21 common worries, fears and misconceptions about therapy

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on May 3, 2023

21 common worries, fears and misconceptions about therapy

Therapy. It’s become a much less taboo subject over recent years. While we’ve become much more likely to open up and talk about our mental health, there are still many worries, fears, myths and misconceptions about therapy, working with a therapist, who it’s for, and how much it can really help us.

Talking has helped us as a whole to dispel some of the myths and mysteries around counselling and mental health. Hearing others open up about their mental health journeys, struggles, and experiences has encouraged more of us to take a closer look at our own wellbeing, and to start speaking up and seek help. So, why are some of us keeping our therapy worries to ourselves?

It’s time to start speaking out and sharing our fears when it comes to starting therapy. You’re not alone; sharing your fears could be the first step towards finding the right kind of help for you. Here are some of the most common worries, fears and misconceptions about all things therapy and counselling-related – and why you shouldn’t let them hold you back.

1. My problems aren’t serious enough for therapy

You don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis to seek help. We all struggle with different things, to different degrees. It can be easy to minimise or dismiss your own problems and experiences, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t still need – and deserve – help and support.

Counsellor Canse Karatas, MBACP, explains more about how everyone can benefit from therapy.

2. Therapy is a last resort

Working with a counsellor or therapist doesn’t have to be a last resort. You may feel more comfortable opening up with friends or family first, or speaking with your GP to see what options are available to you. But a therapist can also be a big help at any stage.

You might work with a therapist for a more common issue, like anxiety or depression. Or you could work with a counsellor on any number of different issues, from helping you to improve your self-esteem, to working through feelings of burnout, finding new ways to prioritise your happiness, or just having a safe place to work through your thoughts and feelings.

3. I should fix my own problems

The closer we are to a situation, the more we can struggle to see solutions. Being able to admit you have a problem is a great first step – but it doesn’t mean you have to figure out how to fix everything by yourself.

Therapy can provide a confidential space where you can open up. Plus, your therapist won’t be giving you all the answers – they’re there to help you work through your thoughts and feelings, as well as to help you discover new healthier coping mechanisms. Therapy is still hard work, and you will still do a lot of the heavy lifting. You’ll just have a great guide to help you on your journey.

4. I’ll be stuck with a diagnosis forever if I go to therapy

Fear of diagnosis is common - particularly that, once you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you may be ‘stuck’ with that label for the rest of your life. Many mental health issues are treatable. With help and support, you can work through symptoms that may be causing you problems in your day-to-day life.

5. Shouldn’t talking with friends/family be enough? I don’t need therapy

For some people, opening up to loved ones works for them. Others may worry about being judged by friends or family, putting extra strain on their relationships, or may fear being seen as weak. A trained therapist can listen without judgement, which can help some people to find it easier to be open and honest about how they are really doing.

Counsellor Tracy McCadden, BSc(Hons) MBACP, explains more about the differences between talking with a counsellor or psychotherapist vs talking with friends and family.

6. Therapy takes too long. Shouldn’t counselling fix me after one session?

Some people worry that they will never leave therapy, while others approach with an unrealistic expectation of how quickly counselling can ‘fix’ them. Some people do feel a sense of relief after having their first session, but you aren’t guaranteed to see instant effects. Just as it took some time to see your mental health deteriorate, so too can it take time for things to get better.

It can take a few sessions to work through what may be worrying you and to identify underlying issues. Then, a therapist can help you to learn new techniques, coping mechanisms, and exercises for your specific situation. Therapy can help to guide you through coping with different problems and issues, enabling you to do this on your own. It doesn’t have to take years, but it’s likely to take more than a single session.

Counselling Directory explains more about the differences between long and short-term counselling, what they can help with, and how you can figure out what type of therapy is right for you.

7. Opening up to a stranger will be too awkward

It’s normal to feel awkward when first opening up about a deeply sensitive topic or something that has been worrying you for some time. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to work, that something is wrong, or that you won’t be able to move past these feelings. It can take time to feel comfortable, and talking to a new therapist can be daunting. But once you are able to start opening up, you can gain a valuable outside perspective.

