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Some of the Biggest Psychological Myths We Encounter in Online Therapy Sessions

online therapy myths

A car with flashing lights tries to warn the woman that a man is hiding in her backseat, but she reads the signals completely wrong. Or so the urban legend goes. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Or so the saying goes. You can target specific areas through exercise to burn fat in those specific spots. Or so the latest ad would have you believe. Irrespective of which area of life you look into, you’ll always find a few myths. The same goes for psychology. We are often confronted with myths during our online therapy sessions that have been held up as truth for decades.

That’s why we’ve decided to tackle a few of these common misconceptions in this article. By empowering yourself with knowledge, you won’t be falling for any of these myths. You’ll also be able to stop the further spread of misinformation. So, without further ado, let’s start busting some of these popular psychological myths!

Myth 1: Opposites Attract

While having people who think and act differently from you in your orbit undoubtedly has benefits, it’s simply not true that opposites attract. In fact, when it comes to attraction in relationships (whether platonic or romantic), studies show that it’s similarity that has us gravitate toward certain people. Byrne already proved in 1961 that if we have two traits or points of agreement that align with someone else, we are twice as likely to like them.

In the same way, Lundy, Barker & Glen proved in 2013 that we tend to dislike those dissimilar to us. The opposites attract myth is often enforced by Hollywood and is actually a myth that can have detrimental real-life consequences. Because of this myth, many may enter or stay in doomed or toxic relationships. This myth often comes up during online therapy sessions, especially in our relationship counselling sessions.

Myth 2: You’re Right- or Left-Brained

Are you creative? Then you’re right-brained. Are you more practical and analytical? Then you’re left-brained. Or at least that’s what people believed. The truth is that we all use both sides of our brains, which have different sections responsible for specific functions. While there may be certain parts we use more than others, depending on our lifestyles, careers, etc., both sides of the brain end up being used equally. Being right- or left-brained comes up quite often in online therapy when someone tries to describe themselves.

Myth 3: We Use Only 10% of Our Brain Power

This is not a myth that just the average Joe and Jane fall for. According to a survey by Herculano-Houzel, even 6% of neuroscientists thought this was true! This myth likely started with self-improvement gimmicks in the 90s. Self-help gurus tried to sell all sorts of secrets and techniques for “unlocking” the other 90% of your brain power.

But this myth was officially busted by the US National Research Council. For many, finding out this is just a myth during online therapy can be quite disappointing. Who wouldn’t want an extra 90% of dormant potential just waiting to be harnassed?

Myth 4: Lie Detection is a Real Thing

Our TV screens and the internet are full of it; people passing lie detector tests and others commenting on how you can spot a lie with certain actions or behaviours. But this is not only untrue, taken out of context, this belief can also be extremely dangerous. Research conducted by Lykken in 1998 has found that almost 40% of lie detector results are incorrect. There also isn’t a quick fix or one-size-fits-all-solution when it comes to lie spotting.

While it’s true that certain people can develop a “tell” that some can spot during a Poker tournament, it would require playing many a hand with that player and truly getting to know them and their “quirks”. One thing you’re sure to learn in online therapy is that people are simply too different and react completely differently to situations.

And accusing someone of, for example, murdering their spouse just because they’re blinking their left eye too much or doing some other arbitrary thing too little or too much, is a very dangerous game that can have serious consequences for both the accused and the accuser.

Myth 5: You Go to the Psychologist, and You’ll Just End Up on Pills for the Rest of Your Life

Myth 5: Part 1

We have had many an online therapy session where people genuinely thought we could prescribe them things. So, the first myth we’re dealing with here is that we get confused with psychiatrists all the time. Psychologists are mental health specialists who only focus on the mind.

In other words, we are trained to identify all sorts of mental health issues and disorders as well as walk a path of healing with our clients by incorporating different techniques, skills, ways of building neuropathways, etc. If we identify something serious that will require medication, we can refer someone to a psychiatrist. They specialise more on the medical and clinical side of mental health and will then be able to prescribe medications if needed.

