Talking to a Stranger: Anxieties about Seeing a Therapist
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Dr. Sidrah Muntaha, Chartered Clinical Psychologist, DClinPych, CPsychol, AFBPsS
29th October, 20130 Comments
When considering psychological therapy, most clients experience fear and anxiety. This anxiety can manifest itself in many ways both consciously and unconsciously. Some might wonder 'why would I tell this complete stranger my problems?' whilst others might state 'I don't need a shrink to tell me what to do!'. In reality, people are often frightened by the prospect of being emotionally vulnerable in front of another person. In addition, issues of confidentiality, trust, shame and control all play a part in influencing decisions about seeking help.
'Why would I want to tell a stranger my problems?'
Questions like this stem from beliefs about 'airing your dirty laundry' in public. The notion of telling a stranger your problems may be considered shameful and may be linked with the fear of being judged or having your confidentiality breached. How can anyone 'trust' a stranger may be the real issue. If you find yourself wondering how you could trust a stranger who you know to be qualified and accredited, you may wish to consider the following; How easy do you find it to trust other people? Do you find yourself being suspicious about other people's motives? Do you have people in your life that you can trust and depend on? Have people in your life ever betrayed your trust? Do you find it difficult to trust someone who has let you down?
If you find yourself unable to trust others, you may wish to address this in therapy. Through developing a strong relationship with your therapist, you would learn to accept the experiences in your life that have taught you to be cautious, but also appreciate that your current circumstances may no longer warrant such caution. Ironically, it is only through initial distrust of your therapist that these issues can slowly emerge and be processed.
"I don't need a shrink to tell me what to do!"
Some people enter therapy wanting someone to tell them what to do (which of course is not what normally happens!), whilst others are reluctant to even consider therapy because they don't want anyone to tell them what to do! Ultimately, how you feel and respond to the therapist is linked with how you generally respond to support.
If a friend (or your mum!) phones you and says ‘You seem down, why don’t you have a long bath?’, how would you react? Would you appreciate the concern and consider their suggestion? Would you feel annoyed that someone else was able to guess how you were feeling? Or on a day when you might be down, would you avoid phone calls altogether from anyone who might express concern?
The way in which you react emotionally to people who try and support you says a lot about you. These issues might emerge in therapy, and would help you understand how your earlier experiences shaped your attitude towards support. If as a child, you had little or inconsistent levels of emotional support, you may develop a ‘self-sufficient’ attitude, so that as an adult, even when you do need help, you do not ask for it or do not value it when received.
Emotional Shifts & Transitions
When considering therapy, there may be a part of you that wishes to remain in control. By seeing a new therapist, an individual is to some extent being open to new things which naturally raises anxieties. When we are anxious, we all want to reduce that anxiety often through avoidance, which in this case could be persistently missing appointments, being late, or just telling yourself that you should deal with things independently.
It is important to see a therapist who you feel comfortable with. But the anxiety will be there, and needs to be examined and worked through. The process of therapy is different for everyone, but if you are someone who persistently doubts the therapeutic process, you may need to pay specific attention in therapy to your ‘relationship to help’.
Eventually, we all have to make leaps of faith if we are to shift from one position to another. Therapy helps you to manage those shifts, and cope with the transitions that life demands of you. If you take steps towards your psychological well-being, you will find that there are many emotional places you have not yet visited but will certainly benefit from experiencing!
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