There are certainly popular misconceptions about most professions but counseling — because there’s a certain shroud of secrecy surrounding it — seems to have more than its fair share.  Here are the top 5 myths about counseling:

1) You’ll be asked to lie on a couch.  If Freud were alive today, he’d be considered a marketing genius, given how often a couch is associated with therapy.  Freudian psychoanalysis did, indeed often involve the patient lying on a couch while the analyst sat behind him or her, asking provocative questions (hopefully not taking a nap).  But even Freud left the couch behind in favor of walking sessions around Vienna sometimes.  Today’s therapists generally eschew the whole lying-on-the-couch thing and rely on both therapist and client remaining upright.

2) It’s just talking.  Therapists undergo years of education, training, practicum, and supervision to make sure they aren’t just having water-cooler conversation.  Their training teaches them how to gauge what to say, when to say it, and how it is likely to help their client to advance in terms of thinking and behavior, deal with past trauma, and heal.  Modern therapists also often offer resource suggestions, including apps, books, relaxation exercises, videos, and even music, to help their clients make progress faster.

3) It’s only for severely mentally ill people.   Many people can benefit from sharing their stresses and problems with someone neutral.  Moreover, there’s a type of counseling support for everyone, including life coaching, walk-and-talk therapy, art therapy, cognitive therapy, and countless more.

Folks who, sadly, are dealing with severe and lifelong mental illness require intensive and lifelong psychiatric treatment that typically involves hospitalizations.  This is a very small subset of the people who seek some kind of counseling support during their lifespan.

4) It will continue indefinitely.  Many people are afraid to start counseling for fear that the therapist will try to keep them for years on end.  The truth is that therapists understand that there are financial, time, and other real-world constraints for their clients.  Your therapist will have a general recommendation for length of treatment based on the issues you’ve shared, their severity, and how much they are impacting your life.  But ultimately, the choice for how long to be in outpatient therapy is completely up to you.  Don’t be afraid to talk with your therapist about your particular situation.

5) You have to pretend not to know your therapist if you see him/her outside of session.  Therapists are obligated to protect their patients confidentiality, which means that your therapist will generally take his or her cues from you.  As a default, most therapists will maintain practiced neutrality and not reveal that they know you.  If however, you enthusiastically come up and greet her or him, s/he is likely to return the greeting.

If you have questions or concerns about any of these myths or just want to know more about counseling, don’t be afraid to ask a therapist.  Counselors are happy to debunk any of the misconceptions surrounding their field.