First Time in Therapy: Overcome the Fear of Opening Up

Attending therapy can be a vulnerable, uncomfortable, and sometimes emotionally painful process. Recounting traumatic memories or deeply held negative self-beliefs to a relative stranger doesn’t come easily to most people.

Key takeaways:
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    Getting to a place of open dialogue with your therapist can help you make the most of the experience and put you on the road to healing.
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    To become more comfortable, try giving yourself time, starting small, journaling, using metaphors, and examining what you’re really afraid of.
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    One of the best things you can do is bring your discomfort into the therapy session and ask your therapist if they have ideas for how to process and manage your discomfort.

Still, working on overcoming your discomfort and opening up to your therapist is critical to your success in therapy. Getting to a place of open dialogue with your therapist can help you make the most of the experience and put you on the road to healing. In fact, it’s often the things we have the most challenging time discussing that we will benefit the most from opening up about.

Ready to get comfortable with opening up? Here are some things you can try.

Give yourself time

Warming up to a new person takes time. If you don’t feel comfortable disclosing your deepest secrets right away, know that your feelings are entirely normal. Most people need some time to get to know a new therapist before they feel comfortable opening up to them. It’s completely normal not to feel comfortable sharing during your first few therapy sessions. Know that your comfort level will grow over time, and give yourself some time and space to get more comfortable.

Start small

Along with giving yourself time to warm up to your therapist, you can also overcome your fear of opening up by starting with small pieces of disclosure. Instead of pushing yourself to jump into discussing your most traumatic memories or deepest insecurities, start with something small that you do feel more comfortable talking about. Use that topic as a way to practice revealing information to your therapist in a way that feels more comfortable. This will help you build up to being more comfortable discussing more challenging topics.

Consider what you’re afraid of

Try asking yourself, what outcome is it that I’m afraid of? Am I afraid my therapist will laugh at me or tell me I’m deeply damaged if I open up? Or am I afraid of confronting the negative thoughts and experiences that I’ve endured? It can be helpful to identify what’s at the heart of your fear and how realistic that is. Your therapist is highly unlikely to laugh at you or tell you that you’re too damaged to help. Knowing this might lessen the fear of opening up.

Tell your therapist how you feel

Your therapist’s role is to support you through uncomfortable emotions, and that includes feeling uncomfortable opening up to them. If there’s a subject you feel you need to discuss with your therapist but feel uneasy bringing it up, you can say just that. Try using phrases like “There’s something I don’t feel quite ready to open up about. How can I get more comfortable?” Or “I’m afraid to say this out loud. Is there another way I can share it with you?” Your therapist may be able to help you process your discomfort or brainstorm some creative ways to make you feel more comfortable sharing with them (e.g., turning your backs to each other, writing them a letter, etc.).

Try using metaphors

Metaphors can be a great way to reach a mutual understanding with someone without being direct. Metaphors can also help convey feelings that might be difficult to put into words. For example, you might tell your therapist something like “There are some boxes in my mind that I’m not quite ready to unpack yet. It’s like they’ve been sitting in the closet for years, and I know that they’re there, but the idea of examining what’s in them is too overwhelming.”

Journal

Journaling is an excellent way to process your thoughts in a safe, private environment. Sometimes, when we hold our thoughts inside our heads for too long, they can spiral and become overwhelming. Putting those words on a page, such as a journal, can make them feel much less overwhelming. In this way, writing things down in a journal can be an excellent stepping stone to feeling more comfortable speaking them out loud to someone else, such as in therapy.

Practice saying it out loud

If there’s something you want to say to your therapist, but you’ve never said it out loud to anyone before, you might be putting a lot of pressure on yourself to say it aloud for the first time in the therapy context. Instead, try practicing saying it out loud to yourself or in the mirror. This can help you become more comfortable saying it out loud to your therapist.

Use boundaries, not dishonesty

Sometimes you’re not ready to open up to your therapist about a specific topic. It’s okay to give yourself some time to warm up, but avoid being dishonest with your therapist, as this can impede your progress. Instead, try setting a boundary by saying that you’re not comfortable discussing that topic yet. For example, let’s say your therapist asks you about your rocky relationship with your father, and you don’t feel ready to discuss your childhood trauma just yet. In this case, you might say something like “I don’t feel ready to talk about that today” instead of misleading and saying, “Everything’s fine.”

Know that you’re not alone

Many people struggle to open up to their therapist. The feelings you have are entirely normal and don’t mean that there’s something wrong with you, or that you’ll never be comfortable opening up to your therapist. Becoming comfortable can take time, and everyone moves at their own pace. Give yourself some grace and know that you’re not the only one experiencing this. Take your time, practice these recommendations, and eventually, you’ll become more comfortable opening up.

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