Starting therapy can be intimidating. After all, it’s sharing some of our deepest concerns and most private worries with a person we don’t know all that well.
If it’s your first time, you might be entering into this new relationship with your therapist with some preconceived notions about what the experience will actually be like. That’s ok.
“Feeling nervous before your first appointment is totally normal,” says AbleTo Program Therapist Maritza Contreras-Rivera, LMFT. “It’s also normal if it takes some time to feel fully comfortable with your therapist and to figure out if they’re a good fit. What’s most important is that you trust the process enough to give it a try.”
To help, we’ve rounded up a few of the most common fears we hear about starting therapy and asked Contreras-Rivera to explain why they might not be something you need to worry about.
Therapy will be useless
When it feels like there’s no hope, it’s important to know that therapy can be a hope generator. “If you’re self-aware and caught in a bad place, it’s easy to think you know everything about your situation, and all you need to do is keep working through it,” says Contreras-Rivera. “But a therapist can help you work through things more effectively by bringing a new perspective and evidence-based tools and strategies.”
I’m going to be admitted into in-patient care against my will
First things first, this is a really common fear (thanks, movies and TV!). But it’s unfounded. “Sharing your honest thoughts with a therapist won’t lead to involuntary admission to a facility,” says Contreras-Rivera. “If you plan to act on certain thoughts, your therapist might collaborate with you to get a higher level of care or recommend that you voluntarily check into a safe care facility. But more often than not, getting extended care like this is the patient’s decision.”
My therapist will judge me
It helps to remember that therapists choose their field of work because they want to help people — not judge them. And it’s pretty likely that whatever you want to share with your therapist, they’ve already heard it before. “It’s ok to want to be liked by your therapist,” says Contreras-Rivera. “But remember, therapists are trained to listen — free of judgment. They’re there to help you understand yourself better.”
Plus, therapy works best when you’re honest and open. If you struggle with opening up or continue to think you’re being judged, let your therapist know. This can actually lead to greater self-awareness. “When you jump to the conclusion that your therapist is judging you, it might be that you’re pre-judging yourself,” says Contreras-Rivera. “Give yourself some grace” That said, at the end of the day, if it does feel like a therapist is judging you, it’s ok to find a different one.
I won’t know what to say
People have all kinds of novel reactions to therapy. Some people talk non-stop during their first session. Others burst into tears before they say anything. If it’s your first time going to therapy, you might even be surprised by what you do say. “It’s perfectly fine to let your therapist know, ‘I don’t know what to say. I’m just here because I’m sad/frustrated/confused/etc.,’” says Contreras-Rivera. “It’s a therapist’s job to help you unpack what’s going on, even if you’re not sure what that is yet.”
I don’t have it bad enough
The idea that you need to hit some sort of high score on the “suffer scale” to qualify for support is false. And unreasonable. If you were to break your hand, you wouldn’t say, “Well, some people break every bone in their body, so I don’t need to get my hand treated,” would you?
“You don’t need to be at rock bottom to give therapy a try,” says Contreras-Rivera. “If you notice you’re not feeling your best, that’s enough of a reason to go.” Plus, it’s better to start addressing those feelings now before they become worse, don’t you think? Through therapy, you can learn how to better understand your thoughts and emotions so you have an easier time self-managing your mental health going forward.
I’ll be in therapy forever
How long you’re in therapy depends on several factors, including your personal goals and what your therapist thinks would be best for you based on where you are in your mental health journey. At AbleTo, we focus on therapy treatments that you graduate from. “We equip you with evidence-based skills to help you process difficult emotions and life changes, even after treatment has ended,” says Contreras-Rivera. “The idea is to help you live a healthier, happier life, not to keep you coming back.” So, if you have a specific goal you’d like to achieve with your therapist, be clear up front. Remember, you’re the customer. You’re not obligated to stay with any therapist.
People will think I’m crazy
Going to therapy can be private. You don’t have to tell anyone that you don’t feel comfortable telling. However, as we break through stigmas and normalize mental health care, you may be surprised to find out how many people you know are also going to therapy. If you feel you need extra support, consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member.
Start therapy confidently
Therapy can be intimidating, but only because you might not know what to expect. We get it. In times of doubt, remember: Your mental health shapes how you live your life. You deserve to take care of yourself so you feel better each and every day.
By Kelton Wright
Kelton Wright is an author, editor, and athlete passionate about helping people live happier lives. She’s taught mindfulness to NFL coaches, led hundreds of women through cycling clinics, written an Amazon bestseller on dating, and worked with brands like Runner’s World, Rapha, Headspace, Teen Vogue, Bicycling magazine, Thrive Market, Skratch Labs, Peloton Magazine, and more all with the mission of empowering others.
Clinically reviewed by Hayley Quinn, PsyD, Manager of Clinical Program Development at AbleTo.
Photo by Ingo Doerrie/Unsplash.