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Calling a Therapist Can Be Scary – How to Make the First Call
Have you made it to the point you’re ready to start therapy, but you just can’t pick up the phone to make that first call to a therapist?
Have you done all your research and made a list of therapists you’d like to interview, but it’s too nerve-wracking to ask for that first consultation?
If so, you’re not alone. It’s not easy for anyone.
Any phone call you don’t plan with the other person feels awkward these days. It can be especially difficult to call someone you don’t know out of the blue.
The point you call to ask for an appointment can also be the point when a lot of doubts start coming up about whether you really want to do this—whether you’re really ready to start therapy.
Making that first call to a therapist can feel like a step toward a big commitment. You might feel the tension between the person you are right now and the person you hope to become. Even if you’re excited about your future, it can feel scary to stand on the precipice of change.
But starting therapy isn’t like jumping off a cliff into a deep cold sea. It’s like a gentle walk alongside a peaceful stream where you can always get a drink of pure, clean water. Therapy will probably become one of the places you feel safest and freest to be yourself. For so many of us, it becomes a refuge.
Read on to learn more about why you might be hesitating to make that first call, what you can do to overcome your pre-therapy jitters, and what you can look forward to when you finally schedule that first appointment.
Why Is Making the First Call So Hard?
In fact, that natural resistance to change is one of the reasons you need therapy in the first place. It’s almost impossible to learn how to do things differently without help. Even when the way you learned how to survive is deeply painful, part of you believes your survival depends on doing things the same exact way you’ve always done them.
In other words, the reason it can feel like you’re fighting with yourself when you’re trying to change is because you are! And the part of your psyche that believes you’re in danger if you change your ways can be pretty stubborn, even when you know intellectually that it’s wrong and that your life will be better if you do change. It’s the emotional part of the process that’s hard.
The Stages of Change
Therapists even have theories about why it’s so hard to change. One of the most popular is the Stages of Change by Prochaska and DiClemente. According to their theory (and research), there are six stages in the change process:
- Relapse (and Recovery)
Note that there are three stages that come before the “Action” stage. They can seem simple, but they’re actually pretty difficult emotionally—if they weren’t, we wouldn’t need so many therapists!
The first stages in the change process are all about getting mentally ready to make the necessary adjustments, overcoming the natural instinct to resist change, and working through emotional blocks. How long this process takes—and how hard it is—depends on how big of a shift you want to make, how difficult it is emotionally, and how motivated you feel to make it.
Your level of motivation often depends on how painful it is not to change. For many people, the path to change begins with “hitting rock bottom.” This is when the way you’ve been doing things brings you to such a painful point that something in you finally shifts. The way that low point makes you feel becomes emotional rocket fuel for change. You start to hunger for a new beginning.
This isn’t always necessary. The change you want to make—and the feelings you have about it—may be subtle. But if the thought of calling a therapist and starting therapy makes you feel anxious, or you just can’t get yourself to make that call, the reason may be that you’re feeling natural resistance to doing something that’s emotionally difficult.
Why Am I Anxious and What Can I Do About It?
There are many different reasons you might be feeling anxious about starting therapy. It’s natural to feel anxious when you don’t know what to expect. You might have ideas about what therapy will be like that make it seem scary or difficult. Or you may have underlying anxiety you’re coming to therapy to address.
These are some of the many reasons starting therapy might make you feel anxious:
- Social anxiety
- General anxiety
- Relational trauma
- Fear of judgment
- Negative beliefs
Both social and general anxiety cause you to expect the worst. When you’re socially anxious, you fear ridicule and rejection and expect social interactions to go wrong. With generalized anxiety, you expect things to go wrong in general. You spend a lot of time anticipating disaster and thinking and worrying about what you’ll do when it strikes—even though it rarely does.
Phone conversations remove a lot of the social cues that help us navigate face-to-face interactions. Without facial expressions, body language, and physical gestures, it can be difficult to tell sarcasm from sincerity or acceptance from rejection. This makes most of us feel at least a little awkward on the phone with people we don’t know well.
Phone calls can be particularly difficult if you have social anxiety. One of the effects of social anxiety is that it makes you hypersensitive to anything that could be interpreted as a sign of social rejection. You worry you’re being awkward or that someone is judging you negatively. These worries make the awkwardness of phone calls especially excruciating.
If phone anxiety is keeping you from calling a therapist, it can help to consider who you’re calling. A therapist is someone who meets you where you are without judgement and finds meaning in helping you overcome your fears. A therapist knows how brave it is for you to pick up the phone and call someone you don’t know to ask for help. If you tell them you’re feeling anxious, they’ll understand. They’ll be able to listen and address your fears.
If all else fails, you can always e-mail instead of call. Most therapists list their e-mails on their online profiles and some even have appointment request forms you can fill out online. E-mail is often the easiest way to get in touch with a therapist, as they can respond to their e-mails at set times of day when they’re not in session. You can say in the e-mail whether you’d rather have them respond in writing or by phone.
Relational trauma occurs when you experience emotionally damaging events in close relationships. Being emotionally abused as a child or physically or sexually abused by a partner almost always causes trauma. You can also experience it as a result of being in close relationships with people who hurt you psychologically, especially if you have several harmful relationships in a row.
Whatever caused the relational trauma, the result is the same: it’s hard for you to trust people. This can make going to a therapist especially scary because you’re being asked to trust this person with the intimate details of your life.
