I'm Anxious about Talking to My Therapist. Is That Normal?
Over the past several years, one in four young adults in the U.S. sought mental health care. If you’re like many of the millions of Americans starting therapy, plenty of emotions may be running through your mind. While you may be excited about taking this really bold step (and you should be!), you may also feel nervous about meeting your new therapist – especially if this is your first time starting therapy.
The good news is that there are ways to approach nerves, awkward feelings, or anxiety about starting therapy. Here are some ways to increase your mental health awareness and work with anxiety when embarking on a relationship with a therapist.
Four Tips for Managing Therapy Anxiety
#1: It’s Okay To Tell Your Therapist (and Yourself) That You’re Feeling Nervous
Trying to ignore your anxiety won’t help it go away. Acknowledging and accepting one’s anxiety is so important to overcoming it that it’s at the heart of one of today’s main therapies: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
“Be honest,” shares Ken Brown LPC, a Heading therapist in Texas. “It’s totally okay to tell yourself and tell your therapist that you’re nervous about talking.”
After all, therapy is a team effort, which can be a totally foreign experience, especially if talking about feelings and experiences is not something you often do in your day-to-day life.
For many, therapy is the first time they have entered a space in which being completely open is not only tolerated but celebrated. Talking about the therapy environment’s impact on your thoughts and feelings is part of the process.
#2: Set Aside Your Preconceptions
It’s easy to go into therapy with preconceived notions about what it will be like, what you should be getting out of the process, what it would mean to have a mental health condition, and so on. With all these expectations rolling around in your head as you prepare for therapy, it’s natural to feel anxious.
“My advice to anyone anxious when starting therapy is to approach it with an open mind,” Ken shares.
In other words, it’s important to set aside any general beliefs you hold about therapy and mental health. Your therapist will guide you with warmth and compassion throughout the entire process, and they’ll be able to do so more freely and effectively when you come in with an open mind.
#3: Remind Yourself that Your Therapist is There to Help
In our day-to-day interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, there’s often an unspoken pressure to put on a happy face. When someone asks how you’re doing, you say “good,” regardless of what the truth is. It can feel weird to open up, especially to a therapist you’ve never met before, after holding back how you really feel for so long.
“It’s important to remember that it is okay not to be okay,” Ken shares, “Remember that therapy is a safe, non-judgmental place for a person to process their thoughts and feelings.”
There’s nothing wrong with feeling unwell. Therapists are there to listen and provide you with the tools needed to work through whatever problems are bringing you down. They have years of training and have decided to dedicate their lives to helping individuals work through their mental health struggles.
#4: Recognize Your Strength and Bravery
Though therapy is no longer as stigmatized as it used to be, it can be hard to let go of years of harmful messages about mental health maintenance. As a result, people may experience feelings of shame or embarrassment over their decision to see a therapist and talk about their thoughts and emotions to improve their mental health. Recent mental health statistics indicate that 47% of adults feel seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness.
While these reactions may be real, they aren’t grounded in reality.
‘If you are seeking help for improving your mental health, you are not “weak,” “flawed,” or “defective,” shares Ken. “Someone who seeks to improve their mental health is someone who is showing a high level of self-awareness and personal strength.”
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