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5 Common Barriers to Seeking Therapy, and How to Combat Them

Everyone deserves access to care, but the challenges often feel insurmountable.

Key points

  • Many people suffering from mental health symptomology hesitate or decline to reach out for help.
  • If money is a barrier to therapy, universities and local mental health clinics may offer more affordable care.
  • Sometimes when people have been masking their pain for a long time, the idea of talking about it can make them feel like they will lose control.

As the prevalence of anxiety and depression symptoms has risen in the United States over the past few years, it stands to reason that an increasing amount of Americans can benefit from mental health help, like psychotherapy. And though many therapists indeed report upticks in inquiries (to the point where a therapist with availability can sometimes be hard to find), there still remain many people suffering from mental health symptomology who hesitate or decline to reach out for help.

Here are five commonly cited barriers to seeking help, and potential ways to get through them. Do you have more? Be upfront with your concerns when talking to a potential therapist, and they can often address them in a way that mitigates them. No one should have to suffer alone.

1. Financial concerns

It's true—psychotherapy feels out of reach financially for many, and typical insurance coverage falls far short of being enough for many people looking to see a therapist for individual sessions. But it is very worth exploring lower-cost options, which can often put therapy within reach.

University psychology departments that have training programs in clinical psychology or social work, local community mental health clinics, and county mental health services are excellent places to start for affordable care. Many therapists in private practice offer slots with sliding scales and some insurance companies can be negotiated with to increase their coverage for an out-of-network provider if in-network providers are not available. Still other therapists may offer group therapy that makes getting into treatment much more affordable.

2. Fears of awkwardness or unfamiliarity

It's true that the idea of talking to a stranger about some of the most vulnerable aspects of your life and emotions can be extremely daunting. And yet, therapists are trained in helping their clients feel safe and valued in the therapy space. They are used to being entrusted with people's deepest and most troubling feelings and are typically very skilled in knowing how to balance asking questions with giving space to talk.

Certain potential clients just find the whole idea awkward. "What am I supposed to say?" they might wonder. But rest assured that experienced therapists have helped many clients who were apprehensive in very similar ways, and they can help you manage those uncomfortable feelings right from the start.

3. Feeling underrepresented in therapist communities

Many potential clients might balk at therapy because of the difficulties of finding a therapist who will "get" their particular life experience or background. It makes perfect sense that someone might prefer a therapist with a special understanding of particular challenges that are tied to being part of a certain community, whether it involves race, culture, ethnicity, religious faith, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or some other characteristic that feels central to one's identity.

Therapist directories like Psychology Today allow practitioners to discuss their experience and background, and which populations they have a particular connection to. And while the diversity of backgrounds among the therapist population could always be improved, with online searches, it is more possible than ever to find a therapist who matches what you are hoping for.

4. Fear that you will feel worse before you feel better

Sometimes when people have been masking or keeping in their pain for a long time, the idea of talking about it or letting it out makes them feel like they'd be unable to keep in control. They'd rather "let the past stay in the past" or "not rock the boat."

While it is absolutely true that sometimes in therapy you might temporarily experience more discomfort while talking about things than if you had chosen to ignore them, the payoff of talking about those things can lead to you feeling far better than before. Bringing up difficult issues is central to the whole foundation of the gains that you can make in therapy—added insight, changed behavior, healthier habits, and a deeper sense of resilience and confidence in being able to face and manage life's challenges.

5. Concerns about scheduling or time commitment

The idea of a weekly therapy appointment can be daunting to many, and it's probably near the very top of logistical reasons that people hesitate to try to find help. Work and family responsibilities can make it seem that a regular appointment would just be impossible. For people looking for couples therapy, this is often compounded, with the idea of finding a time where both partners can get away seeming even more hopeless.

However, teletherapy (seeing a therapist for therapy online) has opened a whole new window of availability for both therapists and clients, as commutes are removed, and often schedules can be more flexible. Moreover, many therapists offer weekend and evening appointments, or the possibility of meeting every other week rather than weekly.