For More Information
For more information on anxiety and trauma—and what you can do about them—you can read the following articles on OpenCounseling:
One of the most important things you can do is be kind to yourself. If you’re coming to therapy to address anxiety, of course that same anxiety might make it hard to pick up the phone and call a therapist. Read on for some of our tips on how to work through it.
How Can I Deal with My Anxiety About Starting Therapy?
You can try a simple exercise: write down all the worst things that could possibly happen if you start therapy. This doesn’t always work, but many times, it can help you see that the things you’re worrying about are unlikely to happen—and that even if they do, you can recover from them. Writing your fears down can also help you get some distance from them and see that they are simply thoughts, not reality.
Another simple exercise you can do is write down a list of pros and cons of going to therapy. As you write down the potential upsides and downsides, you give your rational mind the power to push back against your fears. And you’ll probably find that your list of pros is much longer than your list of cons.
Also consider telling a trusted friend that you want to start therapy and are nervous about calling to schedule an appointment. It’s even better if that friend has been to therapy before, because they’ll be able to tell you what it’s like. But even if they haven’t, they can help you talk through your fears.
Announcing your intention to start therapy to your friend will help you follow through on it because you know they’ll ask you about it later. You can even ask them to be your “accountability buddy” and give you a nudge if you put off calling a therapist for too long.
What Will My Therapist Think of Me?
One of the biggest fears we all share is the fear of judgment. You might worry about how the therapist will judge you or how others might judge you for going to one. You might have negative beliefs about what going to therapy means. You might worry it means you’re “crazy” or that it makes you weak. (We’ll tell you right now: it doesn’t.)
Does Going to Therapy Mean That I’m…?
While therapy is becoming more widely accepted and understood, there are still many myths about it. Thanks to those myths, the following worries may have run through your head:
- Does going to therapy mean I’m crazy?
- Does going to therapy mean I’m weak?
- Does going to therapy mean something is wrong with me?
- Will going to therapy be a waste of time? (How can talking about things help me?)
- Couldn’t I just talk to a friend instead? (What makes talking to a therapist special?)
- Are we just going to talk about my childhood the whole time? Won’t that be awful?
- Will therapy make me less creative, passionate, or interesting? Will it make me dull?
- Am I going to be in therapy forever? Am I going to get in over my head emotionally?
- Will revisiting past pain or trauma in therapy cause me to lose control?
- Is therapy going to be totally overwhelming, miserable, and difficult?
The simple answer to all these questions is “No.” Therapy can benefit anyone and going to therapy is a perfectly normal, healthy thing to do. It takes courage to go to therapy and working through your problems and emotional blocks with a therapist usually makes you stronger and more resilient. The healing you do in therapy makes it easier to be creative, not harder.
There are moments in therapy that can be difficult, but for the most part, it feels good to talk to your therapist. The relationship you have with them is unlike any other relationship you have. It gives you more room to talk things out, dig deep, and have corrective emotional experiences.
For a more detailed response to these fears and questions, you can read our article “Ten Scary Myths About Therapy.”
One of the wonderful things about therapy is that it’s one of very few places in your life where you can speak freely without fear of judgement.
Therapists are human, but they do what they do because they want to go beyond the superficial judgements and knee-jerk reactions that keep us from understanding one another. They are genuinely curious about other people and want to understand them. They want to understand you.
Therapists are trained to see and interact with you differently than other people do. It’s their job to spend more time listening to you than talking. Their goal is to set their biases and judgements aside and use empathy and inquiry to understand you as much as possible.
No one can ever fully know what it’s like to be you, but a good therapist gets as close to understanding things from your point of view as anyone can.
Think of your therapist as a guide through the landscape of your mind. It’s their job to help you explore, to shine a light on what you see, and to help you describe it and map it out. It’s their job to help you figure out why you do what you do—and how you can change the things in your life that you want to change.
If anything, what your therapist thinks of you is that you’re interesting, brave, and capable of a lot more than you think you are (and than most people would give you credit for). You have so much untapped potential that they want to help you realize.
The Hope of Therapy
Familiar routines comfort us. They give our lives structure, safety, and stability. Any time we walk away from them toward something new and unfamiliar, we risk failure, loss, and suffering.
The fear of making the wrong choice can be so powerful that we stay in painful relationships, toxic jobs, and unhealthy environments to avoid it. We fear ending up in even worse circumstances if we change. So, it’s natural that the thought of starting therapy—which is all about changing and growing as a person—is a little scary.
The fear of change is one of the most universal fears we face.
Yet the hope that things can change for the better is one of the greatest sources of inspiration in our lives.
Therapy helps us face our greatest fears so that we can move toward our greatest hopes.
Thinking about going to therapy is like looking at a tightrope stretched between your greatest fears and your greatest hopes. The road to change could lead to disaster or to triumph, and it’s natural to hesitate when you’re not sure where you’re headed or if you have what it takes to get there.
It’s when your hopes become more powerful than your fears that you find the courage to step out from that safe, familiar place, upend your easy equilibrium, and walk the tightrope line toward the person you really want to be.
If you’re scared, know this: the tightrope is only a few feet off the ground, and your therapist will be there to catch you—and help you get back on—if you fall.
In therapy, you can change and grow at your own pace. Your therapist is there to help you follow your own inner light and intuition toward your dreams, not to impose an agenda on you.
Change is hard, but it’s not impossible—the hundreds and thousands of people who’ve been helped by therapy can attest to that. Trust us: you can change. Your life can become more amazing than you’ve ever thought it could be. And all you have to do to begin this amazing journey is make that first call.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.