Why is it so hard to start, and continue, therapy? 5 steps to overcoming obstacles to better being.
Both beginning and continuing therapy is difficult for most people. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons for this. Understanding what's stopping you can help you find tools to overcome the obstacles and begin to move toward better being.
When beginning with new patients, I often hear sentiments such as “I’ve been thinking about going to therapy for a long time, but just couldn’t get myself to go.” In this article, we will explore some of the things that make it difficult to begin and continue therapy, as well as some tips to help you move beyond the obstacles so you can benefit from therapy and move towards better being within yourself and in your life.
Why is it so hard to start and continue therapy?
Stigma Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with therapy. This stigma generally presents as some version of “going to therapy means you’re weak,” “your problems have to be extremely ‘bad’ to warrant therapy,” or “only crazy people go to therapy” (yes, I still hear people say this!). While many consider this mostly when beginning therapy, for many patients this continues to come up through much of their early work. These erroneous beliefs don’t just disappear once a person begins therapy, it's a process to address and change these beliefs.
Fear of judgement Let’s be honest, it’s difficult for most of us to walk up to a complete stranger and tell them all of our deepest darkest secrets, the things other’s have judged us for, and the things for which we judge ourselves. Even after beginning therapy, it takes time to trust that the psychologist or therapist sitting across from us is not going to judge and/or reject us.
Belief there’s nothing new they can tell us We’ve heard it all. We know the problem. We know what we need to do, whether we're doing it or not. What can some psychologist or therapist tell us that we haven’t already heard or figured out? Of course, this is associated with some of the common misconceptions about therapy, such as the psychologist or therapist is there to give advice, which will be addressed in a future article.
And the list goes on The exact reasons it's so difficult to begin and continue therapy certainly depend on the individual. Things such as fear of vulnerability, fear of failure, fear of success, difficulty prioritizing one's self and/or one’s mental health, financial and time constraints, difficulty trusting others, acceptance of some of the common misconceptions about therapy, etc. are other examples of things that make it difficult to begin and continue therapy.
So what can we do to address some of these obstacles?
A helpful first step is to recognize that therapy has the potential to help anyone who is willing to engage in the process, even when they don’t know or understand what that process is! It is part of your psychologist’s or therapist’s job to help guide you through the process of therapy and teach you what it means to do the work of therapy. So long as you are engaged and working to figure out what that looks like for you, you’ll get the benefits.
Give yourself permission to try out a few psychologists or therapists. Research supports that the fit between the provider and the patient is the most important element in therapy. We may get lucky and the first provider we see is a good fit; however, not always. It’s ok to schedule an intake with a few different providers to see who you feel is the best fit for you.
Realize that therapy takes time. It takes time to establish trusts, in ourselves and our psychologist or therapist. Additionally, it is difficulty to put words to what we are experiencing. Even when you are working hard, the process of therapy is much slower than you are going to be comfortable with; however, don’t be discouraged. For most of us it has taken many years to get to where we are, so it’s understandable it may take us more than 2 or 4 therapy sessions to get to where we want to be.
Relatedly, recognize that there is often way more going on behind the scenes (i.e. in your subconscious) than we often realize. While some people enter therapy for symptom management, I advocate for healing what is fueling the symptoms, while also providing tools to manage symptoms that are currently present. This sort of depth work takes time, patience, and openness to the scary stuff in our subconscious.
Finally, be compassionate with yourself. Therapy is a process not of getting advice, but of exploring, understanding, and healing one's self. This is a scary journey for a lot of reasons, so having difficulty starting or continuing therapy is understandable. Recognize this and, at the same time, encourage yourself to begin or continue therapy. The journey to better being through therapy can have some beautiful results if you give yourself the chance you deserve.