September 28, 2020

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Alyssa Petersel

The 8 Most Common Reasons Why People Do Not Start Therapy (And How To Overcome Them)

As quick as I am to tell anyone who will listen to me how amazing therapy is, I know that is can be challenging to access for a variety of reasons. Last week, we asked our Instagram community what stops them from starting therapy and we were overwhelmed by the real, personal responses, so we thought we’d share the most common with you here in case you can relate, too.

“THERAPY IS AMAZING,” ← likely to be me, overheard in a subway car, when subways were things we rode to get from place to place.

As quick as I am to tell anyone who will listen to me how amazing therapy is, I know that is can be challenging to access for a variety of reasons.

Last week, we asked our Instagram community what stops them from starting therapy and we were overwhelmed by the real, personal responses, so we thought we’d share the most common with you here in case you can relate, too.

My problems aren’t real, deep, or bad enough

I will say to you what I say to myself regularly: being a human is HARD! They must both start with “h” for a reason. You, exactly as you are, are enough. Your obstacles are, too.

While some challenges are more life-threatening than others, every one of our challenges can pose obstacles in our day-to-day. This carries a ripple effect not only for ourselves but for the people and causes that surround us, as well.

For example: I live a privileged life. Some of my biggest challenges are having very high expectations of myself and others, occasional imposter syndrome, internalized sexism, perfectionism, and, that’s right, guilt and shame that my problems aren’t real, deep, or bad enough to call full attention to. My problems absolutely affect my day-to-day. When I address them with curiosity, commitment, and persistence, I show up better for myself and my relationships, which equips me to better propel MyWellbeing forward, and empowers those around me to better show up for their responsibilities and relationships. Now we have a circle, vibrating and expanding, increasing the impact of the people around us, heightening the impact on the causes we care most about, bettering the lives of not only ourselves, but the people we care most about.

When you prioritize your mental health and emotional wellbeing, you will show up as a better teammate, partner, sibling, child, parent, friend, and advocate.

You do not need to do it for anyone else or in comparison to anyone else. You, for you and you alone, deserve a safe space to be, learn, and grow, no matter what you’re going through.

Therapy will be a waste of time and I still won’t get better

I imagine that we can all relate to this one. Time is our scarcest resource and we want to know with high confidence that where we are investing our time we will see a “return.”

We need to lay a foundation of a few truths first:

  • The exact length of your therapy will vary depending on you and your needs.
  • “Better” means something different for every single person. What “better” means to you can be one of the first questions or values that you unpack with your therapist!
  • No matter how long or short your work with your therapist is, therapy is never a waste of time.

Can I really say “never” with high conviction?

Yes.

There will be sessions that feel like they contain less light-bulb, “A-ha!” moments than others.

There will also be a moment, or a series of moments, weeks, months, or years after your therapy began, when you will be faced with a circumstance that you used to handle one way and you will handle it a noticeably different way. You will experience more space, more choice, and more empowerment in how you react and how you move forward.

In this moment, you will be in awe of the work you’ve put in week after week with your therapist, and you will viscerally understand its value.

My therapist will be annoyed by me

Hear me out for a second…

Your therapist may be annoyed by you at times.

What? Read that again. Yes, your therapist may be annoyed by you. Not only is that okay, but it’s a gift and a really rare and powerful opportunity. Keep reading.

The beauty of therapy is that it mimics your relationships in real life and gives you a safe opportunity to learn and grow.

If your therapist is annoyed by you, you can talk about it.

Rest assured that if there is a pattern that has come up in therapy, it’s coming up in some of your other relationships, too. If you are doing something that can have an impact on others that you do not want to have (like, say, annoyance), how amazing is it to have an opportunity to practice alternative ways of thinking and communicating in a safe space, that will gradually empower you to have more of your desired impact on the people around you?

Now, hear me out for just a little longer…

Your therapist may annoy YOU, too. You can *also* talk about that.

How many people annoy you in your day-to-day life? How hard is it to draft, edit, re-edit, and then work up the courage and conviction to have a conversation about it with that person that doesn’t hurt them or doesn’t spiral out of control into a depth of conversation and argument that you weren’t intending?

Your therapy is a space where you can flex those muscles and practice that conflict resolution in a safe, guided way. A true privilege that will have immensely positive ripple effects in the rest of your world.

My therapist will judge me

Your therapist may judge you. You’re right. But not in the way that you think.

You may worry that if you talk about how frustrating it is to share a 2 bedroom with your partner during lockdown, your therapist will judge you for not being grateful that you’re not alone, that you’re not in a smaller place, or that you’re not coping with things like racial trauma or a life-threatening illness.

Really, your therapist may be thinking about how strong you are for sharing.

Your therapist will likely be wondering about what your relationship is with physical space, and with your partner, and how both have evolved over time.

Your therapist will likely be wondering whether it will be important for you to change your environment or to find new practices and new meaning in your current environment.

Your therapist will likely be very proud of you for making time and space in your otherwise very busy lifestyle to prioritize time for your mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Humans are equipped with the ability to judge: to gain or perceive information and to draw hypotheses or conclusions. Your therapist may be judging you. But they are your biggest advocate. They will share with you the things you may not have even realized you needed to hear.

Therapy is too expensive

Therapy is absolutely a financial investment. Whether it is *too* expensive for you and your needs depends on a multitude of factors.

When thinking about cost, I encourage you to think about what things you do already invest in, and how much more or less valuable your mental health and emotional wellbeing are.

From my first person perspective only, as someone who benefits from privilege, I will share that in my first year of growing MyWellbeing, I was completely broke. I was not earning from MyWellbeing. I was working as a therapist and barely earning enough to pay my bills. I did not have health insurance. I did not have children or other dependents. My student loans were deferred and accruing interest.

