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Scared of being labeled "crazy" by your peers
bullet People will think I'm crazy if I see a therapist.
bullet People don't understand all this psycho mumbo jumbo.
bullet If my colleagues find out, I could lose my job. They'll question my stability and competence to do the work.

Response: No one has to know you're seeing a therapist except you. Unfortunately there are still many people out there that are ignorant about therapy and mental health, in general. Talking to family and friends gives you the opportunity for additional support, but sharing information with others is your personal decision. As a therapist, I am legally required to maintain your confidentiality. If I need to call you, I try to leave messages in ways that protect your privacy.

Scared of what you might discover
bullet I know there may be issues I've been ignoring and pushing away. I feel too scared to confront them.
bullet Why do it now? If I couldn't handle it then, what makes me think I can do it now?
bullet What if I realize that I really am in a bad [abusive] relationship and should get out? I don't want to face that reality.

Response: Remember that you survived whatever experiences are in your past. Working on issues now will not be as painful as the original experience. One reason to work with a competent professional is that together you can maintain a safe environment with whatever resources you need. Why bother? Although past experiences are past, their effects remain in the present. Working on painful, unprocessed events is the only way to neutralize their power. While I can help you work to see your situation more clearly, I have no right to tell you what to do. Clarity may imply some direction or plan to you, but you decide whether and how to act in response. I do believe seeing one's situation clearly offers the best chance for safety and positive change.

Scared of getting better
bullet Fear of success [often mislabeled as fear of failure.] 
bullet Who will I be without my disorder? That's who I am. [e.g. A person with an eating disorder often defines her sense of self by her disorder--"I am anorexic." If she/he gets better, then she loses the only identity she's known for a very long time. There's a reluctance to give up the identity because she believes she'll be nothing without it.]
bullet When a person has been in a bad situation for a long time, it's hard to visualize themselves as "better." They often see themselves without the disorder, but still in their current situation. How can they survive in that world? They see themselves immediately overwhelmed and scared of what they will have to do.

Response: Often the real issue is not believing success is possible. Remember that getting better often requires changes in all areas of your life. You'll learn many new skills to handle what now may seem overwhelming. Don't try to look at tomorrow with today's thinking. It's perfectly natural to feel ambivalent about getting better. Disorders serve purposes, they often help you survive. Part of our work in therapy will be talking about your fears, where they're coming from, and trying to challenge them. Giving something up can be done at your pace, it won't be forced on you.

Scared of the work you might be "required" to do in therapy; an ambivalence about getting better
bullet I'm not sure I want to give up something that's helped me cope and survive all these years.
bullet The "problem" really isn't that bad. Maybe I should leave well-enough alone.
bullet Getting better requires a lot of hard work. I'm not sure I really want to work hard or work at all.

Response: As a therapist, I can never force you to do the work. I can make suggestions, but I can't make you do something you don't really want to do. I will, however, encourage you to discuss your feelings about the work, and why you may or may not want to try something. I may challenge you, but I will also respect you.

Scared of what the therapist might think of you
bullet I'm scared you'll see me as weak or incompetent.
bullet I'm scared you'll see me as "way past help."
bullet I'm scared you'll see me as evil or bad.

Response: First, the important issue is not how I see you, but how you see and feel about yourself. No one is ever inherently weak, incompetent, evil or bad. It's important always to separate who one is from what one does. Needing help doesn't make you weak, it makes you real. Acknowledging that you need to grow and learn and heal, choosing to get unstuck, suggests strength and competence that you may not even realize you have.

Scared of revealing things that you've kept hidden
bullet There's stuff I haven't told anyone, and I don't want to start now. Anyway, it would just hurt everyone.
bullet I don't want anyone to know about the abuse.
bullet I don't want anyone to know how I really feel deep inside.

Response: It's extremely important that you be in control of your healing process, which includes not revealing secrets until you feel ready. Being forced to disclose abuse before you're ready is a boundary violation akin to suffering abuse again. That doesn't mean that I won't invite you to think about whether keeping the secret is helping or hurting you. Part of the work in therapy is learning how and when to trust enough to reveal yourself. Revealing the secret of your abuse can be a powerful strategy for healing from undeserved shame. Although it may be hard to believe now, you did nothing to feel bad about. Keeping the secret often robs you of support and understanding, and protects only your abuser. See the section Sexual Abuse Survivors for more on healing, if you've experienced this type of trauma.

Scared of hearing the truth
bullet Maybe I have a problem with alcohol, but I can handle it. I'm not an alcoholic, but what if he says I am?
bullet I don't have any problems. I'm getting along just fine. . .

Response: If you're scared of hearing the truth, that probably means you already know it. You're struggling on a daily basis not to acknowledge it, which eats up your energy, mentally and physically. Acknowledging the truth is the only way to start feeling better and to begin healing. Hiding and denial keep you stuck in a bad situation, prolonging whatever pain you may be trying to escape.

Fear that you'll be pressured to take medications you don't want or be forced into a hospital Prescriptions
bullet Everyone I know who goes to therapy is put on some kind of drug.
bullet What if he thinks I'm a mental case and has me committed.

Response: Many people never need medication. A lot of progress in therapy is made by helping people change their thinking, perceiving, and understanding, and by learning new communication and coping skills. If medication seems appropriate, it will be recommended, but you decide whether to take it. Starting medication doesn't mean that you will always need it. Unless you're a clear danger to yourself or others, you can't be forced into a hospital against your will.

Scared the therapist will find something "wrong" with you when there isn't anything, or will convince you that you have more problems than you really do

Response: Yes, therapists have varying levels of competence. Minimize your risk by working with a licensed or certified therapist. Ask your physician for recommendations. Consult local organizations that maintain listings of professionals. Don't be afraid to ask about a therapist's credentials. Be sure to raise any questions or concerns you have with your therapist. A good therapist will discuss these feelings with you and will be open to "processing" the therapeutic relationship. If you aren't satisfied with the answers you're getting, especially if you feel you're not being heard or taken seriously, consult another therapist. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion, but also, don't be afraid to ask yourself if you're trying to ignore or hide from the truth.


Comments Note: If you have specific fears you'd like me to address, please email me or call my office.
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Jonathan P. Levine, CSW
2300 West Ridge Rd.
Rochester, NY  14626
(585) 225-0330

Updated on 05/12/2002
2002, Jonathan P. Levine, CSW