You might feel reluctant to seek help from a therapist, counselor, or other professional trained to treat mental health. Here’s options to address your objections.
Fear of facing stigma, unwillingness to trust a stranger with deeply rooted personal matters, and not knowing what happens in therapy are all barriers to getting help for mental health. If you’re living with this kind of uncertainty, know that many people also volley over asking someone for help.
You can start today by learning more about how therapy can improve your mental health. It often helps to figure out why you’re resistant. If you can, lean on others for support along the way.
A 2020 systematic review of studies found limited knowledge of mental health was a major reason why children and adolescents didn’t seek professional help.
Other reasons were:
- perceived social stigma
- concerns about trust and confidentiality
- logistical issues such as cost and regional availability
Adults may also experience similar roadblocks to therapy. Learning more about the process may help with the first barrier: limited knowledge.
I don’t want a therapist ‘judging’ me
A “good” therapist won’t make quick judgments about what’s going on with you. They will ask what’s led you to seek help — but you don’t have to have it all figured out, either.
“Sometimes it feels like you have to know a lot about what hurts before you can get help for your pain, especially when that pain may not be readily validated by others because it’s invisible or stigmatized,” says Dr. Stephani Jahn, a licensed mental health counselor offering online therapy in Gainesville, Florida.
Jahn says that people can feel they have to know their goals for therapy before seeking it out, and that lack of clarity can cause reluctance.
It may be a challenge to find a mental health professional who makes you feel comfortable. If your first few sessions with a therapist don’t feel right, you can ask for recommendations from friends and family.
It’s not always a match right from the start, especially if you want to talk with someone with whom you can identify. Who do you ask for help?
How to Find a Therapist
Looking for a therapist but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.
I’m not sure a therapist will relate to me
Canh Tran, a licensed independent clinical social worker, and therapist in Seattle, notes finding the right match can be particularly hard for People of Color. Tran says this is a major reason why many people don’t seek out mental health support.
According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 86% of U.S. psychologists were white in 2015.
But that may be changing. The same source says that in 2015, of those starting new careers as psychologists, 66% were white. The lower percentage indicates growing diversity within the profession — and new options for people seeking therapists.
Identifying why you’re hesitant to seek help can be the first step to finding solutions.
If you worry about what happens in therapy, you can ask a mental health professional about their process. Therapists all use different techniques.
You could ask your insurance about coverage or seek out low-cost options if you want affordable therapy.
Often some self-reflection and individual research can help ease fears.
You can start journaling right away. All you need is a pen and notebook or a laptop. Writing helps many people to sort out their thoughts and to see patterns in their emotions. It can also help with working through fears about seeking out therapy.
Asking a friend for help isn’t always easy. But if you have a close friend who is willing to listen, this can be a great way to start the conversation about your mental health needs. Talking about your experiences can make things seem less scary, including the prospect of seeing a therapist.
You may wonder, “how do I ask my friend for emotional support?” The answer really depends on your relationship. But if they’re a close friend, you might want to ask them to go with you when you see a therapist.
They don’t have to be in the room. You don’t have to tell them what you discussed in therapy if you don’t want to. But if they can give you a ride or even just sit in the waiting room, it can make you feel supported — and remove another barrier to the process.
If one-on-one counseling doesn’t feel right, you can try a support group. These are often facilitated by someone with training. They focus on folks sharing specific experiences, such as
You may be asked to say a word or two in a support group, but you don’t have to be the center of attention. Sometimes it can help just to hear what others go through so you feel less alone.
Help doesn’t just come in the form of group, one-on-one, or in-person therapy. You can also get started by using anonymous helplines.
- The Veterans Crisis Line is accessible by dialing 988 and pressing “1.”
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They can help you find mental health support near you.
It’s OK to want to be private about your experiences — and also seek help. Ensuring privacy is one important role anonymous helplines play.
Only in rare instances — such as if you might harm yourself, or are doing something illegal — can a mental health professional hospitalize you. In most situations, the choice of treatment is up to you.
You can set limits in therapy, and a sound therapist will respect your boundaries. That may mean not being prescribed certain medications, or ending a discussion if it’s too much for you at the moment. And if you feel like your boundaries aren’t being kept, it’s OK to find a new therapist.
It’s important to note that your limits can change too — you’re human, so your boundaries may fluctuate over the course of therapy.
No one likes to hear the words “crazy,” “psycho,” or “loony,” and they aren’t acceptable terms to refer to people or their experiences. Using these words may also be a cover for one’s own embarrassment about their own mental health issues and challenges.
If you find yourself using this language, consider whether it may reveal something about your own barriers to seeking help. Some folks self-deprecate or use self-stigmatizing phrases in seeking assistance, such as “how do I ask for support when I need it without sounding pathetic?”
Asking for intervention takes strength and resolve. It’s not silly, weak, or pathetic. Perhaps starting with avoiding negative language is a good start, followed by these pointers. You can:
- Do some research, come informed
- Be specific, what’s the ask?
- Don’t apologize for your need
- Maintain your boundaries if you don’t want to disclose private details
- Show or express your gratitude
(Politely) asking for support: One example
“Sis, I’ve done some research and believe I need to be screened for a mental health condition that may include psychosis. I’m concerned about my behavior around my kids. Can you pick them up from school the next few days so I can see a professional?
“I’d rather save the details for a psychiatrist. I deeply appreciate the help.”
Dr. Stephanie Freitag, licensed clinical psychologist in New York and adjunct professor at the Emory School of Medicine, says internalized shame can be a major reason people are reluctant to seek out therapy.
“For many, the biggest first step to working on one’s mental health is identifying that there is an [issue] in the first place, which often requires one to sit with a lot of negative emotions and discomfort,” Freitag says.
Mental health care is just as vital as care for your physical health. If you’re living with the fear of seeking help, try to learn more about the process. Finding the right therapist and leaning on your inner circle can help you feel less isolated and more able to trust.