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Why is it so hard to book a first therapy session?

amida-mandala-garden-shrineMost people who book a first session with me only do so after putting it off for a long time – sometimes for a VERY long time. Why is this? And if you’re wondering if therapy might help you, how can you get past this resistance?

There are lots of reasons why people have mixed feelings about starting therapy. Of course there are sometimes financial barriers – therapy is a big investment for most people – but what else might be hiding underneath the money worries?

1. Therapy takes us into the unknown

Most of us are much happier in familiar territory, even when this territory becomes pretty uncomfortable! This is preferable to the alternative, which we imagine could be even worse. When we look at changing long-term habits and patterns, we need to take a step out into the unknown – maybe we begin to tell our partner the truth about something, or stop pushing feelings away – and who knows where this might lead to… In my experience things generally improve when we begin to let go of whatever we’re clinging onto, but it sometimes takes a little courage to begin to loosen our grip…

2. Therapy takes us towards the things we’ve been trying to avoid

We all avoid all sorts of truths about ourselves, others and the world. Sometimes this information is positive (we might be convinced that we’re not creative, despite evidence to the contrary) and sometimes it is negative (we might not want to acknowledge that we’re actually being controlling with our partner not ‘to be helpful’ but to make ourselves feel safe). Therapy brings us gradually closer to the truth, and as a part of this process we might realise things about ourselves or others that we’d rather not realise.

3. We don’t know what we’re going to receive for our time, money and energy

Therapy isn’t a straightforward transaction like buying apples – you don’t hand over your money and receive something tangible and measurable in return. Sometimes therapy makes you feel worse before you feel better – why would anyone pay for that?! It can also be hard to judge how much progress you’re making, especially, ironically, when you’re feeling especially stuck which often happens just before a big shift.

4. We don’t like to feel dependent or unskilled

Therapy helps us to solve or deal with things that we haven’t been able to solve on our own. This means admitting that we’re not coping, and putting ourselves in someone else’s hands. Different people will have different experiences around asking for help. We might feel suspicious of the therapist, or unsure about whether we can trust them or not. We might trust them too much and feel afraid of becoming completely dependent on them and seeing them forever. We might think it impossible that anyone could understand us or tell us anything that we don’t already know. All this can make us vulnerable.

5. We may have had previous bad experiences with therapists or in relationships

If we always end up feeling disappointed with the people we get close to, there’s no reason to believe we won’t end up feeling disappointed with our therapist (or getting into conflict, or being abandoned etc.)

So why would anyone book a first therapy session? And what can help us to deal with these worries?

The first thing to say is that, in my long experience as both a therapist and a client, therapy can take you to wonderful places that you may not be able to access in any other way. It heals the parts that other ways of being-in-the-world can’t heal. It opens the way to warmth and wisdom and joy. It can be hard work, but it has the potential to change everything.

It can also be helpful to remember that all of the resistances I’ve listed are very valid, and to acknowledge that booking a first appointment might be a bit of a hurdle. If it was easy to solve the problems you’re struggling with, you’d have already solved them.

Remember that you can take things at your own pace – a good therapist won’t force you to go more quickly than you want to, and you can also trust that your own psyche will also pace itself appropriately. Share your fears in your first session if you can – it is helpful to get things ‘on the table’, and will also get the therapy off to a good start. Finally don’t rush or pressure yourself – if it feels like the time isn’t right then maybe wait for a bit longer. If it’s meant to happen, the idea will appear to you again.

If you still don’t have enough faith in yourself, your potential therapist or in the process of therapy, then you can borrow some of mine. Now, if the time is right, write that email, or pick up that phone. As Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Endings and Beginnings

cherry-blossomsAre you reading this in Spring, with bright splashes of yellow and purple appearing in the green? Autumn? The leaves are turning scarlet and beige, wrinkling up and getting ready to let go of their twigs. Or maybe Winter, when the nights are getting longer, and we walk out into sparkly mornings with white clouds of breath. As the year turns, we are reminded of nature’s endless ebb and flow.

You might be looking back to the year behind you (and marvelling at how quickly it’s gone), or starting to think about the fresh page of the year ahead. As human beings, we are always surrounded by endings and beginnings. These might be small, when one term ends and another school holiday begins, or they might involve larger losses, such as a friend moving away or someone close to us dying.

Mostly, we handle these endings and beginnings as a normal part of our lives. We feel sad, we share our feelings with our friends, we have good days and bad days, we gradually feel better, and life goes on.

Sometimes, endings hit us particularly hard. This might be because what we lost was a hugely important part of our lives or our identities (e.g. losing a job that has given our life meaning). This also happens when we’ve had lots of losses in a short period of time, or if things have been generally more difficult and we’re more vulnerable than usual.

If you’ve been bereaved, or if you’re struggling to accept the ending of anything else important in your life, these tips will help you to heal.

  • Acknowledge and accept all your feelings. This is something most of us are terrible at. If you’re feeling sad (or angry, or numb), then that’s what you’re feeling. It doesn’t make any difference if you ‘should have got over it by now’. Grieving has its own timescales, and these can be longer than we might like.
  • Be kind to yourself. We can be critical of ourselves when we’re feeling vulnerable. Try to treat yourself as you would your best friend. Notice when you’re telling yourself off. Be patient with yourself. Take one day at a time. Be encouraging.
  • Seek support. This is something else most of us aren’t very good at, especially if we’re usually the ‘coping type’. Let your friends and family know that you’re struggling, and ask for practical help if you need it.
  • Write a journal. This will give you a reliable place to explore your thoughts and feelings, and you won’t have to worry about it getting bored or overwhelmed with you. Writing things down can be more powerful than thinking them over and over.
  • Seek professional support if you need it. Go and see your G.P., or seek some counselling or psychotherapy. Get in touch with Cruse for a bereavement, or Relate for the ending of a relationship.
  • Have faith. Things will get better in time, even if it feels like it’s going on forever. Recognise and celebrate small improvements in your mood. If you’re all out of faith, then you can borrow some of mine for the time being.

If we can allow space for our feelings about endings, then we are more likely to welcome new beginnings into our lives. Losing our job might lead us to an opportunity to do something completely different, and when our favourite rose bush dies we’ll finally have the space to plant that apple tree.

Like plants that take a long time to put down roots before they venture upwards, it can be a while before the new shoots appear. Keep watering your seed, even if you’ve given up hope of anything new appearing. One of these days, the very tip of a small bright green leaf will emerge from the earth…