By Mary FitzGerald, LCSW-C, and Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D.
It’s common to feel unsure about starting therapy. People often have worries about what the process will be like, some of which are connected to societal myths. The following is an effort to clarify some of the ideas about therapy that often hold a person back from seeking help.
1. My problems are not really that bad.
Oftentimes people feel that therapy should only be reserved as a last resort or for those with serious problems. While this is certainly an option, another idea would be that seeking support earlier allows a person to feel better sooner and to make progress more quickly. In short: Why wait until things get really bad when it could potentially cause further difficulty?
2. I should be able to solve my problems on my own.
Just as you would seek a medical consult for a physical problem, a therapist brings specialized training to help understand and address problems related to your emotional life. Working out problems in therapy often becomes a skill that you can incorporate, which will lead to greater confidence and self-certainty.
3. If I start therapy, will it go on forever?
No! The frequency and duration of therapy are discussed together between the therapist and patient and are ultimately decided by the patient. People benefit from a wide range of treatment durations, from very short-term consults to longer-term therapy or psychoanalysis, depending on the individual and their goals and needs.
4. I’ll have to reveal all of my private thoughts to my therapist.
One of the helpful aspects of therapy is that you, as the patient, decide what and how much to share. Much like setting the frequency and duration of treatment, you ultimately set the pace of therapy, and your therapist is there to help the process along in a way that feels comfortable to you. This collaborative effort builds a trusting therapeutic relationship and a successful treatment outcome.
5. I’ll feel judged.
People often feel vulnerable when talking about their feelings. They worry about what the therapist will think or feel about what is being shared. However, your therapist is not there to judge you, but rather to listen and offer a unique perspective. If you are concerned about feeling judged, it would be important to talk this over with your therapist, so that your feelings can be understood and do not interfere with getting the help that you deserve.
6. I’m concerned that my therapist will become a “crutch.”
Let’s be clear. It is not the goal of therapy to foster a dependent relationship between the patient and the therapist. In fact, the therapeutic relationship is intended to be collaborative. Over time, people find that the ways of understanding and feeling better, which are learned in therapy, become tools that a person can utilize independent of the therapist. When therapy ends, a person needs to feel confident that they have the ability to be more of an active participant in their own emotional life. This includes, but is not limited to, trusting their capacity to manage feelings, to solve problems, and to make decisions.
7. If I talk about something, I’ll be obligated to make certain changes.
That is not the case. There is a difference between thoughts and actions. For example, you might come into therapy to address difficulties in a relationship. As you begin to share your feelings about the relationship, you might feel worried that if you get “in touch” with negative feelings, you will be compelled to end the relationship. In actuality, by talking with a therapist, you may also discover a new perspective and/or additional options that were not previously apparent.
8. I’m worried about what I might learn about myself.
One of the benefits of therapy is enhanced satisfaction in our professional and personal lives. In fact, it is often that which we do not fully understand about ourselves that most interferes with happiness and success. Self-awareness allows people to gain more control over their own lives. For this reason, it is important to let your therapist know that you are concerned about what you will learn about yourself, so that you and your therapist can work at a pace most comfortable to you. Ultimately, the focus of your therapy is up to you.
9. If I feel mixed about starting therapy, could that mean it’s not for me?
It is common to have mixed feelings about starting therapy. Our instincts lead us to stay away from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Hesitation about beginning therapy may indicate the presence of something very important to understand about ourselves. For that reason, taking your time to explore these concerns is recommended. This allows emotional energy to be directed toward gaining greater benefit from therapy, rather than towards pushing away difficult emotions.
Benefits of therapy include:
- Greater self-confidence
- Enhanced mood
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- More effective decision-making
- Improved relationships
- Increased work satisfaction
To find therapists near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Mary FitzGerald, LCSW-C, is a licensed clinical social worker and psychoanalyst with a private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Ms. FitzGerald works with adults and children in individual psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. She also provides parenting consultation and support for married or single parents.
Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Dr. Landau-Millin works with adults in individual and couples therapy, and offers parenting consultation and support for married or single parents. She also provides psychotherapy to children from preschool age through the teenage years.
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