I invested in almost nothing related to lifestyle or leisure (for example: I rarely ate out, I never bought coffee out, I did not go shopping, etc.). I *did* pay $100/week for therapy. This fee for many therapists would be bucketed as a “sliding scale” fee that my therapist agreed to based on my financial needs at the time. My therapist’s full fee was $200/session. They were willing to provide me a fee I could access based on what I was earning and what other financial responsibilities I had.

I encourage you to look at your bank statement, while keeping in mind your unique and personalized financial responsibilities, and assess whether there is any amount of your current spending that can be reallocated toward your mental health. Sometimes, the answer is no, and we do our best at MyWellbeing to compile free and low-fee mental health resources when that is the case. Other times, we need to make lifestyle exchanges to invest in our mental health and let go of other activities or luxuries that we enjoy.

I encourage you to prioritize connecting with a therapist who is the right fit for you and having an honest conversation with them about fee. Money is often THE most uncomfortable topic of conversation, inside and outside of therapy. You’ll sense a pattern here: in therapy, you have a safe space to practice having these uncomfortable conversations until they start to feel more natural and less intimidating. One day, you will be able to have conversations about money elsewhere in your life with more confidence, conviction, and balance. That in itself can be the difference between your getting a raise or not in the next 6 months and is an asset worth investing in.

The sheer vulnerability of it all

We are conditioned in nearly every area of our lives to “have it all together.” We scroll through feed after feed on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, comparing ourselves to what appears to be a magically beautiful life that others are leading.

The idea of sharing that we’re having a hard time is petrifying. Pair this with fear #1 on this list (my problems aren’t real, deep, or bad enough) and we’re paralyzed.  We are having a hard time *GETTING GROCERIES*? Cue the internal shame spiral.

Some days are going to be easier than others. This implies that some days are really hard and we have little control over what exactly is so hard about them. Some of us also have biological predispositions to be more susceptible to things like anxiety or depression. On top of everything already mentioned, the environmental stressors we’re experiencing -- like societal unrest, COVID-19, and the fires on the West Coast of the U.S. -- are overwhelming. It is okay to be struggling right now. It is a normal reaction that your body is having to cope with high states of alarm.

Admitting, sharing, and talking through that vulnerability is a big challenge when we’re incredibly unfamiliar with it. This is a muscle you will benefit immensely from strengthening. There will be a day when to practice vulnerability comes more naturally. When that day comes, you will begin to experience the cumulative benefit of how that ability impacts your personal and professional relationships.

For example, think about a time when a friend told you a secret. Did you feel closer to them? A sense of relief, belonging, or connection? Counter-intuitively, sometimes, sharing the hardest moments and giving and receiving honest vulnerability is the connective tissue we so deeply crave.

Beauty lies within honest vulnerability. We just need to practice building enough strength and courage to let it out every now and then, until letting our vulnerabilities show isn’t so scary.

Therapy won’t really be confidential

Your therapist is required by law to keep your information private. Their license is on the line.

For example, they will not even share without your explicit consent that you are their client. In fact, if you see your therapist in public, they likely will not acknowledge you in an effort to protect your privacy. They are not embarrassed by you. They simply do not want to put pressure on you to share your relationship with your therapist with anyone else in the surrounding environment.

If you are engaging in teletherapy, you can ask and ensure that your therapist is using exclusively HIPAA-compliant software and tools.

If you are worried about your confidentiality in session, this is another fantastic opportunity to talk about that with your therapist. There may be particular practices, routines, or check-ins that you and your therapist can instill together that will empower you to feel more confident and secure.

I won’t find the right therapist and I’ll need to go through a ton before I find the right one, or I’ll never get the help I need

I relate strongly to this one. Before I found my current therapist, I called probably 50 therapists and had sessions with at least 10 before finding a therapist who I felt strong chemistry with. That’s half of the reason why I started MyWellbeing. The other half is that while working as a therapist, I experienced first-hand that clients would come to my office who would be a better fit for a colleague of mine, and I would support them in connecting with each other. I knew there was a better way.

If you’d like support finding the right fit, we at MyWellbeing can help you.

If you are searching on your own, it’s very important to keep persistence and patience in mind. You may need to call a variety of therapists before you find someone who is a strong fit for you. I promise you that it’s worth it.

If you are searching in-network, this may be particularly true. Your insurance may provide you with a shortlist of names in your zip code, but each provider may not all be practicing, or they may have full caseloads.

I recommend that you set aside 5 hours, break those 5 hours into 30 or 60 min increments, and keep trying. Have brief, introductory phone consultations with the therapists who you are interested in. You can use our phone consultation guide to navigate and better understand what you’d like to share and what you’d like to ask to assess fit.

Once you find a strong fit, be patient with progress over time. You *may* find that in just one session you have learned something new or you’re feeling relief. You may find that it takes a bit more time. Just think about how long you’ve been feeding the thoughts and behaviors that you’re hoping to work on, and give yourself a fraction of that time to better understand them and begin to unpack them.

Finally, even if you are working with a therapist who is the right fit for you, give yourself permission for your wants or needs to change over time. You may want to work with the same therapist for 10 years, or you may want to work with one therapist for 6 weeks, another therapist for 3 months, and then return to the original therapist or work with someone new.

You are dynamic. You are ever-changing. Your potential is endless.

Your primary job is to show up, to prioritize your mental health, to continue to remind yourself that you are enough and you are worth it, and, over time, to learn and to love yourself as fiercely and as loyally as possible.

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About the author

Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.

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