When the thought to go to therapy first crosses someone’s mind, they rarely pick up the phone right then and make an appointment. Sure, it’s a typical human behavior to procrastinate on our to-do lists, but often this task falls to the bottom of our to-do lists—or off them altogether. There are several common hangups that keep people from going to therapy even when they want to or think they might need to. The good news is that each one of these hurdles has a way around it, so you can stop putting it off and make that appointment today.
“I worry I won’t find a therapist that’s a good fit for me.”
When looking for a therapist, first consider what your needs are. What kind of concerns are you looking to address in therapy? If it’s a relational concern, such as working on your marriage or a child’s behavioral issue, consider seeing someone who is specifically trained to work with couples and families, a marriage and family therapist (look for “MFT” or “LMFT” as their credentials). Also look at what therapists list as their “specialties” or “issues.” These are clients’ concerns that they tend to work with, or topics in which they have done research or had special training.
You may also want to look at whether a therapist lists their “client focus” and “treatment approach” (both generally available when searching for therapists on psychologytoday.com). The client focus may include cultural considerations, ages of clients they generally work with, or additional languages the therapist speaks.
Treatment approach can include the type of therapy they do. If you’re an external processor, various types of talk therapy may be ideal for you. If you are someone who likes to do activities or tangible things, then a therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may work well for you. If you’re unsure about what type of therapy you’ll like or what will work well, you can ask the therapist before the appointment via phone, or you can just see if you like their style in the first few appointments.
Take the pressure off of yourself to find someone just from reading about them online. If you don’t end up finding a therapist who feels like a good fit, that’s okay—it doesn’t mean you are stuck with them. Just because you go to a first session with someone doesn’t mean you have to keep going. Therapists are aware of this and know that they aren’t necessarily a good fit for every person that steps through their door.
While I’ve certainly had clients “ghost” me, where they don’t come back to therapy and don’t return emails or calls (many therapists have had this experience!), it’s not the way I recommend going about it. Your potential therapist won’t mind at all if you let her know that you didn’t feel like it was a good fit. You’re welcome to offer reasons why, or you can stop there. You can also ask your therapists for recommendations for other therapists! This is a normal occurrence, and chances are that your therapist has someone within her professional network who specializes in what you’re looking for or does a different kind of therapy.
“Only ‘crazy’ people go to therapy.”
Unfortunately, this stigma is one that keeps far too many people from going to therapy. But the truth is that people with all sorts of needs and problems go to therapy. As a therapist, I have worked with individuals, couples, and families with needs of varying severity, from proactive therapy when a relationship is already strong (e.g. pre-marital therapy), to therapy for those with smaller transitions or concerns, to therapy for clients in full-blown crisis. Once, to help dismantle this very stigma, I asked Instagram followers to simply post an emoji if they had ever attended therapy, and people came out of the woodwork with hands raised. While people may not talk about it, chances are you live with, work with, or are friends with someone (or many people!) who have been to or are currently in therapy.
With a health-care system that marginalizes prevention, we have a view of therapy as something you do only if things are “really bad.” Since our society is only beginning to see the benefits of taking a proactive approach to health via wellness and clean living we struggle likewise taking a proactive view of our mental and relational health. But in reality, the sooner we can get help for something we are struggling with or even something that we might struggle with down the road—be it parenting, a romantic relationship, a life transition—the more equipped we will be to handle it, and, most likely, we will be able to recover more strongly and more quickly.
“I can’t afford therapy.”
For those whose insurance doesn’t offer coverage for psychotherapy, there are still quality therapy options. Look up Ph.D. or master’s programs in counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, or other psychotherapy programs in your area. Many of these programs have graduate students who are in the midst of training, and they offer sliding scale therapy to their clients as they work toward their degree. Many licensed therapists have a few “pro bono” spots for clients who qualify, so if you find a therapist who seems like a good fit but you can’t afford therapy or they don’t take your insurance, call and ask if this is a possibility.
Logistically, make sure to call your insurance to find out the details of your mental health benefits as well. Even services or therapists who are listed as “out of network” may still be covered by some insurance plans, depending on your provider and specific plan. By calling your insurance company to find out the exact details, you may discover you actually have more flexibility than you realized.
