The unknown. Talking to strangers. Showing vulnerability. Examining painful experiences, behaviors, or memories. These are all things that tend to scare us—and it just so happens that, for some people, they describe what it’s like to start therapy as well. If you’re nervous about starting therapy, you’re not alone. Starting therapy for the first time or even switching therapists can be a scary experience.
But here’s the thing: your therapist knows that starting therapy can be scary and stressful. Therapists have years of training and experience and are there to support you and work with you to explore challenges or problems you are facing, goals you have, trauma you have experienced, and more.
One of the best ways to move past your fear of starting therapy (and get started!) is to figure out exactly why you’re nervous and address the topic itself—because everybody has their own reasons!
If you have no idea why exactly you’re afraid to start or you’re just generally feeling nervous, it might help to have a journaling session and get some things down on paper or go for a walk and let your mind wander to the reasons that might be holding you back from starting therapy.
Whatever works for you, examining what exactly is causing you to pause and committing to taking one step to overcome it can be super helpful to get you started on your therapy journey if you’ve been feeling stuck. Here are just a few reasons people are scared to start therapy and some ways you can reframe your thoughts so you can move forward.
You’re not sure if your problems are serious enough
Maybe my anxiety level is “normal” and I don’t need help. What happened to me wasn’t really that bad. I’m sure everybody feels this way. If you don’t think your problems are serious enough for therapy, you’re definitely not alone. This is one of the most common reasons people hesitate to start therapy—they simply don’t think their problems are deserving of professional care.
But a good indicator of whether therapy might be right for you is whether you’re thinking about it at all.
Maybe you feel better after venting to friends or family and don’t know if you need anything beyond that. But whether or not you have a robust support network of friends and family to talk to, getting support from a therapist is different. Your therapist will be trained to help you recognize and change patterns that no longer serve you while friends and family typically won’t have that training, or they will be too biased or personally involved in your circumstances to objectively help you work through your situation and help you connect the dots.
You have difficulty regulating your emotions
You have experienced changes or disruptions in sleep or appetite
You aren’t performing as effectively at work or school
You use substances, sex, or other activities to cope
You struggle to build and maintain relationships, whether romantic or platonic
You have experienced trauma (or what you suspect could be trauma)
You no longer enjoy activities you once did
You’re grieving (and this can include a loss like death or any other sort of loss, such as job loss)
Your physical health has taken a hit or you’ve been living with chronic pain or illness
You want to improve yourself or your life but don’t know where to start
Some people think that going to therapy means they have to change, and that can be scary as well. But the good news is, while it’s true that changes may occur in therapy, simply going to therapy doesn’t mean you have to change! The focus of your relationship with your therapist will not be about how you need to change—it will be on you as you are, what your experience is and has been in the past, and on the support that you need in order to understand yourself and express yourself more clearly. Your therapist will meet you where you are and you will be able to choose change—or not.
Is your gut telling you that you should see a therapist? If you’ve been thinking about it for a while, it might be time to take the first step and find out if it’s right for you. Again, the best way to know if we would benefit from therapy is often simply if we think we would!
Still not sure if now is the right time to start therapy? Take this brief quiz to find out if you would benefit from therapy right now, and why.
You’re afraid of sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a stranger
Talking about your past or fears can make you feel raw and you might tell your therapist things you’ve never told anyone else, creating a sense of vulnerability that would make anyone hesitate to open up. Dealing with things like trauma, identity, family, memories, and more can be painful—but your therapist will be there to support you.
It’s always going to take a little time to get comfortable with a therapist, but once you feel ready, it’s important to be fully honest what you’re struggling with and any backstory or additional information that will help your therapist help you. If your therapist doesn’t know the important points of your story, they might use techniques, interventions, or exercises that may not be the best fit for you. If you feel uncomfortable opening up, that’s something you can share with your therapist as well! Trust us, they’re used to it.
And if you’re worried about finding a therapist who understands you, that is totally valid. People of color, people in the LGBTQIA communities, people with disabilities, and anyone else whose identity might be marginalized in some way might hesitate to work with just anyone when it comes to their mental health.
