Myths about therapy are everywhere.
If you’ve never been in therapy, you may have a picture in your head about what it’s like. Some of this comes from the (usually, REALLY inappropriate) depictions of therapy in TV shows and movies. Some of this comes from the improving-but-still-there societal stigma around having mental health challenges or going to therapy. Maybe you’ve received messages from family or friends about therapy based on their own misconceptions. These myths become problematic when they prevent new parents from seeking the support they need.
Here are some common myths about therapy for new parents (plus, what’s actually true!):
Therapy Myth #1: “My problems aren’t serious enough for therapy.”
Becoming a parent is intense. 1 out of 7 mothers and 1 out of 10 fathers experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (aka PMAD) during pregnancy or the postpartum year. Some signs of a PMAD include:
- losing interest in activities that you used to love
- crying or being on the verge of tears all day
- frequent intrusive thoughts about you or someone else unintentionally harming your baby
- feeling distracted with worry or panic about your baby while you’re away from them
- feeling intense irritability and anger towards the people around you
- having difficulty concentrating or staying motivated with important tasks
- feeling especially exhausted because you’re not sleeping at night (even when your baby does)
- feeling regret about having a baby or worry that you might not be cut out for parenting
Despite how common this is, the experience is often minimized or dismissed by well-meaning loved ones who may not recognize the signs and symptoms of these serious, yet VERY TREATABLE conditions. If you’re having a hard time but are led to believe that your problems “aren’t serious enough,” you may struggle longer, more intensely, and unnecessarily.
Keep in mind, therapy isn’t just for new parents experiencing a PMAD. Sometimes therapy can be a powerful tool to prevent a PMAD from developing in the first place.
Punchline? You don’t need to justify the “seriousness” of your problems in order to seek support. If you’re a new parent looking to prioritize your mental health during this major life transition, therapy can help.
Therapy Myth #2: “Therapy is the same as venting to a friend, just more expensive.”
With all of the change that happens during the transition to parenthood, there’s a lot to process! When you need to “vent,” loved ones may offer a listening ear, advice based on their own experience, and personal connection. Sometimes talking with a close, trusted friend is exactly what you need!
Other times, you may need more. By working with a therapist, you:
- benefit from their years of clinical training and practice helping others work through similar challenges.
- can count on regular, dedicated time focused entirely on YOU and your mental health.
- get to process with the support of an outside, unbiased perspective.
- can learn evidenced-based strategies to meet your goals.
- can trust that what you share in therapy is confidential.
Friends and therapists can both play an important role in our life as a new parent — but they are not the same.
Therapy Myth #3: “I’ll be pressured to talk about things I don’t want to talk about.”
It can feel incredibly vulnerable to open up to a stranger (like a new therapist). It’s natural to feel guarded about certain parts of your life.
Part of your therapist’s job is to understand where you are and where you’ve been so that they can help you get to where you want to go. Sometimes, this brings up topics that are painful or uncomfortable for you to talk about.
Ideally, your therapist will create a sense of safety during therapy so that you are able to gently explore and process any parts of your story that are getting in the way of your goals. However, your therapist should never pressure you to discuss anything you don’t want to.
At the end of the day, it’s your therapy, and you get to decide what to share (or not).
Therapy Myth #4: “They’ll take my baby away if I have a mental health issue.”
If you suspect that you are experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, this myth is understandably the scariest. Experiencing mental health challenges DOES NOT mean that you are a “bad” parent or unable to provide all of the care your baby needs. It may mean that you could benefit from additional support (like therapy!).
In the VERY rare and serious case where there is concern for a child’s safety due to potential violence or neglect, a therapist is legally required to report this concern in order to protect the wellbeing of that child. In this scenario, the responding agency will conduct a more in-depth assessment to understand the risk of harm to the child and, when safe to do so, will provide resources to the family in order to support the child’s safety in their own home. Again, this is only in very rare and serious cases.
What’s more common? Scary, intrusive thoughts about accidentally harming your baby. Many new parents are nervous to share about these thoughts due to fear that their therapist will doubt their ability to keep their baby safe. The truth is, these thoughts are actually your brain’s way of anticipating and preventing harm to your little one. Therapists trained in perinatal mental health are trained to recognize and treat this experience so that the thoughts are less overwhelming and easier to manage.
Therapy Myth #5: “I should be able to handle this on my own.”
Just for a second, let’s pretend we could remove all of the judgement, expectations, and “shoulds” that come along with new parenthood. What is it that you’re actually needing right now? If the answer is “more support,” that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means you’re human. Here’s the thing: it’s possible that you COULD handle this on your own. You just don’t have to.
Don’t let myths about therapy keep you from seeking support.
Curious about therapy, but still unsure what to expect? Many therapists offer a free consultation for you to ask any questions you have about therapy before getting started. This can be a great time to get the answers you need to make a decision about whether therapy is right for you.