I got together with a friend from college the other day to catch up.  We chit-chatted some and then she let me know that she had ‘finally started therapy’ after two years of wanting to start therapy, she had finally worked through some of the barriers and gotten started.  I noticed when we were talking, whenever she would mention the word ‘therapy’, she would lower her voice to a whisper so no one could hear.  She explained that stigma and not knowing who to go to were some of the biggest roadblocks.  Being in this field and being surrounded by therapist friends, going to therapy feels so comfortable and un-stigma-ed to me that I had forgotten how much confusion and stigma exists out there around starting therapy.  So I thought I’d write a post attempting to navigate some of the barriers that might come up.  So here goes!

Barrier #1: Going to therapy must mean there’s something wrong with me.  Most therapists I know don’t actually believe this.  In fact, they believe the opposite.  That you, as a client have the internal resources and wisdom you need and that it’s our job to help you access those!  People go to therapy for different reasons and mostly it comes down to having exhausted all attempts to working on whatever issue on your own and deciding to get some outside support, specifically support with some training, experience, and objectivity.  Who doesn’t want this when they feel stuck?

Barrier #2: If there’s actually something wrong with me, I can’t let anyone know because I’ll feel ashamed.  First of all, see the above barrier–there’s nothing wrong with you.  Secondly, Brene Brown, explains this concept about shame so well, silence and disconnection is the breeding ground for shame, once you let someone know about this vulnerable part that you feel shame about and they offer empathy and say ‘oh, me too’ or ‘oh, that’s really normal’ or ‘oh, we can totally work with that, lots of people experience that’, the shame disappears.  All of a sudden, we can talk about our experience without feeling like we are broken or bad.  Check out Brene’s talk on shame here.

Barrier #3: My therapist is going to judge me and put me in a box.  I still experience fears and worries around this every time I see a new therapist.  It takes a little while to build a sense of trust.  Let the therapist know if you are having some concerns that they’re judging you–this will be great to work with because, chances are if you’re having this with the therapist, you also have this worry with other people.  It’s a great opportunity to explore our perceptions and test out new ways of responding.  It’s also relieving once you check it out and it turns out there was no judgement at all.  PS Crying is okay during the first session…it’s also okay not to cry 🙂

Barrier #4: It’s going to be uncomfortable because I don’t know what to expect.  This is totally normal to feel anxious about the unknown.  Will we lie on a couch and talk while therapist takes notes?  Will they make us move around and dance our emotions?  I encourage you to ask any questions that will help you feel more prepared, grounded.  There are no dumb questions and I guarantee you, your therapist is going to want you to get whatever information you need to feel comfortable and to let them know if you don’t.  I also encourage you to let you therapist know if you’re not comfortable with something–these sessions are all about you.  Your therapist may have a lot of training and experience but you are in the driver’s seat.

Barrier #5: I don’t know how to find a therapist who’s a good fit.  Ask around.  Chances are many of your friends, acquaintances, family go to therapists themselves or know someone who does.  It helps to get a referral from someone you know and trust.  Once you make the first call, if that therapist doesn’t feel like they are a good fit, they will be able to point you in some good directions.  So making that first call is the hardest part, but know that the person you’re calling doesn’t have to be ‘the perfect one’.  In my experience, it can take some shopping around.  It’ll be helpful to think about beforehand what you’re looking for in a therapist and how you will know if someone’s a good fit–is it a gut feeling for you?  Is the therapist speciality and approach the most important?  My good friend and colleague at Synergy Consulting and Counseling is about to come out with an awesome resource on finding a therapist who’s a good fit! There are also free and easy therapist search engines online: www.goodtherapy.com or www.psychologytoday.com

Barrier #6: Feeling overwhelmed at the process of finding a good fit and ultimately not feeling like it’s worth your time.  Even while you’re shopping around, you can be working on growth edges.  Try letting the therapist know at the end of the session that it didn’t feel like a great fit instead of saying that you’ll call but not following through.  Notice what it’s like to work through that discomfort of giving someone authentic feedback and honoring your needs.  Was it easy?  Hard?  What did you learn from it?  You can grow from every session so it doesn’t have to be a waste of time to shop around until you find someone you really connect with.

Barrier#7: It’s too expensive.  Don’t have insurance or have a high deductible?  Asheville actually has a lot of great resources for low cost therapy services.  Here are a few: www.openpathcollective.org $30-50 sliding scale, The Asheville Center Community Clinic $5-45 sliding scale www.allsoulscounseling.org low cost sliding scale.

Barrier#8: I should be able to work through this on my own.  This is akin to another barrier: It’s shameful to air my dirty laundry.  Firstly, it actually takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to seek support, the opposite of weakness. Perhaps you could work through it on your own but perhaps it’d be much more efficient to get the support of someone trained and experienced to support you.  Here’s a great comparison: I could spend 8 hours and a lot of mental and emotional energy trying to figure out how to add a newsletter sign up box to my website or I could ask someone to walk me through how to do it and learn to do it on my own in 30 min.  As for the laundry piece, therapy is confidential, minus a few exceptions, which your therapist will talk with you about.  Talking about your fears, anxieties, ambivalence about coming to therapy when you have a family culture that disapproves is a great place to start out your first session!

I’d love to hear other barriers that you all have run into in your process of beginning therapy and how you’ve navigated these.  I’m also open to helping you trouble-shoot any barriers you’re currently up against.

Suggestion: Share this blog post with friends and family–spread the word so that people can get the support they need and want.

Affirmation: ‘May I feel supported.’