughout life from womb to tomb.
  10. Psychotherapists make clients feel immediately better after each session. This scenario might be convenient for a storyline, but nothing is further from the truth. Clients are not cars, and therapists aren’t mechanics. Clients are active participants while therapists help them face and uncover whatever is bothering them. That process takes time and can be initially difficult and painful. Having feelings stirred up is part of the therapeutic process. When psychotherapists describe the healing trajectory, we often say sometimes things get worse before they get better. But skilled therapists are trained on how to lead clients through the storm into the calm.
April 25, 2012
Written by Bryan Robinson

Stress-Proof Your Relationship: Love Your Partner’s Virtues AND Vices

I’ll never forget the day we met. Atlanta. 1970. Bell bottoms, peace symbols, and shoulder-length hair were the rage. Now, forty-two years later, what I still remember most about that first encounter are those emerald-green eyes; that witty, devil-may-care abandon; that fun-loving, flexible and spur-of-the-moment zest for life. It’s interesting how, after only seven years (Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no such thing as the seven-year itch!) that carefree, playful, free spirit I had met suddenly morphed into an unpredictable, disorganized, irresponsible, and messy slob! Okay, so I’m exaggerating. But there’s a point.

Stress and the Flipside of the Coin

  If you’re like me, you were swept off your feet when you first met the love of your life. You swooned. Your heart leaped. And your beloved’s virtues stood out from the vices. Then, after a while into the relationship, you start to see the flipside of the coin: all the vices that bug you. Maybe you think to yourself, “Boy, has she changed” or “He’s not the same man I used to know.” But the truth is that she hasn’t changed, and yes, he’s exactly the same man. You’re just starting to see the other side. The things that cause stress in your intimate relationship are often the flipside of the things that originally attracted you. Think about it this way: Virtues contain vices. Strength contains willfulness; stability contains control; spontaneity contains abandon. You’re getting a package deal. When virtues get carried to excess, you get vices, hence conflict.      

Are You a Rock or Bird?

  If you were to interview my partner, here’s how I would’ve looked at our first encounter: “in charge, stable, organized, solid, serious.” And here’s how I would’ve looked after seven years together: “controlling, rigid, inflexible, workaholic.” Here’s why: In most intimate relationships one party is a rock and one is a bird. Rocks are closed books; they play their hands close to their chests, keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, are organized, logical, unemotional, and usually have things under control. Birds are open books; they show their cards. They could care less about order and organization. They are more emotional, playful, spontaneous, flexible, and flow with the moment. They are often more creative and intuitive than rocks. These differences can be sources of major conflict and stress, but they don’t have to be.    

A Match Made in Heaven? Seriously?

  A match made in Heaven? I can see you rolling your eyes. And, no, I’m not on crack. My long-term relationship is proof of that. The truth is that one style is not better or more right than the other. Both the bird and rock play important roles in a relationship. The rock provides stability and the bird provides levity–both of which are necessary ingredients for a balanced match. Two rocks would sink from the intensity and two birds would fly off into the wild blue yonder with nobody taking care of business. So believe it or not, the rock and bird are a union made in Heaven if…

1. If you’re willing to see some value in your partner’s style–instead of thinking your way is right or better–you’ll notice a difference in the tension between you.

2. If you’re willing to look for the virtues contained in your partner’s vices–and to round out yourself by incorporating some of those virtues into yourself, you’ll make a big step to stress-proofing your relationship.


Think of Your Partner as Your “Tor-Mentor”

  Ah, your partner is your teacher, and you can learn a lot about yourself from this “tor-mentor.” I’m much more lighthearted and flexible than I used to be. And my partner is much more organized and responsible. I challenge you to look at your mate differently today. Here’s how to find your mirror message and what to do with it:

1. Identify who’s the rock and bird in your intimate relationship.

2. Make a list of your partner’s polar opposites (his or her “vices”) that “bug” you.

3. Extract the positive qualities or virtues contained in each vice on your list and write them beside each of the vices. For example, if he’s a perfectionist, he might be accomplished or people might look up to him. If she doesn’t plan ahead, perhaps she’s mindful of living in the moment.

4. Next, pinpoint the mirror message–the flipside of yourself that you disowned or never developed–that can complete you and make you well rounded. For example, if he’s a perfectionist and you’re more of a procrastinator, the mirror message might be that you need to up your game. If she doesn’t plan ahead and you’re on the fast track, the mirror message might be that you need to put on the brakes and live more in the present.

5. Then, put a check mark by each mirror message trait that you can start to develop within yourself.

6. Give this exercise to your partner and have him or her follow the same steps.

After both of you have completed the exercise, you’ll be surprised at how much more you appreciate the relationship and how much more stress-free it will be. After all, that’s why opposites attract: to bring wholeness and balance to each other. Once you start to look at the differences as a plus, instead of a minus, you’ll inject less stress and more harmony into your relationship.  For more information on how to stress-proof your relationships, you can order my new book, The Smart Guide to Managing Stress, right here on this website.
January 27, 2012
Written by Bryan Robinson

Are You Loving as Much as You Could?

February is the month of love. A perfect time for you to ask yourself, “Am I truly loving the person I care about?” Chances are if you’re in an intimate relationship, you and your partner speak different “love languages.” No matter how hard you express yourself in English, if your mate only understands Chinese, your ability to communicate and connect is stalled. So it is with the expression of love. Your love language and that of your mate could be as different as English and Chinese. But when you learn each others’ primary love language and speak it, it helps you develop mutual empathy, appreciation, and a strong bond.

Gary Chapman’s Five Languages of Love

  1. Words of Affirmation. You communicate appreciation, encouragement, kindness, humility, and empathy–seeing the world from your partner’s point of view.
  2.  Quality Time. You spend time together, giving your full attention to your spouse or partner, have meaningful conversations in which you share your deepest feelings and experiences, or enjoy activities in which you both share an interest.
  3.  Receiving Gifts. You give and accept money or gifts that represent an expression of love, or you gift yourself to your mate by being emotionally present during a time of need.
  4. Acts of Service. You perform an action that you know would please your partner such as cooking a favorite meal, washing the car, or grocery shopping.
  5. Physical Touch. You are physically intimate in the form of giving hugs, kissing, holding hands, giving back rubs, or sexual intercourse.

What is Your Love Language?  Take the Quiz

Answering the following questions can give you a clue to your (or your partner’s) love language and a clearer picture of how you receive your mate’s love:
  • What does your intimate partner do or fail to do that frustrates you the most or hurts you deeply? (The opposite of what hurts you or frustrates you could indicate your love language).
  • What do you need emotionally from your spouse or partner that you don’t get enough of? (Your unmet emotional needs are likely indicators of what would make you feel loved).
  • How do you usually show love to your mate? (Because we tend to love our intimate partners in ways we would like to be loved, your way of expressing love is often a clue to what would also make you feel loved).
  • What would your idea of an ideal spouse or partner be like?
Answers to these questions can give you a picture of your love language and that of your partner. The next step is to share your discovery and then practice speaking each others’ love languages on a regular basis. What a great Valentine present to give each other! For more tips on developing stress-free relationships and building long-lasting love, you can order a copy of my book, The Smart Guide to Managing Stress on this website.