8. What if my therapist pushes me to talk before I’m ready?

A good therapist will work at your pace. If you’re not comfortable opening up about something yet, it’s OK to wait, focus on other topics, and build a sense of trust first.

Integrative Therapist Joshua Miles, MBACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist, explains more about the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist, how it can affect therapy, and why it’s a vital part of counselling.

9. If I talk about mental illness, it makes it real

It’s easier to ignore our problems when we don’t acknowledge them. Bottling things up can’t work forever. The more you resist confronting an issue, the longer it has time to fester, to make you feel worse, and to negatively impact you (and those around you). Avoidance is a common coping technique, but it can rarely help in the long run. Speaking with a therapist does change things - for the better. It can be the first step towards making significant changes to your life, wellbeing, and mental health.

10. Therapy doesn’t work

When we’re feeling at our lowest, it can be hard to remember a time when we didn’t feel this way, let alone to picture a time when we start to feel better. But for many people, therapy can play a significant role in helping them to make sustainable, impactful changes.

Some studies say around 75% of those who try psychotherapy see an improvement. Different types of therapies show different levels of success for different people. With many people struggling to access mental health services or being offered limited access to limited types of therapy, it can be difficult to judge how successful therapy can be.

Therapy requires time, dedication and, often, exploring upsetting emotions and painful memories. It is rarely a quick-fix that works overnight, and your therapist isn’t there to give you the ‘right answers’. But for many, it can be a helpful way of identifying underlying issues, working through painful thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and finding new ways to cope and move forward.

11. I don’t want to feel judged, shamed, or interrogated by a therapist

Feelings of guilt, stigma, and shame about our mental health are still more common than we realise. This can make us worry what others will think if we open up, leading us to feeling more anxious or embarrassed.

Chances are, you aren’t the first person to experience these kinds of things; your therapist is likely to have heard similar stories, and helped others with similar issues. A professional, qualified counsellor will understand that what you are going through is difficult, and opening up can be a challenge. They are there to help and guide you, not to offer judgement or push before you are ready to open up. A good therapist will work at your pace, to help and support you.

12. What if I don’t like my therapist?

We don’t all get on with everyone – and that’s OK! You may not ‘click’ with the first therapist you reach out to, or even the first type of therapy you try. It’s OK to keep looking for another professional you can work with – with private therapy, you aren’t ‘stuck’ with the first person you contact. If you are unsure, it can be helpful to wait and try a few sessions with your therapist before deciding to work with someone else, as it can take a little while to get past your initial nerves.

Find out how to find the right counsellor for you, and learn how to spot the signs that you’ve found a great therapist.

13. Therapy is only about the past

Some kinds of therapy do focus on exploring your past, and how experiences throughout your childhood and life have shaped who you are today. But not all therapies do this. There are many different kinds, such as solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) which focuses more on solution-building over problem-solving, looking more to your current resources and future goals, over your past.

In this video, psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, Brian Turner, explains more about SFBT including the issues it can help with and how to find a therapist.

14. Not many people go to therapy

Not everyone is comfortable talking about therapy, which can lead to an assumption that working with a therapist is rarer than it really is. Although the general stigma around counselling and mental health has lessened in recent years, older generations in particular may be more reluctant to talk about seeing a therapist compared to other wellbeing professionals, like working with a physical therapist, nutritionist, or chiropractor.

More people seek help and try therapy than you might think. In England, over 1.46 million referrals were made in 2020-21 for talking therapies through the NHS, while in the US, 41.7 million adults received mental health treatment or counselling for mental health in 2021. Counselling Directory alone has seen nearly 21.8 million users accessing their mental health and wellbeing information over the past five years. People may not always be open about it, but working with a therapist isn't as rare as you may think.

15. All therapy is the same

There are many different kinds of therapy, each designed to help with different issues, using different methods. While certain types of therapy are more well-known or more accessible through the NHS or charities, there are many different types of therapy designed to help individuals, couples or groups, as well as for people of all ages.

