Just a little freaked out by therapy – that’s all.


It’s strange how I’m nervous even writing you this ask on the internet. Okay, hi, hello, hi.

I guess my question is, how do you get over the fears of going to therapy? When I was 12 I was diagnosed with a panic disorder and generalized anxiety without agoraphobia and in college I sought out the resources of our mental health center on campus which is where I was diagnosed with depression and was treated there.

My problem started with that mental health center. I went to “talk therapy” once every other week and was seeing a campus physician about as often as we worked on medicating my depression. However, the entire time, I felt like no one was listening to me. I felt judged in talk therapy and dismissed by the physician, which resulted in me not going back. At the time I didn’t have an option of seeking outside help because I did not have insurance.

Recently I started my first post-grad “real” job which has afforded me the luxury of insurance and lately I can definitely tell that my anxiety is worse than it has been since high school. For the first time in my life,the thought of just going somewhere (the store, the movies, out with friends) makes me feel incredibly anxious. It’s like I have an overwhelming sense that something terrible will happen if I go out.  At work I sometimes just burst into these panic attacks that leave me sobbing and hyperventilating, which then makes me feel self-conscious just going to work (although I have yet to let this stop me because I really need this job).

I know that I need to get help, but the thought of seeing someone makes me feel anxious (but then again what doesn’t? (lol). Before, the physician wouldn’t listen to my issues that I had with the meds she prescribed. I told her they made me feel jittery and I constantly felt like my teeth were vibrating and she just told me “that’s not a known side effect” and then UPPED MY DOSAGE which made it worse and when I brought these concerns up to my therapist, she told me that the doctor knew what she was doing and she had been working with her for years and I just had to trust her. Seeing a therapist made me feel worse rather than better, so I stopped seeing her, stopped taking the medication I was on – everything. That was about a year ago and I have managed well enough on my own until now. But I feel myself getting bad again and after my last experience, the thought of seeking out help again seems scary.

So, uhm, help? Advice for getting over this? Please, oh wise one, please help!


Bad Therapy Experience Girl

Dear Bad Therapy Experience Girl –

First of all, I’m so very sorry that your experience was so terrible.  What a kick in the pants at such a vulnerable time in your life.  I totally get why you would be hesitant to seek out more help when it wasn’t very helpful last time.

Just like all professions, there are people who are better at their jobs than others.  I’ve met psychiatrists and therapists I wouldn’t send my worst enemy to and in the same setting (same clinic or university counseling center etc..) are some of the world’s best therapists and psychiatrists.   Between these two extremes of awesomeness and lameness is another factor which is incredibly important.  Rapport.  If you don’t click with them and begin building trust relatively quickly, then maybe it’s simply a personality thing.  There are particular personality types you will jive well with and enjoy in therapy but there can be others that will not work well for you.  So what is a girl to do?

Now that you have insurance (yay!) you can be pickier in a sense.  First you must think of yourself as a consumer with rights and privileges.  You are NOT at the mercy of the guy/gal in the white lab coat.  You get to decide who works for you.  They are your employee and need to prove their quality or it’s time for you to find someone else.  What makes this so difficult is that when we are depressed or anxious and vulnerable, we just want help and maybe only have the energy to seek out one person.  I know it’s tough and I’ll give you some hints on how to make it a little easier.  However, it’s crucial to remember that the most important factor in effective therapy is a good working relationship between you and your therapist.  They ARE NOT experts on you.  They don’t know how to help you until they know you well and deeply and if you don’t like someone or get the right vibe from them, then you will hold back and protect yourself and they, in turn, can not do you as much good.

So here are a few things to try this time around.  Get your insurance’s provider list.  Check to see if your insurance company provides a chat line with a therapist or advocate who can answer any questions you have.   Narrow down your search to the 25 therapists whose offices are within a 25-mile radius of you.   If you think you’d prefer a man or woman, you could narrow it down even further. Then look for online reviews (usually pretty rare, but you never know) or look at their Linked-in profiles or even their facebook pages and see if you can get a vibe.   When you’ve narrowed things down as much as you can, then comes the hardest part.  Call them one by one.  Interview them on the phone very briefly.  Ask about their style of therapy and how they might be able to help you.  You only need a few minutes of their time.  You’ll get a vibe, I promise.   Another idea might be to ask around.  I know this sounds daunting, but we do this all the time with hair dressers, dentists, or other service providers.  A first-hand recommendation is a great thing, but sometimes a little scary to ask for.  I totally understand.  My final bit of advice would be to make sure you tell your new therapist about your difficult experiences with your most recent care in college.  Tell them what didn’t work for you and what you feel you need them to do to help you now.  Yes!  You can ask for that.  🙂

I hope you find someone great.  Please don’t stop until you do – it will be worth it in the long run.

Warmest regards,