At the end of the day, prioritizing your mental health is vital for your overall health, happiness, and well-being. Could you tighten up your budget for superfluous things like clothes and home decor? Swap one of your weekly eat-out or take-out days for a less expensive home-cooked meal for a few months? It may help to think of treating your mental health the way you treat your physical health. If you had a root canal or a chronic cough, you would make the sacrifices necessary to find care. Similarly, it’s worth it to make some sacrifices to go to therapy when we are suffering or struggling.
“I don’t have time to go therapy.”
Here, it can again be helpful to think in terms of physical health. If you broke your foot, you wouldn’t skip out on getting an X-ray, seeing a doctor, getting surgery if necessary, and going to physical therapy just because your injury isn’t fatal. Even if you were busy, you would probably make the time to get better. Likewise, if you are struggling with a mental health or relational concern, it’s worth taking the time to get better in this facet of your life, too.
Once people start going to therapy, if they have found a therapist that is a good fit, they usually find the time is beneficial and they willingly make time for it because they recognize its benefits. While every session might not be “enjoyable” if you are discussing difficult experiences or past wounds, you may find that you “enjoy” it as real self-care time.
“My cultural background will be judged or not fully understood, or my choice to go to therapy will be stigmatized.”
Stigma around going to therapy certainly exists in a variety of cultural environments, but it is stronger in some cultural or ethnic groups. This might be the case due to distrust in healthcare providers arising from a history of mistreatment, or it may be due to a fear that providers of a different race, ethnicity, religion, or culture won’t fully understand the struggles specific to your cultural background. While even a therapist who has had similar life experiences and has a similar cultural background will have a somewhat different individual experience (and those who have had vastly different experiences can still make wonderful therapists!), some clients find it helpful to seek out a therapist with a similar background to help assuage these fears.
To do so, you can look for a therapist with a “client focus” that fits what you’re looking for, as mentioned above. Therapists may mention here the cultural background(s) of clients that they tend to work with. They may have more experience working with clients of these backgrounds, have done research on the specific needs and struggles of this cultural group, and/or they may identify with that cultural background themselves. Some offices specialize in a cultural focus as a whole, so you may see key phrases on their website such as “provide therapeutic services to culturally diverse clients” to describe their practice or therapists.
If a therapist doesn’t mention a specific “client focus” on their website or in their bio, you can call the office directly to ask about therapists who specialize in working with your cultural background or how they address cultural considerations. If they do not meet your needs, ask them for recommendations of other local offices that may.
If you are skeptical about therapy as a whole or about your specific therapist meeting your cultural needs, or just want your therapist to know that this is a salient part of your identity that you worry may not be understood, share that with your therapist. Remember, if after one or two sessions, it just doesn’t feel like this therapist is addressing your cultural considerations as you’d like, it’s okay to find another therapist, as discussed above.
“I can handle this myself.”
This belief stems from the aforementioned social stigma around therapy: the idea that “only ‘crazy’ people go to therapy.” People with all sorts of mental or relational health issues go to therapy, and usually, the longer they wait to seek out professional help, the more difficult the issue is to treat or the longer it may take to resolve. This is akin to how the physical world often works, too: if your knee is bothering you and you go to a physical therapist, you might be able to treat the knee pain before it becomes a more serious problem that would require more intense treatments like surgery or medication.
Even if what you’re considering going to therapy for is something you could handle on your own, it doesn’t mean you have to. In our culture we sometimes act like help is a four-letter word, when in reality help is something everyone needs. While it can be wonderfully helpful to talk to a trusted loved one about your mental or relational health concerns, it can also border on boundary-crossing if you unintentionally make them your pseudo-therapist. Seeing a professional for these issues will help ensure your personal relationships with friends or family don’t suffer.
Likewise, trying to go at it alone when it comes to your emotional health can sometimes result in coping in ways that are not healthy or adaptive. Unfortunately, many people cope using drugs, alcohol, food, sex, social media, or even seemingly harmless things like work or exercise because they tried to handle something “small” on their own that becomes too much for them.
There can be many hurdles to get over in order to seek out the help of a therapist. But none of them are impossible to overcome. If you’re considering—or have ever considered—going to therapy, write down exactly what is keeping you from going. Then write down a solution to this constraint with the help of these responses. Finally, write down your “why”—what do you want to get out of therapy or what would you go to therapy for? With these things in mind, it will be easier to take the plunge.