How to Overcome Your Fear of Therapy
Did you know that one out of five Americans struggles with mental illness every year? That means you’re likely to know someone who has a mental illness, even if you do not have one yourself. In short, mental illness doesn’t appear to be rare. And, more importantly, it shouldn’t be feared.
Even though the media and horror movies portray it in that way, studies show that Americans with mental illnesses are less violent than the general population. As a result, you shouldn’t be afraid when people talk about mental illness. And, you also shouldn’t be frightened about opening up about your mental health.
Despite all of the above, most people not only avoid this topic, but they also do not pursue therapy. Why?
There’s no one right answer. However, as it turns out, most people refuse mental health treatment because of the following factors;
“I think that in this day and age, our society is so focused on bigger, better, faster, stronger, that unfortunately, something like seeking help for mental health issues can be perceived as being weak,” Lindsay Raffaele, IIN Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach, and Founder of Finely Nourished tells Thriveworks Counseling.
“I say ‘perceived’ because typically, this is the story that we tell ourselves, it’s not fact or even necessarily real. Once we create space for a more positive mindset, we see a lot of their other concerns fall into place. At the end of the day, seeking help for mental health issues, or any health issue for that matter, should never be seen as weak—it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s a proactive measure to a better life.”
“As an anxiety disorder specialist, I practice a specific type of therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) because CBT has been shown to be an effective treatment whereas traditional talk therapy has not. Unfortunately, some people have had negative experiences with the mental health care system in that they (or someone they knew) attempted treatment with providers who were either not familiar with or not using the appropriate evidence-based treatment for that particular disorder,” Ashley Smith, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, explains.
“If all you have heard is that therapy doesn’t work, why would you give it a shot?”
“Sometimes people think that they should be able to solve their problems without any input from a professional,” Lisa Larsen, PsyD, licensed psychologist states. “There is a stigma against mental illness and many people don’t want to be considered mentally ill, even though ironically if they’re suffering, the therapy could make them less mentally ill. Other people fear that looking at events from the past will be painful and upsetting, which is sometimes true.”
“Again, however, it seems more logical and healthy to address the past events so they don’t keep having a negative influence on their lives rather than continue to repress or deny the events.”
“Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear that they may outgrow their friends, family, and loved ones,” says Therapist Sarah Thacker. “People also seem to be very afraid of feeling their feelings and of being judged. Vulnerability is hard, and therapy by nature requires being open, honest, and vulnerable, which does not come naturally for so many.”
“Once people find therapy to be an accepting, safe place where they can open up at their own pace, they find it to be the best thing that they have ever experienced. They feel as though the growth, comfort, and ease that therapy can create opens them up to truly being their best self.”
Aside from avoiding therapy for fear of having to examine a painful past or feeling overwhelmed, people shun therapy for fear of the diagnosis. And, some maybe even worry that they’ll be controlled by their therapist.
“Having been a therapist for several years, I have come across many individuals who are hesitant to engage in treatment. More often than not, people are misinformed about what therapy actually is,” Robyn Gold, licensed clinical social worker, notes.
“Many individuals have developed the belief that if they attend therapy, it means they’re crazy, which is simply just not true. I think this perspective is likely a result of how the media portrays mental health professionals.”
How to Overcome Your Fear of Therapy
Even if you’ve had the self-awareness and courage to schedule your first appointment, it’s still normal to feel anxious before your first visit. But, what if fear is still holding you back from seeking help? Well, here are seven ways to assist you in overcoming this fear. And, you can also use these tips prior to your first appointment as well!
1. Be proud of yourself.
Just deciding to go to therapy is an enormous step. It’s clear that your mental health is a problem and you are prepared to take steps to improve it. Talking to a therapist about something so personal takes courage. As such, it’s important to appreciate the efforts you’ve already made.
2. Stand up to stigma.
Although we are increasingly aware of mental health, the stigma of being unable to manage challenges by ourselves looms large, even though we are in need of support. Are you concerned about that? “Or, are you afraid that your loved ones, boss, or even your partner might wonder what's wrong with you instead of what's right about getting the help you need?,” asks Marina Solis, MA.
“You’re not alone. Mental health stigma can be scary; it’s scarier to suffer without knowing how to stop your pain.”
Consider this from a different perspective, she advises. “How would you respond to a family member or friend who felt terrible physically and suffered daily? What if they told you how much they wanted to feel better, but that they were afraid you’d look down on them for going to the doctor? Would you say they were weak, or that they were faking their illness?”
It's obvious that you wouldn't! So, don't delay in getting relief. “The stigma around seeking help for your mental health is an obstacle you have every right to bulldoze on the way to feeling better!”
3. Keep realistic expectations in mind.
Therapy can be a useful tool to manage mental health, but it isn't a miracle cure. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect your problems to be solved immediately after only your first few sessions.
In order to get the most out of therapy, you must set specific goals. Your therapy goals should define what you hope to achieve, such as overcoming substance abuse, coping with anxiety, or improving your relationships with family members. Its important to set specific goals to temper your expectations and realize that therapy can often take a long time and effort.
4. Rethink your problems with labels.
“Diagnoses can feel scary, as though we are being physically branded with a label for the rest of our lives,” adds Solis. “It can feel as though we are no longer ourselves.”
To continue to suffer for fear of finding out what's wrong is also not an option. You cannot sacrifice your relief for a label. Here's another way to turn this around: knowing what is going on for you provides the freedom to know yourself better. “It’s the freedom to find the right counselor and treatment for your needs.”
Regardless of whether or not your therapist diagnoses you with a mental illness (which is not always the case), you can use it as an opportunity to find friends and supporters who understand. Better yet, you can be a supporter of a community of people who know you understand them and who are in need.
5. Don't be shy about asking questions.
Write down any questions you have about therapy before your first session. Examples could be what type of insurance is accepted, what experience the therapist has, and what type of treatment is best for you.
In therapy, there is no such thing as a wrong answer. Even if your therapist doesn’t have all the answers, they can still assist you in finding them. And, in order to establish a solid patient-therapist relationship, you need to ask important questions of your therapist.
6. Everything is confidential.
Whether you’ve already scheduled your first appointment, or simply thinking about it, don’t feel pressured to share your mental health story until you’re ready. While it may help to confide in close friends and family, you don’t have to tell your co-workers, boss, or make a social media post.
You should also rest assured that all information shared in a therapy session will remain private. If your therapist has reason to suspect that you might harm yourself or others, they cannot share any information about you without your written consent. If so, then they must preempt such harm or contact the authorities.
7. Practice mindfulness, compassion, and patience.
“We can get worked up and upset when we need help,” Solis states. “Therapy may seem like a slap in the face to our self-sufficiency and independence, as though we have failed at being healthy, strong, and self-sustaining."
However, that isn't true at all. The human brain is wired in a way that craves belonging and interdependence. In fact, we were designed to work together.
“It’s okay to be different, to struggle, to feel whatever you feel; and it’s okay to deal with that in therapy, a support group, or through your own self-reflection and exploration,” she says.
Observe and acknowledge your fear of therapy. Be kind to yourself. Be patient as you work on yourself. Make it your goal to see a therapist. “When you’ve made the appointment, set another goal to attend the first appointment or have a friend drive you and keep you accountable,” she suggests. “Take it one step at a time.”
“Remember, you’re not in this alone, Solis concludes. “Therapy is a first step you can make to take care of yourself. It’s okay to reach out for help in navigating the challenges you face in your personal life and in your relationships.”