I am a counselor. I am also a client of counseling, a friend of people who have thought about going to counseling, the person who answers the phone at the office sometimes, the classroom parent ... and many other roles. In these roles, I have become very familiar with the questions and concerns that are common about going to counseling. I also know that often these questions and fears can stand in the way of actually getting the help we need to move forward. So, in this post, I will lay out some of the most common fears and questions I have had personally, or heard from others.
Fear #1: My therapist will think I'm (crazy/stupid/overreacting ... insert whatever fits) when I tell him about my life.
I've definitely been on both sides of this - the therapist side and the client side. Most of us have been told over and over these running messages about how to fix our lives. You just need to ..., If I were you, I would ..., When (whatever situation seems to relate) happens to me, I just .... Despite everyone's best advice, and our own best efforts, we are still stuck. All of the advice, guidance, and support from others hasn't been able to really get a foothold and make change in our lives. So, opening up to a totally new person, sharing our core struggles, can bring a great deal of anxiety. Will he just tell me the same thing everyone else has? Will he judge me for not being able to just (insert whatever solution seems to fut)?
From the therapist - Because I've been there, I know what it's like to struggle with things that seem easy for others to manage, but are completely out of my control. Regardless of the nature of your struggle, it is yours - it is real, and complex, and heavy. I have a great deal of respect for my clients who find the courage to walk in the room and be vulnerable. This is the first step on the journey, and together we will find a solution that works ... TOGETHER ... FOR YOU.
Fear #2: My therapist will talk about me when I leave.
If I really open up and share with my therapist, she will talk about me when I leave - they will be talking about me in the office, talking about how crazy my story is, how broken I am, etc.
From the therapist - Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope. One of the primary tenets of our profession is confidentiality. We are ETHICALLY and LEGALLY bound to keep your information private. If there are times that we consult with other professionals about your case, it is in a way that DOES NOT reveal your identity in any way ("My client is a middle-aged female struggling with setting boundaries in her relationship with her father..."), and the goal of these interactions when they happen is get guidance on the best ways to help you move forward ("I know you've had more experience with family counseling than I have, so can you give me some ideas of things that may be helpful for her?"). There are a few exceptions to the confidentiality rule, and they are shared with you in your first session - mainly they are safety exceptions. If we have a concern about you hurting yourself, hurting someone else, or someone hurting you we MAY have to break confidentiality for safety.
Fear #3: I will have to come to counseling forever
From the therapist - Ummm. Maybe. Maybe not. It depends. As a therapist, my goal is always for you to have the skills, tools, and confidence you need to manage your life and be where you want to be on your own. For some people, that takes just a few sessions; for others, that takes much longer. Also, many people see counseling as a wellness practice, just like getting a physical or a chiropractic adjustment every so often. Usually, our clients come in with issues that feel really big - we meet relatively frequently (weekly, bi-weekly) for a while to get started; then after you get on your feet and things don't feel quite as big, we'll stretch out to every 2, 3, 4 weeks and see how things go from there.
Fear #4: I tried a counselor once and we didn't click, so counseling doesn't work for me.
From the therapist - All counselors are also people. We have a wide variety of personalities, experiences, philosophies about counseling, styles of relating and communicating. Sometimes finding a counselor can be kind of like dating -- sometimes it takes a few first dates to find someone that you connect with. It's okay to try working with some different counselors. Don't let personality differences stand in your way.
Fear #5: Once I stop seeing my counselor, or if I miss an appointment, I can never go back.
Maybe you missed an appointment; maybe you cancelled and didn't reschedule; maybe you left to try another counselor; maybe you felt like you were done with counseling. For whatever reason, you're not on the schedule -- and you counselor's not calling. What does that mean? Does it mean they don't care? Does it mean you can never come back?
From the therapist -- I want you to be in session because you want to be there, because you see value in it. In our office (for the most part), you are the driver. We believe when you're ready, you'll schedule. Then we will be happy to see you, interested to hear how you have been, and honored to help you move forward in whatever way we can.
Fear #6: My therapist will undermine my values and beliefs and make me do things I'm not comfortable with.
What if my therapist has a different belief system? Will she change the way I believe about my family, faith, career? Do I need to have a counselor with all of the same underlying beliefs I have?
From the therapist - Yes and no. We'll start with the "no" -- as counselors, we are trained to meet our clients where they are; we are also trained to move our beliefs out of the way so they do not influence our work. It doesn't matter what I believe about your life, because I don't live your life - you do. So influencing you to believe the way I do is unhelpful for you in the long run. And my goal, over anything else, is to be helpful to you!
Now for the "yes" - sometimes, you have beliefs and scripts about the way things are that may be keeping you stuck. Sometimes, these aren't really your beliefs, but they are "inherited" or learned from other places - family, friends, church, other communities around you. While they are not inherently wrong for you, they may be causing some conflict in your life. Your therapist may encourage you to challenge some of these beliefs in order to uncover what you really believe, your core values, and then help you move forward from there. Growth can be uncomfortable at times; as your counselor, I want us to move through the hard places together.
What are your other myths, fears, questions? Don't let them stand in your way. Ask the questions, get the answers you need. Move forward. Your therapist respects your courage, and honors the invitation to be part of your journey.