This short article is for people who hesitate to come to therapy. It addresses some of the reasons and their solutions, including:
- “Fear of Fear” or Fear of Failure
- Avoiding Pain
- Failures of Prior Therapy
- Discomfort with Inactive or Pushy Therapists
- How to Trust Your Comfort Level
Is It Procrastination or Fear?
Perhaps you know that you could use therapy, but you put it off or tell yourself it won’t work. This can come from a habit of procrastination, which only lets problems mount. It’s especially problematic if your partner is asking you to go to therapy but you fight off the suggestion and further alienate them. Often procrastination is not laziness or bad character — it actually originates in fear, which brings me to the next point.
Overcoming “Fear of Fear” or Fear of Failure
Some who consider entering therapy suffer from anxiety that’s bottled up and don’t want more stress. They may even be afraid of going crazy if they look inside. Most often, this is fear of fear itself! 1 It’s a kind of obsessive feedback loop where the more you worry, the more you search for scary thoughts, which generates such thoughts, and the cycle repeats. This was one of the reasons I found it hard to enter therapy.
Another reason people hesitate to seek therapy is fear of failure. This can happen especially with addictions, where you don’t know why you compulsively act in ways that sabotage your chances of healing. Many people in such situations don’t want to discover that they’re hopelessly flawed and defective, so they don’t try and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t have to do it yourself but can seek help from someone whose training helps you pace your growth in achievable steps and overcome obstacles to healing.
Another reason many hesitate to do therapy is the avoidance of intense shame or guilt. These emotions can feel so overwhelming the idea of sharing them with someone else seems impossible. If this is your situation, you may not know that the initial phases of therapy start with building trust. People who grew up with parents who shamed or abused them often have this problem, which may be rooted in traumatic experiences that can be desensitized with such current methods as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). Addictions can also predispose people to avoid pain because a drug or other action is used to dissociate, to disconnect from the painful feeling before even experiencing it. A skillful therapist can help you understand the addiction and defuse its reinforcement mechanisms to throw the monkey off your back. You may also be helped by psychiatric medications that do not promote dissociation or the escape of an artificial high, so you can get your life back.
Disillusioned by Prior Therapy
Perhaps you had negative experiences with a therapist. If you were unable to resolve problems with that person, this doesn’t mean therapy won’t work. You have the power to choose your therapist. You can also decide not to proceed. Bring your past concerns to head off such issues from the start. Whether your fears are self-generated or have other causes, you’re likely to find that entering therapy calms your fears and addresses your reasons for seeking help. And since no therapist is perfect, daring to give your therapist feedback usually begins a healing process when you find that person responding more empathically to your needs. Such interpersonal courage often marks a healing breakthrough.
Discomfort with Inactive or Pushy Therapists
For some people, it’s hard to speak to a stranger, especially about very personal issues. If this describes you, find a therapist who is gentle, offers guidance, and puts you at ease. If you find yourself with a therapist who passively waits for you to speak, and you feel uncomfortable with this, the problem may not be with you. That technique is good for people who don’t feel their anxieties enough and need to bring them forward for healing. But for someone who’s already anxious, this method tends to increase anxiety rather than help you reduce it.
Some people have had the opposite problem, a pushy therapist who judges you, confronts you harshly or alienates you by failing to listen and instead telling you what to do. Such therapists may be insufficiently trained or may defend against their own insecurity by assuming harsh authority. It’s one thing for a therapist’s suggestions to be off but another to alienate clients with a know-it-all attitude. If you feel the therapist may be mistaken, you’ll know better what you’re dealing with if you give them feedback and a chance to re-think their approach. If you’ve worked with someone who’s bossy and rigid, there are many others who are more patient and better qualified to help you.
Trust Your Comfort Level
Bringing your most intimate, personal issues for healing is an act of courage. It’s an interpersonal challenge that is eased when another person “gets” you and treats you with kindness and respect. If you’re not comfortable with the personality or expertise of the first therapist you meet, this may not be the right person for you. Psychotherapy is a significant investment of time, emotions and funds, so take the time to find a therapist with the sensitivity, social skills and expertise to competently treat your issues. You’ll know this by your level of comfort and their ability to help you experience yourself at a level of depth and healing.
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1. At the height of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt challenged the American people to take courage and overcome the “fear of fear itself.” (Inaugural address, March 4, 1933.)