Starting Therapy Anxiety
Humans don’t like change, even when we know we need it. Most of us are not lucky enough to look at new things and think, “Wow! Let’s go for it!” We aren’t programmed to embrace change without feeling a little bit (or a lot) of anxiety.
But when you factor in anxiety about having anxiety, it can feel even worse, like a bottomless pit filled with anxiety, fear and worry. This is also very true when someone starts therapy for the first time OR if they are starting or thinking about working with a new therapist – which is why it is important to name and normalize that starting therapy anxiety is real, valid and manageable!
The truth is, many people are afraid of change because as humans, we don’t like the unexpected. We want to know the outcome and what to expect before we dive right in. We want certainty because on some level certainty and predictability are grounding and feel safe.
As Humans We Crave Adventure And New Experiences
Starting therapy anxiety is especially relevant for those who struggle with their mental health. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, worry, panic attacks or depression have a sneaky way of making you feel that you need to ground yourself but having no idea how to get there, which often leads to avoidance and then unfortunately an increase in the things we are trying to avoid – namely anxiety, worry, panic attacks or depression.
BUT it is also very true that as humans, we crave adventure and new experiences too even if at first these very experiences were scary and stressful. Therapy is no different.
Therapy is important. Very important (and I’m not just saying this as a therapist, but also as someone who has experienced many different kinds of therapy as a client too. The last few years have definitely brought more awareness surrounding topics of mental health issues, as well as more suffering related to mental health too.
In a way, the pandemic and uncertainty in many areas of our lives has increased the need and awareness for therapy but also has made the stakes even higher – which is why starting therapy anxiety, in my opinion, is more intense than ever before.
Knowing that learning tools to manage one’s emotions and mental health is very important. But equally, taking the steps in order to actually learn and implement the tools are two completely different matters. The thought of therapy often conjures up images of a stuffy couch being analyzed by someone with a notebook and pen. Just the thought of this (and reading it) may create specific starting therapy anxiety for you If so, it’s normal, and happens to almost everyone.
And the good news here is that while the image of being analyzed while being on a stuffy couch may have been true at one point, it couldn’t be further from reality now for most therapists and therapies. Nevertheless starting therapy anxiety is real and learning how to begin therapy well is important.
The vast majority of my clients (and I mean like 95% +) tell me that they actually found therapy to be very different, calming, empowering and fun, in spite of the intense starting therapy anxiety they felt AND they are very glad to have faced that particular fear and received support.
If you are nervous about starting therapy for the first time, again, please know that this is a completely normal and common reaction. Here are just a few things to keep in mind to help ease your anxiety over going to therapy for the first time.
No matter the reason behind you coming to therapy, therapists know it isn’t easy. And most therapists know this as both a therapist, but also from their experiences of being a client. You are starting to take the first steps to getting the help that you deserve. There is inner strength in that alone.
Major courage and a therapist will see the courage and bravery it took to reach out to them. But we as therapists, also don’t expect you to not be hesitant or shy when it comes to your first few sessions. We expect it, plan for it, and do everything we can to help you get used to therapy.
Between the initial paperwork and preliminary discussions, you may feel like changing your mind. To throw in the towel before you even get out on to the ‘field.’ To some degree, everyone is nervous about their first session and not knowing what to expect. Please share these thoughts and feelings with your therapist (or potential therapist if you are having an initial phonecall or test drive session). A test drive is a perfect time to share your starting therapy anxiety.
Therapy can take time (but also not that much time). It will take a bit of time for your therapist to truly learn about you, the challenges you are facing, and your goals in therapy. Some clients may be hesitant to speak up if something doesn’t work for them in therapy, wanting to leave it to us, the experts. But honestly, we are not the experts of your life, you are. We can take the puzzle pieces you present to us and help you piece it all together, but that can only happen if you give us (and yourself) the chance to do so.
There’s a common misconception that with therapy, the therapist sets the speed of how things progress. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As therapists, we know that it takes effort and that it is important to go at a pace that works for you. It takes (some) time to unravel all of the knots and twists into something that makes sense to you.
To take something that was broken and unmanageable and turn it into healing and empowerment. Healing is not a process that can be rushed, but the thing here is, you don’t and you won’t have to do it alone. A therapist that feels like a good fit for you (with starting therapy anxiety and all) will help you save a lot of time by helping you learn the most efficient way to heal and grow.
Remembering that therapy for anxiety or depression will never be rushed AND will also address any starting therapy anxiety AND finishing therapy anxiety you may have.
Starting therapy anxiety can stop some of us before we even start. So knowing this is normal, and going at your own pace, but going forward nonetheless with the initial steps, while daunting, will soon be replaced by feeling really good within yourself. Like so much else in life, you can never begin if you don’t at least start.
And remember that therapists are trained in helping clients overcome starting therapy anxiety so that clients can begin to work on what brought them to therapy in the first place.
If there is a particular fear or stress (again, totally understandable to have starting therapy anxiety) , it might be helpful to consider reaching out to a therapist who is a specialist in anxiety therapy. Learn more about anxiety treatment by clicking HERE.
If you are struggling to feel comfortable with the idea of therapy, please don’t hesitate to contact me at my Honolulu or London clinic to set up an Anxiety Treatment Test Drive. The point of a test drive appointment is to help you lower your anxiety about starting therapy and make sure that I am a good fit for you.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Hawaii and an Accredited CBT Therapist and Psychotherapist in the UK with over 16 years of experience. My specialties are: Life Coaching for Anxiety, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy.
P.S. I am here to answer any questions you may have and to help ease some of your starting therapy anxiety as well as learning tools to manage anxiety in life too. And by the way, it’s okay to be anxious about starting something new!