The Awkwardness of Entering Counseling

“I’m not sure how this works; I’ve never been to counseling before.”

My clients have lots of ways of letting me know that they’re uncomfortable entering the counseling process, but many tell me on the phone before their first appointment or within moments of sitting down in my office.

I have admiration for anyone willing to say that therapy seems intimidating. Why wouldn’t it be? You’re entering a situation with a person you don’t know at all, trying to decide whether it’s going to be okay to talk about what’s really important to you. For many, having a close friend with whom they share significant details of their lives seems like a fairy tale. Doing it with a state-licensed stranger can seem even more bizarre.

But when a person begins to acknowledge that it feels a bit out of control to enter counseling, I know that there’s hope for a good therapeutic relationship. The person has already stepped into a position of vulnerability by saying that it isn’t comfortable.

It can seem odd, but vulnerability – choosing to reveal what’s going on internally even when there’s a chance the other won’t respond in a helpful way – ultimately offers rest for a client. By letting the therapist in on what’s happening, the person now isn’t carrying that particular emotional burden alone. So there’s relief simply in saying where there’s discomfort. Most importantly, there’s much more relief when the therapist responds with understanding that’s respectful, not patronizing.

– Matt

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