Why is it so hard to book a first therapy session?
Most people who book a first session only do so after putting it off for a long time - sometimes for a very long time. Why is this? And if you're wondering if therapy might help you, how can you get past this resistance?
There are lots of reasons why people have mixed feelings about starting therapy. Of course there are sometimes financial barriers - therapy is a big investment for most people - but what else might be hiding underneath the money worries?
1. Therapy takes us into the unknown
Most of us are much happier in familiar territory, even when this territory becomes pretty uncomfortable! This is preferable to the alternative, which we imagine could be even worse. When we look at changing long-term habits and patterns, we need to take a step out into the unknown - maybe we begin to tell our partner the truth about something, or stop pushing feelings away - and who knows where this might lead to. In my experience things generally improve when we begin to let go of whatever we're clinging onto, but it sometimes takes a little courage to begin to loosen our grip.
2. Therapy takes us towards the things we've been trying to avoid
We all avoid all sorts of truths about ourselves, others and the world. Sometimes this information is positive (we might be convinced that we're not creative, despite evidence to the contrary) and sometimes it is negative (we might not want to acknowledge that we're actually being controlling with our partner not 'to be helpful' but to make ourselves feel safe). Therapy brings us gradually closer to the truth, and as a part of this process we might realise things about ourselves or others that we'd rather not realise.
3. We don't know what we're going to receive for our time, money and energy
Therapy isn't a straightforward transaction like buying apples - you don't hand over your money and receive something tangible and measurable in return. Sometimes therapy makes you feel worse before you feel better - why would anyone pay for that?! It can also be hard to judge how much progress you're making, especially, ironically, when you're feeling especially stuck which often happens just before a big shift.
4. We don't like to feel dependent or unskilled
Therapy helps us to solve or deal with things that we haven't been able to solve on our own. This means admitting that we're not coping, and putting ourselves in someone else's hands. Different people will have different experiences around asking for help. We might feel suspicious of the therapist, or unsure about whether we can trust them or not. We might trust them too much and feel afraid of becoming completely dependent on them and seeing them forever. We might think it impossible that anyone could understand us or tell us anything that we don't already know. All this can make us vulnerable.
5. We may have had previous bad experiences with therapists or in relationships
If we always end up feeling disappointed with the people we get close to, there's no reason to believe we won't end up feeling disappointed with our therapist (or getting into conflict, or being abandoned etc.).
So why would anyone book a first therapy session? And what can help us to deal with these worries?
The first thing to say is that, in my long experience as both a therapist and a client, therapy can take you to wonderful places that you may not be able to access in any other way. It heals the parts that other ways of being-in-the-world can't heal. It opens the way to warmth and wisdom and joy. It can be hard work, but it has the potential to change everything.
It can also be helpful to remember that all of the resistances I've listed are very valid, and to acknowledge that booking a first appointment might be a bit of a hurdle. If it was easy to solve the problems you're struggling with, you'd have already solved them.
Remember that you can take things at your own pace - a good therapist won't force you to go more quickly than you want to, and you can also trust that your own psyche will also pace itself appropriately. Share your fears in your first session if you can - it is helpful to get things 'on the table', and will also get the therapy off to a good start. Finally don't rush or pressure yourself - if it feels like the time isn't right then maybe wait for a bit longer. If it's meant to happen, the idea will appear to you again.
If you still don't have enough faith in yourself, your potential therapist or in the process of therapy, then you can borrow some of mine. Now, if the time is right, write that email, or pick up that phone. As Julian of Norwich said, “all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
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