You’re well within your right to want to work with a Black therapist if you’re Black or a bisexual therapist if you’re bisexual, but keep in mind that sometimes, the people who share your identity or background may not be the best fit for you simply for those reasons. Communication style, therapeutic techniques, cost, location, or temperament are just some of the other factors to take into consideration when choosing a therapist.
If identity is important to you, one of the things to keep in mind when searching for a therapist is cultural competence. Who you work with is up to you, so be sure to weigh all of the important factors when choosing a therapist in order to find the best fit for your needs.
You don’t know the logistics around starting therapy
How does anyone find a therapist anyway? Google? Word of mouth? Magic? If the sea of potential therapists is daunting, you can’t even find a directory that has what you need, or you don’t know where to start at all, using a matching service like MyWellbeing or searching for therapists that work in your state who have experience with your situation, identity, or needs is a good start. Two other topics that often stop people from seeking treatment before they even start are cost and what to say during the first phone call or appointment.
How are you going to pay for therapy?
It’s true that therapy is an investment, but it’s an investment in yourself. If you’re worried about how to pay for therapy, take a look at your bank statement and monthly spending habits, while keeping in mind your unique financial responsibilities, and assess whether there is any amount of your current spending that can be reallocated toward your mental health.
Sometimes, the answer is no (and we do our best at MyWellbeing to compile free and low-fee mental health resources when that is the case). Other times, it might take some lifestyle exchanges to be able to move money away from other activities or luxuries that we enjoy in order to invest in our mental health instead.
If funds are tight but you really want to get started with therapy, find out more about sliding scale options and how to bring them up with your potential therapist.
The first call or first appointment can be scary!
To help ease the process of connecting with a therapist you trust, at MyWellbeing, we work with therapists who offer free phone consultations before your first in-person appointment. The call typically lasts about fifteen minutes and gives both you and the therapist the opportunity to connect before your first session. Regardless of how you find your therapist, be sure to see if they offer a free phone consultation first so you can see if you are both a good fit before you invest time, energy, and money into your first appointment.
What your goals for therapy are. Whatever they are, communicate them to your therapist!
If you’ve been in therapy before, what worked last time (or if you haven’t been, what could you envision working)? Did they validate your experience? Teach you successful skills? Could you relate to them? Consider what you enjoyed about whoever previously helped you.
What didn’t work the last time you saw a therapist (or what might you suspect won’t work for you)? If that information is available, it’s very useful to acknowledge what didn’t work during past therapy experiences.
Ask your therapist about their approach to therapy and consider whether it sounds like something you are open to trying. You can also ask them about what kind of clients they have worked with in the past, whether they have dealt with conditions or experiences like yours, whether they give homework in between sessions, what sessions will be like, whether you want to guide the direction of the sessions or you prefer the therapist to take the lead, and much more. Remember, your therapist has had plenty of these calls, so if you can’t think of what to say or ask, feel free to ask them what they usually tell clients or if there’s any other information they can share that you haven’t asked yet.
And if you’re worried that you won’t be able to speak to a therapist remotely, the good news is, you totally can. Plenty of therapists are doing remote appointments and have been since COVID-19 restrictions were put into place. There are even therapists who are completely remote now. And if finding a private place at home for therapy is a hurdle, there are a few steps you can take to create your perfect therapy bubble.
If finding the time to find a therapist seems to be the problem, book an hour on your calendar and make a plan to get started. And if you want to hear about other people’s experience with getting started, check out what our Instagram community said when we asked about their best tips for what to do when you’re thinking about going to therapy.
Finding a therapist can be a little nerve-racking, but once you find out exactly what’s holding you back, you’ll be able to move forward and get the care you deserve.
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Caitlin is MyWellbeing’s Content Lead, a coach, a writer, a communication and organizational culture consultant, and the founder of Commcoterie (a communication consultancy with a free peer coaching community) who is passionate about all things communication, whole-self development, and storytelling. Her mission is to help people communicate and collaborate effectively so they can strengthen their communities and reach their goals.