I’m Nervous About Starting Therapy

It is not uncommon for a person to feel nervous about starting psychotherapy.  After all, you are being asked to start talking extemporaneously to someone you have never met about things that are intimate, oftentimes sensitive, and sometimes painful.  Many of us are not used to having anyone in our lives with whom we can really share our most intimate thoughts and feelings.  It is no surprise that we might suspect that it could be even harder to tell those things to a stranger.  While the knowledge that that person is a professional and is trained to handle our personal details with discretion and sensitivity, still it is hard not to feel anxious if it is a new experience for you.  

How is one to overcome that fear?  Imagine you have made the call already.  You made the decision, perhaps on your own, perhaps on the advice of a friend of a doctor, to call the therapist’s office and schedule an appointment.  Everything might feel fine right up until the point when the therapist walks out of her office and calls you back.  Then things start to tighten up.  You start to question why you decided to come in the first place.  Maybe this is all a worthless charade.  What can this person really offer you?  What you’ve gone through really is not that big a deal after all.  Or maybe it is, but isn’t it better just to leave it unspoken and deal with it on your own?  

These rationalizations are powerful ones and a natural response to a situation in which we feel quite uncomfortable, anxious, or even frightened.  And they’re completely understandable.  Unfortunately, for some of us there is no way around feeling that anxiety initially.  If you have not been in therapy before, it can be particularly hard.  

So instead of turning and hightailing it out of there or canceling or worse, and what will certainly be to your therapist’s annoyance, you simply don’t show, step through the door and keep a few things in mind.  First, the therapist has heard a lot of things before, intimate details of others lives, painful details, disturbing ones perhaps.  While yours will be unique to you, it is unlikely they will be so alien that the therapist will not be able to understand.  Next, remember that you don’t have to go in and completely spill your guts right away.  You can take your time.  It is unlikely that the therapist is going to pressure you to divulge something you’re not ready to.  That would generally be contrary to what therapists are trained to do.  A lot of people start by giving a broad outline of their lives and background.  It is a way to set the stage, kind of like the opening chapters of a novel in which we get just an initial feel for the characters. 

On the other hand, if there is a specific issue that you feel is the essential reason you made the appointment, there is nothing wrong with diving into that if you like.  That might mean just laying out the problem in a concrete fashion but not necessarily talking about your feelings associated with the issue.  That can come later.  Furthermore, if you get into something you don’t feel comfortable discussing, you can say just that.  Your therapist will understand that.  

One other common fear is that the therapist is going to judge you.  Here’s the difficult complication related to this issue:  you may get the sense your therapist is judging you even if that is not actually the case.  This is a really common thing.  I can tell you from my professional experience that there have absolutely been times when a client revealed to me at some point that he felt like I was or had been judging him, and I had been completely unaware that I was seeming this way.  Was it a look on my face?  Or an ill-timed response or question?  It’s always hard to know.  But keep in mind that therapists are trained not to judge their clients.  Again, most of them have heard it all.  They have their own personal feelings, of course, but they know that to be good at their jobs they have to be open-minded and realize that there are innumerable factors that lead each person to do and think the things she does.  Therapists are lucky to have a job that instills in them the lesson not to judge.  Most of them are good at it.    

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