First, know that we therapists get it. Starting therapy is hard for everyone and if you have specific therapy-related anxieties it’s super hard. If meeting new people is hard for you, it’s normal to feel extra anxiety about meeting someone who you’ll- hopefully- feel safe confiding secrets in.
Some of my suggestions for working with therapy-anxiety, in no particular order, include:
Be Aware of How You Talk to Yourself About Therapy
Wherever you are in the process, each time that anxiety threatens to ruin your movement towards healing, give yourself a little speech to remind your brain that it could go well. Reminding ourselves “this is really scary, but I’ve done hard things before and I can do this. I want help more than I want to avoid this discomfort” can be a way to help us both soothe and challenge ourselves.
Set Small Goals
Set some little goals to move toward your big goal of starting therapy. Example “Today I’m going to set a timer and spend 10 minutes googling therapists near me.” After bookmarking a few pages, the next goal might be “Today, I’m going to send two emails asking about availability.”
Ask for Referrals
Word of mouth is FAR more likely to get you in the office of a good therapist than finding a mental health professional by googling. The best folks to ask are your close friends, doctor, teachers, a religious leader, or service professionals who spend many hours in conversation (hair stylists, nail techs, etc).
Email if It’s Easier
For most people, email is less intimidating than phone calls- and email works well for therapists in private practice. Private Practice therapists are often solo-business owners who have our phones off for most of the day and who usually don’t have a receptionist, so email can be the fastest way to get a response.
After exchanging emails, you may be invited to do a “phone consult” and if that sounds anxiety-provoking it’s 100% ok to say “Actually I feel like it would be helpful to meet in person” (you’ll probably be charged for an in-person consult, but not always).
Ask for What You Need
Often, for people with anxiety about starting therapy, you may have a sense of what the most difficult part will be. Therapy is a space where it’s very encouraged to ask for what you need. This will vary by individual. If you need permission for things starting 5-minutes past the hour to avoid additional anxiety from a crowded waiting area, just ask. Not all requests can be accommodated, but hopefully all can be given respect for asking.
Use Your Support People
Ethically, most therapists won’t start treatment for an adult via a third party (aka a mom calling in and setting everything up for an adult child), but you can use your people to help you find a therapist, help you draft an email, dial the phone, drive you there, wait in the waiting room, etc.
Sometimes it just takes a little support- even someone to, with your consent and blessing, hit the “send” button on an email you’ve written and reviewed but can’t quite send.
Don’t Give Up
Don’t throw in the towel if the first session doesn’t feel good. If it feels uncomfortable but also hopeful, go back and give it a few sessions. If there are red flags or a generally bad fit in that first session, don’t be afraid to name it. Therapists know we aren’t a good fit to work with every client and most are happy to refer you to someone who can help you achieve your goals.