Right after graduate school, I experienced some significant life changes that left me feeling deeply sad and lonely. I turned to family and friends for support, but they weren’t always willing or able to give me the support I needed. One wise friend suggested I talk to a therapist and seek the help of a professional. I scoffed at the idea. See a therapist? No way. I AM a therapist! I’m an expert on this stuff. Why on earth would I ever work with one?
I was clearly in denial about the severity of my own symptoms and obviously too proud to seek help, but as things grew worse for me emotionally, I started questioning what it was about working with a therapist that freaked me out so much. More importantly, I tried to figure out how the hell to get over my reluctance so I could get the help I needed and reclaim control over my life.
Because of my own experience, I discovered 5 reasons why I was totally freaked out about working with a therapist, and have found many other people feel this same way about therapy.
WE DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what the therapeutic experience is all about. The stereotypical image of laying on a couch with a weird dude sitting behind you asking questions about your messed up childhood just isn’t reality. A therapist’s ultimate goal isn’t to analyze you, label you, or judge you….it’s to help you think, feel, and behave better.
In reality, the therapeutic experience is very casual and relaxed. I should know, because I’ve sat in the role of both client and therapist. There’s no agenda for each therapy session. It’s up to you to decide what you want to talk about and what you need help with. Your therapist is there to actively listen, help you reflect and process your thoughts and feelings, and help you create goals to work toward that will help you feel better and live a more satisfying life.
2. WE THINK THERAPY IS ONLY FOR THE MENTALLY ILL.
When I went to therapy, I didn’t have a mental health diagnosis. I wasn’t mentally ill and I wasn’t crazy. I was sad, hurt, lonely, and worried….just like everyone else is from time to time. Many of the clients I work with now don’t have diagnoses either. Therapy is designed to help you cope with life stress, parent better, have improved relationships, practice good self care, enhance self esteem and self awareness, and manage moods more effectively. So really, therapy is for EVERYONE, because life is hard, everyone struggles, and everyone wants to become their best self.
3. WE DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW A THERAPIST IS DIFFERENT THAN A FRIEND.
Friends are great and are often very helpful at providing support in times of need. As such, we falsely believe that our friends can take the place of a therapist. But it really doesn’t work that way. Here’s why: the therapeutic relationship is the ONLY relationship you’ll ever have that is NOT reciprocal. In all your other relationships, there’s an expectation of give and take;“I’ll listen to you if you listen to me”. But in therapy, it’s all about you and ONLY YOU. You don’t have to listen to your therapist complain about their problems or return the favor of offering advice. The therapeutic sessions are devoted to focusing on you, your life, your desires, your worries, and whatever else you want to focus on. This, in itself, is a wonderful gift to give yourself.
4. WE THINK SEEKING HELP MEANS WE’RE WEAK.
I didn’t seek the help of a therapist out of weakness. I sought it out of courage, because while I was scared about what it would really be like, I knew I couldn’t fix what was broken on my own. Weakness wasn’t the reason why I couldn’t fix it myself either. I struggled because I was facing challenges in life I’d never faced before, and my old coping mechanisms didn’t work in my current situation. I had to learn different ways of managing the stress I was under, and I knew that a therapist was the only person who could teach me.
One of the bravest things you can do is admit you’re struggling, accept you can’t resolve the problems on your own, and reach out for help. The hardest part of the entire process is taking the first step by seeking out a therapist, scheduling the appointment, and going for the first time. But once you get through that, you’ll never look back, and you’ll be so grateful you did it. Trust me; that’s exactly how I felt after seeking help and most of my clients would say the same.
5. WE WORRY ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE WILL THINK OF US.
When it comes to mental health, a stigma still exists. It’s sad but true that people worry more about what others might think of them getting help than they worry about how to make things better for themselves. My mission in life is to change this, because I know how valuable and helpful therapy can be and there is absolutely no reason why anyone should feel like shit on a regular basis.
First of all, remember that no one needs to know you’re working with a therapist. Everything you discuss with your therapist is confidential and he/she can’t even disclose that your a client. Secondly, know that depression and anxiety affects 80% of the U.S. population and a large number of those people work with therapists to alleviate symptoms and develop better coping skills. It might feel like you’re the only one struggling or the only one going to a therapist, but you’re not. Lastly, if anyone judges you for going to therapy, it doesn’t label you in any way; it labels them as someone who judges others…and who wants to be known as a judgmental jerk?!
I can tell you from personal experience that working with a therapist was one of the best decisions of my life. It helped me become who I am today. It helped me learn how to have healthy relationships, which has led to being in a blissfully happy marriage. It’s helped me understand my own needs, which is why I make sure I get adequate alone time and regular exercise, because without it, I’m a grouchy beast. It helped me develop confidence in myself, my decision making, and taught me how to be alone and still be happy. Above all, working with a therapist and experiencing it as a client helped me to become a better therapist to the clients I serve.
I understand how intimidating it can be to seek the help of a therapist, but I can assure you, it’s not as bad as you think it will be. If you’re in need of help, research therapists in your area and go interview a few of them. Shop around until you find the right person to work with. Goodness of fit between you and your therapist is really what determines success in therapy, so make sure you like being in your therapist’s company, you feel like they can relate to you, and they have expertise addressing the concerns you want to work on. Many therapists, including myself, offer a free initial session so you can test it out before you commit to moving forward with it. To check out counseling services at Willow Tree, click here. To look for a therapist in your local area, check out websites like PsychologyToday.com or goodtherapy.org.
There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by working with a therapist. It’s ok to be a little freaked out, but don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of an opportunity to redesign your life and reach your full potential. You’ll be so glad you did.
Know someone who could really benefit from some help? Share this post along with some words of encouragement to take action and contact a therapist.
Nicole C. Iacovoni earned her Master's degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver. Through her vast experience working in the mental health field and her own personal self growth work, Nicole has developed valuable skills and tools for enhanced self awareness, self care, and improved relationships. Her passion and life's work is to help women overcome life's many challenges, become the best version of themselves, and live the lives they envision. She curently serves as the Founder and Clinical Director at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling in Bloomsburg, PA.