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Calling a Therapist Can Be Scary – How to Make the First Call
There are times in life when everything is going smoothly, then suddenly comes to a stop. After long periods of growth and progress, it’s easy to assume you’ll keep moving forward, but sometimes what seems like the smallest task can stop you in your tracks.
Calling to schedule an appointment can become an unexpected hurdle when you’ve otherwise been on track to start therapy. This can be discouraging; you can’t understand why, after everything you’ve been through, it’s this you can’t get past. However, none of the reasons you might resist calling a therapist should be cause for despair. The following challenges can all be overcome with the right approach.
Phone conversations remove a lot of the social cues that help us navigate face-to-face social interactions. Without facial expressions, body language, and other physical gestures, it can be difficult to tell sarcasm apart from sincerity or acceptance apart 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 especially difficult for people with social anxiety. Some people have specific phobias of talking on the phone, while for others, phone anxiety is one of several symptoms of a social anxiety disorder (SAD). People with SAD fear making social errors that result in ridicule or rejection and are vigilant for even the subtlest signs of social rebuke. The lack of visual feedback during a phone call can amplify baseline self-consciousness and worry for people with SAD.
One way to challenge these fears is to consider who you’ll be calling. It’s a therapist’s job to meet people where they are without judgment. Therapists find a sense of purpose in helping people overcome their fears, and they understand better than most that fear others might dismiss as irrational are actually deeply meaningful and rooted in personal experience. A therapist knows how brave it is to pick up the phone to call a person you don’t know to ask for help. If you tell the therapist you call that you’re feeling anxious, it can break the ice and open a pathway for healing and encouraging conversation.
Another way to address anxiety about calling a therapist is to ask a trusted friend or family member to sit with you while you make the call. Not only will making a commitment to someone who understands and cares about you inspire you to follow through, but their presence can also ease some of the awkwardness or anxiety you feel about calling a therapist.
Fear of Judgment
The fear of judgment is common even for people who don’t otherwise feel socially anxious. You might fear what others will think if they find out you’re seeing a counselor and might also fear what a counselor will think of you. Will you become defined by a diagnosis? Will your entire life history of struggle and triumph be reduced to a list of symptoms? Will seeing a counselor make other people see you as weak or broken? Does going to therapy mean you’re weak and broken? You wonder if you could take a less radical, self-defining action to address the issues that concern you than seeking professional mental health help.
Solace comes when you realize that only you can define what seeing a counselor means for you. For many people, seeing a counselor is as important a part of their self-care as exercising, seeing a primary care physician for regular well visits, and eating healthy food. One way to combat the fear of being judged for seeing a therapist is to read articles and books, listen to podcasts, or watch shows that depict therapy as normal, positive, and worth celebrating.
One of the goals of therapy is to help you understand and update your personal operating system so it stops holding you back. When you can relinquish reactive patterns and learned behavior, you’re freer to be yourself. You may or may not meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis, but for most therapists, a diagnosis is less important than the full picture of who you are. The process of self-discovery that therapy allows can begin with a diagnosis, but it never ends with one.
Fear of Change
The fear of change is one of the most universal fears we face. Familiar routines comfort us and give our lives structure, safety, and stability. Any time we walk away from what we know 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 because we fear ending up in even worse circumstances if we leave.
When it comes to therapy, you might worry about what will happen if you revisit pain or trauma from your past. Will you open up so much that you lose control of your emotions? Will you lose the ability to hold it together at work or home? You might also fear what will happen if you get better. If you start finding your voice, what will happen to your relationships with people who depend on your silence? How will losing your symptoms change you? Will you become more dull and shallow if you shed the melancholy you’ve worn for years like a black turtleneck?
One classic method to overcoming the fear of change is to make a list of pros and cons. As you write down the potential upsides and downsides of going to therapy, you give your rational mind the power to push back against your fears. It might be a matter of simple math as you notice that the list of upsides of seeing a therapist is much longer than the list of downsides. You might see that what you fear losing or leaving behind doesn’t seem as powerful when it’s matched up against what you hope to change.
The Hope of Therapy
The idea of starting counseling brings up our greatest hopes as well as our greatest fears. We know the road to change can lead to disaster or to triumph, and we hesitate when we’re uncertain about where we’re headed. It’s only when our hopes become more powerful than our fears that we become willing to upend our equilibrium.
If you’ve already found the counselor you’d like to call, consider trying the techniques outlined in this article to help you overcome your fear of picking up the phone. Enlist the help of friends, your rational mind, or your imagination to connect to sources of hope and move past your fears.
If you haven’t yet found a counselor to call, you can use the search features on OpenCounseling to find a local therapist. Also consider trying affordable online counseling with BetterHelp (a sponsor). Seeing a counselor in the comfort of your home, without the stress of a commute, can be a great choice when fear or anxiety has been holding you back. A therapist can become your greatest ally as you move at your own pace through the process of change.
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.