5 Common Fears About Going to Therapy
For some, the idea of going to therapy is embarrassing, shameful. For others, the idea of going to therapy is daunting for another set of reasons, unrelated to the stigma surrounding the admission of mental illness. Here are some of those reasons.
1) I don't want to complain.
There are those who choose to carry the weight of their burdens on their own, refusing to rely on the assistance or guidance of their peers, loved ones, or friends. They may feel as though everyone around them has their own crosses to bear, and that their personal struggles are insignificant in comparison to those of other people.
If you recognize yourself as one such person, don’t despair. Mental health professionals are trained and accustomed to hearing the plights of every kind of individual from all walks of life; they are skilled at listening, tracking emotional tone and providing support. Unlike others, who you fear may hear your “complaining” as no more than cantankerous whining, your therapist will understand that you are expressing dissatisfaction in one or more areas of your life, and you are simply responding to what you are personally experiencing as a negative situation. You will learn, in therapy, that it is a safe place for you to unearth your deepest fears and examine your unhappiest thoughts. It won’t be considered venting or complaining – it will be considered a necessary means of opening up and finding health and recovery.
2) I feel guilty talking about other people.
There’s a difference between a gossiper and a person in therapy. Discussing the people in your life with whom you may be experiencing difficulty in a confidential, professional therapy setting isn’t the same as divulging private matters about another person by the water cooler at work.
In order for a therapist to gather the full picture of your present situation, as well as what might have happened (and with whom) in your past that brought you to this place in your life (and into the therapist’s office), it’s vital to share information about your social and familial circle. Again, this isn’t about petty gossip (there’s no “Oh my God, did you hear what Betty did?” here), but rather about providing your therapist with the story of your life and the characters in it. Gossip is idle talk, with the often unconscious intent of spreading false information about the personal and private affairs of people, spread because of sheer excitement and for the purposes of creating a scandal. In therapy – which is highly confidential – there is no opportunity for this. When you are discussing people, events and situations with your therapist, his or her role is to remain unfazed and non-judgemental about your or the people you bring up – their only consideration is how to help you improve your communication with those people, or how to regulate your emotions about them.
3) I will be judged by the therapist.
This is a very common fear in therapy. After all, you’re sharing with a complete stranger your deepest fears, darkest thoughts, and most embarrassing weaknesses. What you might be afraid to admit to yourself, you’re divulging to another human being. You wonder: how could another person not judge you?
Particularly for those who suffer self-esteem issues (like those with borderline personality disorder), the fear of being judged can sometimes outweigh the fear of having to live in pain forever. For those who have are familiar with being in an environment of judgement – perhaps you grew up in a competitive household, or you were bullied as a child over your physical features or academic shortcomings – it’s understandable to be nervous over sitting face to face with another person, shedding your armor and exposing your secret thoughts.
Fortunately, mental health professionals are highly trained, educated and experienced in dealing with whatever it is you may present. Odds are that despite what happened to you, and regardless of how shameful you think your personal life story is, your therapist has heard much worse. A good therapist doesn’t judge, regardless of their own lifestyle, beliefs, or feelings. In an office setting, his or her goal is to help you, not judge you.
4) The therapist won't understand me.
Similar to fear of judgment, a person may have hesitation over attending therapy because he or she doesn’t feel they will be understood. This may be the case with you, but worry not: this is a common concern.
You may fear that you’ll spend session after session explaining yourself, telling your story over and over again, and the person in front you just doesn’t “get it.” You may even accept that your therapist seems like a kind, compassionate soul, but is just really struggling to empathize, and never knows what to say.
The truth is that therapists are human, and while some may have more training or experience than others, they are all equipped to handle various kinds of trauma, distress and ordeals.
But if you’re still concerned that you won’t be understood, there are ways you can ensure that you bridge the gap between you and your therapist. The first suggestion is to ensure that you are as real, raw and honest as you can possibly be, preferably right from the beginning. Your therapist can only help you if he or she is fully aware of your truth. Next, make sure you are specific with what is concerning you, and where you want to go. Are you struggling with a gambling problem, and is your goal to pay off debt? Do your panic attacks affect you socially, and is your goal to be able to go to the grocery store without having an attack? Your therapist will appreciate knowing not only your past, but also your goals for the future. Ultimately, the more you share, the more likely it is that your therapist will indeed understand you.
5) I don't want to relive my pain.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect to attending therapy sessions is the fear of reliving what is likely your biggest nightmare. There are those who believe it makes life easier to bury their head in the sand, ignoring the past and trudging on toward the future in the hopes that past circumstances will never again resurface. There are those so traumatized by past events that it is excruciatingly painful to revisit the moments, even if they are aware that it’s just a memory.
However, repressing pain isn’t productive or healthy; repression doesn’t make pain go away. It has been studied, and proven, that those who mask their emotions or “swallow” their fears are simply not consciously aware of their own inner stress. The body still registers the stress with higher blood pressure, stomach pain, headaches, or irregular heartbeat. It is even believed that repressed emotions could lead to long-term illness.
Mental health professionals will not ever force you to recount or narrate any part of your life’s story that you feel uncomfortable sharing; that’s up to you to do, in your own time and in your own way. But opening up and releasing your pain is instrumental to recovery. Your path to healing will open once you are able to acknowledge and accept your emotions. And remember that while your pain seems inescapable when you are in the crest of it, through therapy you will learn how to get a grip on your emotions and move forward.
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