Anxiety is one of the most common reasons for people of all ages to seek out and attend therapy. When therapy helps to eliminate constant feelings of unease and episodes of utter panic, clients tend to look back on it as a well-chosen endeavor. In many cases, however, the therapeutic experience itself ends up being a source of anxiety. Such anxiety can arise during therapy, but is especially prevalent when therapy is first considered as an option, or just starting to be broached.
Potential clients aren’t usually in a great place to begin with, when initially considering paying large sums to talk to someone. Whatever problem an individual or couple is experiencing is going to be front and center in their consciousness, with everything else seen through that lens. It’s easy when in such a mindset to think how terrible one must be perceived by a therapist, who can’t ever before have met such a total reprobate. Obviously, they can’t look objectively at someone who’s addicted to Twitter or afraid of puppies. And talking to them will just be plain uncomfortable.
There’s lots to unpack here, but it’s easy to see why people think this way and for good reason. That being said, it’s important to step out of one’s own reality to try and see the bigger picture. A given client is immersed in his or her own world and all the goods and ills which help compose it. Therapists, however, work with many people and an experienced therapist is sure to have dealt with individuals exceedingly more troubled, disturbed or other adjective than any prospective client. Therapists also know and expect clients to doubt that when initiating contact.
In regards to being uncomfortable, therapy is assuredly - at least at some points - going to be somewhat uncomfortable. This is because therapy takes place within the context of life, which is a largely uncomfortable phenomenon. So an important consideration here is that although going to therapy and sharing difficult feelings can be uncomfortable initially, continuing to suffer in silence will, in all likelihood, be significantly less comfortable.
Even once therapy begins, there is plenty of room for anxiety. Sometimes it results from the knowledge that disclosing something particularly difficult or embarrassing has been put off. This is basically the same situation as that previously discussed, except hopefully with the added benefit of a preexisting, positive therapeutic relationship.
Which is a great segue to discomfort arising from therapeutic relationships lacking in positivity. If therapy has gone on for some time and still feels mostly uncomfortable, something is likely not working as it should. It goes without saying that a therapeutic relationship should be terminated immediately, when a therapist overtly or covertly does anything to cause a client discomfort. In less extreme cases, however, it’s generally a good idea to raise the issue in session. A great many things, but not all, can be resolved through conversation. But when anxiety persists contrary to all efforts, bear in mind that therapy is ultimately a capitalist process and clients are customers. If you and your therapist cannot collaboratively create a comfortable experience, it’s probably time to look for a new therapist.
By Elliott Blitenthal