Myth 5: Part 2

The second part of this myth is that people struggling with their mental health will be given medication. Almost like the equation begins and ends with: go to a doctor=get medication. When it comes to mental health, medication is not always the solution. And on the few occasions that it is, it might also just be for a short while.

For example, you may have extreme PTSD after a serious accident that impacts your sleep. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be on sleeping pills for the rest of your life. It will only be used for a short period to re-establish a normal sleeping pattern. Here, we would also like to caution people. Our field has been plagued with over-medicating. Although there is undoubtedly a place for medication where mental wellness is concerned, too many end up on unnecessary medications.

Medication needs proper knowledge of the person and their circumstances (this is where psychologists play a vital role). If you ever find yourself in a situation where a doctor simply wants to start prescribing medication to you on day one with no real context to your situation or properly getting to know you as a person, and you feel uncomfortable about it, please seek out a second or even a third opinion.

Myth 6: Sneaky Marketers Use Subliminal Messages Which Subconsciously Persuades You to Purchase Their Products

Everyone has heard the stories; the brief flicker of an image on a screen, the whisper in the background, and before you know it, you’re craving a soda or buying a new rug. While subliminal messages could undoubtedly be very handy to those wanting to make money, it simply doesn’t work. There have been very short-lived and temporary successes under extremely controlled circumstances inside lab studies.

These instances are also more on the level of a neat magic trick than world domination for a global conglomerate. For example, in a study conducted in 1992, subjects were given half a word “gui_ _”.  They were then asked to complete it. Researchers could increase the probability of the subjects filling in the letters to make “guide” after using a lot of words such as “lead”, “direct”, and “escort” with the subject. The same goes for the word “guile” when using the words “treachery”, “deceit”, and “duplicity”.

So, while our brains undoubtedly function without us necessarily being aware of it (we’re not constantly thinking “breathe” throughout the day), the type of processing required for taking in, understanding, and then acting upon subliminal messaging is simply not possible on an unconscious level. This myth latched onto the earlier beliefs of Freud (which has largely been abandoned in the psychological field) and people such as Vance Packard, who made a living off of selling books such as The Hidden Persuaders.

The Packard Scandal

In fact, Packard is single-handedly responsible for one of the biggest subliminal messages urban legend still doing the rounds today. Remember the story about the people in the cinema who were subjected to flashing images of Coke and popcorn, which led to sales skyrocketing? Well, that is a study that was included in one of Packard’s books.

Except he would never provide any real details about the event, the study could not be found in any scientific journals, and those who attempted to recreate the study failed dismally. In 1962, he finally admitted that he had made it all up in an attempt to revive his failing consulting business (the irony is not lost on us).

Myth 7: Trust Your Gut and Always Go With the First Answer

This is a widely accepted myth, especially when it comes to tests and exams. The belief is that your instinct would’ve led you in the right direction the first time around, and if you start second-guessing yourself, you’re more likely to end up being wrong. We come across this belief quite often during online therapy. However, studies by researchers such as Copeland and McMorris & DeMers have actually found the opposite to be true.

You are more likely to change an incorrect answer to the correct one, and when purposefully indulging the myth, it only leads to lower test scores. This myth is based on our enhancement of negative memories. In other words, we are more likely to remember experiences we had negative feelings about than positive ones.

So, the fact that we can so vividly recall that we had experienced being wrong, even after initially being right, is merely our self-abasement and those negative experiences actually overshadowing all the similar experiences where we had a positive outcome. Interesting, right?

When Myths Really Need Busting

For us as psychologists, it’s fascinating how we humans continue to function with certain beliefs essentially based on nothing but, well, mere belief. Whether it’s something passed down from generation to generation, something we’ve read “somewhere”, or something the illusive “they” have said – we have many myths in our lives that actually impact how we live our lives each day.

While most myths are fairly harmless, others can actually impact our lives very negatively. If you think you have some pre-conceived ideas or thoughts that may be hindering you, reach out to us at or complete the form below. We’ll happily go on a myth-busting journey with you!

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