How Do I Get Past My Anxiety About Seeing A Therapist? By Clinical Psychologist, Smita Arora

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It’s very normal to feel anxious when you meet a stranger, especially when you assume that that stranger is going to extract a significant amount of information about your life—your personal fears, thoughts, feelings, memories. Scary? Yes! For most people the thought of putting themselves through this is no doubt daunting at best. But the good news is that this stranger is a trained professional who has your best interests at heart and will be truly genuine with you. A qualified psychologist / therapist will not disclose any of your personal information, thoughts or fears to anybody. The process of therapy is quintessentially a learning process about oneself, involving the development of acceptance of self, predominantly through a positive connection with the therapist. It is a gradual process of moving towards readiness for positive change in one’s life. The first step to reduce your anxiety is to know about the person you will be meeting and discussing your life and issues with. Nowadays, it’s very easy google information about a therapist’s professional background and expertise. Moreover, when you meet your therapist for the first time it is a good idea to ask the therapist about his / her educational qualification, work experience, area/s of specialisation, and so on. The duration of therapy sessions may differ, but it is common for the first two to three sessions to last for an hour or more. As you and your therapeutic goals are a priority for the therapist, he / she will listen carefully, explore details and worries, and most likely take notes of certain points. You may feel nervous or anxious during these initial sessions, as you begin the process of building trust in this person, but this is absolutely normal. Taking the time to acknowledge a new client’s anxiety can be a first step in helping ease the client’s nervousness and demonstrating that the therapist is tuning in to the emotions of the client. After the first few sessions the therapist might identify a need to carry out mental health tests and assessments. These tests do not ask you to go through any physical examinations or use of equipment. Psychological tests and assessments usually involve the completion of questionnaires and checklists. If the therapist makes a professional judgment that the client is in need of medication, the therapist can recommend that the client consults with his / her General Practitioner, or a psychiatrist. So, let’s explore the following checklist as effective preparation for meeting a therapist for the first time:

  • Reach the clinic ten minutes earlier that the scheduled appointment time. Avoid the last minute rush.
  • Put your phone on silent. Avoid telephone interruptions.
  • Collect your thoughts and be prepared for the session. You can keep a diary to note down what you want to discuss with your therapist.
  • Try to avoid focusing too much on the time constraints of your scheduled session. Feel free to explore your issues in detail. Your therapist will usually prepare you for the conclusion of the session.
  • You can make use of an interpreter if you do not understand the therapist’s language or vice-versa. You should always ask for clarification of any terminology you do not understand during the session.
  • The request for the presence of another person can be granted, such as a close friend, family member or partner, but the therapist should also attempt to speak with client privately to determine if there is anything that they want the therapist to know but would be reluctant to say in front of someone else.
  • Ask anything from the therapist without the worry of how the therapist might judge you. A trained and professional therapist is completely non-judgmental. Feel free to explore new areas and ideas. It is good to try new things and get feedback from the therapist.
  • The therapist usually tells the client in advance about the number of sessions required, potential assessments (if any), duration of sessions, fee structure. As a therapist may see multiple clients each day, the therapist might forget to mention these. Do not feel hesitant to enquire about session details and fees.
  • You can also ask about emergency numbers, mode/s of contact and contact availability, and / or details of alternate mental health support, for those times when the therapist may be on leave or unavailable.
  • Discuss mutually identified therapeutic goals and reflect in-session with your therapist upon how far have you progressed in achieving them
  • The thoughts, ideas and goals for behavioural change, discussed during your sessions, should ideally be applied to your real life experiences. Be open to healthy change.
  • Do not expect the therapist to solve problems for you. The therapist is there to guide and advise. Therapy is about helping you come to your conclusions. It’s not about making you dependent and or causing you to feel anxious and unable to cope outside of therapy.
  • You can ask the therapist about his understanding of your problem. You can also ask questions to check in with whether the therapist is understanding you or not.
  • Try to complete any “homework tasks” provided to you by the therapist, as these are designed to help you expand your knowledge and skills, thereby encouraging personal growth and progress towards positive change.
  • Within the therapist-client relationship, silence can be constructive, and in certain instances, allow time for the client to reflect, express emotion, or to sit in an accepting, supporting environment with the therapist.
  • Do not be nervous about questioning any suggestion that you are not comfortable with, as this may later lead to avoidance of subsequent sessions or the therapist.
  • Try to “go with the flow” of the session. You can share spontaneous thoughts without any hesitation. By engaging yourself completely you will benefit from the therapeutic process.
  • Do not be afraid to revisit painful memories. Revisiting these with the therapist may help you re-frame and overcome them, and achieve a sense of resolution and closure.
  • If anything is said during a session that offends you or hurts your feelings, share this with your therapist. This will help your therapist to understand you better.
  • Where possible, allow 24hours notice for cancellations or your inability to attend a scheduled appointment with the therapist

Most importantly, be present and on time to meet with your chosen therapist and do your best to commit to the positive personal journey that psychological therapy can provide. Smita Arora Clinical Psychologist

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