Talking therapy isn’t the only option. If you feel more comfortable expressing yourself in other ways, art therapies (art psychotherapy, drama therapy, music therapy) involve creatively using different arts in a therapeutic environment. If sitting in a room with a counsellor or laying on a couch feels intimidating, walk and talk therapy takes traditional therapy into an outdoor setting to experience the benefits of nature and take off some of the pressure that you may feel in the therapy room.  

16. Therapy is too expensive

Therapy doesn’t have to be expensive. In the UK, you can access free NHS talking therapies through your GP or self-referral, for a number of different common mental health problems, including: depression, generalised anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). However, waiting lists can be long and frustrating, with nearly a quarter of us having to wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment.

We share tips on how you can look after your mental health while waiting for NHS support.

Private counselling is an option that many people worry will be too expensive for them to access. Different counsellors and therapists offer different rates, often based on a combination of different factors, such as type of therapy offered, qualifications and number of years of experience. Some may offer specific low-cost sessions for those on lower income or other concessions. It can also be worth checking with your employer to see if they offer an employee assistance programme (EAP) that includes free counselling and wellbeing support.  

Counsellor Sonica Mushi, MBACK Reg, BA Psych, L4 DIP, explains more about the factors that influence the cost of therapy, finding low-cost counselling, and finding the right therapist for you.

17. What if my therapy sessions aren’t confidential?

Qualified, experienced therapists that are registered with membership bodies are trained to follow ethical frameworks which include keeping their client’s confidentiality. As Counsellor Stella Goddard, BA Hons, Registered MBACP Accred, explains, “Counsellors are trained to keep secrets and confidentiality within the Ethical Frameworks of the professional organisations to which they belong. There are strict guidelines to which they must adhere to. This helps form a safe place to undertake the complex, sensitive work of counselling.”

While anyone can be a therapist in the UK, therapists that belong to professional bodies must meet certain requirements and abide by specific codes of ethics and complaints procedures. This can add a level of confidence and trust.

Find out more about the importance of accreditation and how to find an accredited therapist.

18. I don’t have time for therapy

Making time for therapy at first can seem daunting - especially if you are already feeling overwhelmed or at breaking point. But when we don’t make time for our mental health, we risk things getting worse. The longer we wait, the harder it can feel to get started.

Therapy, like self-care, shouldn’t be a luxury we ‘try to fit in’. Both are about identifying and prioritising our needs. We can’t look after others if we don’t look after ourselves. Setting up a regular time in your schedule for therapy can help. If physically getting to therapy is an issue, many therapists offer some form of remote therapy (online, by telephone, email, or even live chat services). Many professionals offer evening, early morning, or even weekend appointments, to help fit around your schedule.

Psychotherapist Sarah Wooster explains the benefits of online counselling, how it differs from face-to-face therapy and how to find a therapist who is right for you.

19. Therapy can’t teach me anything new

Who knows us better than we know ourselves? While we may think this is true, there’s often still a lot we don’t know or understand about who we are, why we react to things the way we do, and how we could improve our lives for the better. Working with a therapist can help you to see things in a new light, gain a new perspective, and understand yourself in new ways you’ve not considered before.

20. It’s too late for me to heal

There is no set time limit for when we can seek help, address past traumatic events, and try to heal. Just because something is in your past, doesn’t mean it’s not still affecting you in the present. Working with a therapist provides a safe space to open up, explore past experiences and memories, find ways to process those experiences and heal.

21. Finding a therapist is too hard

With so many therapeutic approaches and different types of therapy, it can be hard to know where to get started. How are you meant to narrow down the tens of thousands of potential counsellors out there, to find the right one for you? Art Psychotherapist Juliette Ruiz, PGDE, MSc, HCPC reg, has created a cheat sheet to help you get started. From what qualifications to look out for, to accessing free or cheap services and trusting your gut feeling, here’s everything you need to know to choose a therapist.

Ready to reach out for support? Connect with a professional using Counselling Directory or find out more about counselling and the benefits of therapy.

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