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September 2000
FEAR OF THERAPY
By Jeff Lance, Ph.D.

Throughout the years many individuals and couples have come to me for therapy expressing their earlier reluctance to ask for help. In this article I would like to discuss some of the common fears that have been expressed to me, as well as my own feelings about why we may tend to avoid going into therapy. I will break this down into three areas of fears, and then discuss each briefly.

The three areas are:

  1. Fear of admitting that we have a problem at all. Connected with this is the fear of admitting the degree of the problem.
  2. Feeling like we should be able to resolve are own emotional and relationship problems ourselves, without the help of others.
  3. Fear of feeling vulnerable and having our feelings, needs, and fears revealed , not just to the therapist, but also to ourselves.
Along with each of these areas is a misconception about the nature of therapy, and of the relational reality of our lives.

Fear #1 often involves a fear of admitting that we have a problem in the hope that it will go away by itself, or that if we don't admit it exists, we won't have to deal with it and the feelings and needs that go along with it. Along with this we tend to minimize the degree of the problem hoping to discount it as not really that important. These beliefs are really attempts to avoid the discomfort many fear will surface if they admit they have a problem. We use avoidance and denial hoping to hold off the inevitable. Often we wait until the difficulty is producing such intense anxiety, depression, or marital discord that we can no longer deny it. Our symptoms finally motivate us to seek help.

Fear #2 represents a mistaken understanding of independence and "self-sufficiency", possibly stemming from the old west idea of "rugged individualism". The truth seems to me to be that most of us have problems in living and issues from our past that we are either not conscious of, or cannot see clearly, since we are living in the midst of them. We are just like a fish in water, not being able to realize it is in the water, since it has always lived there. We also donŐt realize the patterns we can't see, since we have been living with them so long. Most often we need to become aware of the patterns, and the areas of difficulty, that we cannot see from within our own subjective experience. A second or third party can often see what we don't, and help us to recognize these patterns and defenses, and experience them in new and more functional ways.

Fear #3 really underlies each of the other two: the fear of feeling vulnerable and exposed after years of trying to hide and avoid our anxiety and problems. This fear involves issues of security and safety on an emotional level. The fear here is often that if these wounds are laid open, more longings and emotional pain will be felt or it will be apparent how much emotional pain there already is. Further there will be feelings of being exposed and vulnerable to another, and this could elicit feelings of shame and humiliation. However we can't get over our losses without grieving, and feeling our emotional truth, and what we do to avoid this process often leads to addictions, compulsions, and defenses that can become another major problem.

These fears accentuate the need to feel safety, trust, and a good connection to the therapist you choose. After individuals and couples actually make an appointment and come in, they often say how relieved they are to finally express these struggles, and what a relief it is to get this out in the open. We all have a variety of these fears and longings and they are nothing to be ashamed of. It takes courage to come in for therapy, and confront the emotional truths of our lives, but the benefit can be deeply healing to ourselves and our relationships to our spouse, children , and friends. I hope this article clarifies some of these issues, and is helpful in relieving the anxiety often experienced in choosing to go to a therapist.

Dr. Lance is a psychotherapist in practice in Glendale. He is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. He can be reached at (818) 265-4052.

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