How do I gain the courage to see a therapist?
April 22, 2013 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I have pretty severe social anxiety. How do I gain the courage to see a therapist? I am mostly afraid of my parent's reaction.

I wrote this post a dozen different times, unsure about which problem to focus on. But the truth is that all of my problems boil down to social anxiety.

I just turned 22 and I live with my parents. I was always very shy, but it got really bad in high school. I am fine small talking with people my age for the most part, but I will still avoid it at all costs. I have been in college for 4 years and I have absolutely zero friends. I hate to be seen out in public (I don't like the way I look) and dread the warm weather because I can no longer hide under a big coat. I will take the longest paths possible to get around campus so I won't be seen. I come right home after my classes instead of staying in the library (where I am thousands of times more productive than at home).

I have never spoken to a professor in FOUR YEARS of college, with over a hundred credits earned. That's about 30 different professors I've had and I've never spoken a word to any of them. I have no internships and no job experience except one job when I was 16. I've been putting all of this off for years, but now that I only have one year of college left I really need to take action.

I want to be normal and have friends. I want to be in a relationship. I want to get a job. There is no reason why I should live like this. A new club that is extremely relevant to my interests just formed on campus, but I'm too afraid to go to a meeting. I also desperately need to officially my major but I am terrified of speaking to the department head that needs to review my transcript and sign the form. I REALLY!!! need to do this, within the next 2 weeks, but I really don't think I can.

I was previously in therapy as a young teenager and diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I could not get out of bed, constantly felt like I was going to die and had panic attacks for months. I was put on medication and stayed in therapy for a few months until I was functional. My parents are fairly toxic and they have very skewed ways of thinking. I've been told several times that it was completely unnecessary, that I insisted on seeing a therapist for no reason, that all teenagers are depressed.

I still live with them and I'm on their insurance. There is no way to hide this from them. I just really don't want to deal with the eye rolls, my mother telling everyone in the extended family, "this is unnecessary" and "why would you need to go to therapy?". They can be mean, but I still value their opinion (seeing as they are pretty much the only people I interact with). My college offers 3 free therapy sessions and then has a list of low-cost therapists in the area, but I'd rather just go to one on my insurance plan instead of switching around after 3 sessions.

How can I go about telling them I need to go to therapy? How do I deal with the aftermath?

And of course I am afraid of actually going to therapy, but not that much. I feel like it will take a few hours just to outline my problems and history. Any tips on how to deal with that?

I would appreciate any advice on any aspect of my situation at all. Thanks for reading all that. You can contact me here:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Mom, dad, I want to be happy. I am not happy now. I cannot will myself into being happy. I think I would benefit from the assistance of professional help. I hope you understand that this is not a commentary on your parenting."
(even if it is)
posted by Etrigan at 8:16 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does your campus have any counselors? They can tell you about confidential options and possibly free ones or very cheap. That's the simplest place to start.
posted by emjaybee at 8:18 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have the courage to continue living exactly as you are without any realistic hope of improvement?

Asking for help is a risk. Continuing exactly as you are is a sure thing - a bad one. Recast this a a choice between two options and then try to make the healthiest choice for your future.
posted by 26.2 at 8:23 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you should just use the 3 free sessions just to get your feet wet. You have a lot of scary, important monsters to face down. But the first thing you need to do is tackle the one that has an immediate solution, which is getting over the hump of getting your butt into a therapist's chair. The other ones can follow.

Another tactic is to go see your regular doctor or gyno, and tell them how dire this is. What you talk about with them is private.
posted by bleep at 8:33 PM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Ps. You shouldn't value their opinion on this. It's wrong.
posted by bleep at 8:34 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take the three free sessions, and tell the therapist up front your concerns about your parents, the insurance, etc. I would be pretty sure you're not the first person they've seen with similar concerns, and they may have some practical advice that's specific to where you live, your insurance, etc. Also maybe on getting some very basic coping skills on the things that you know you need/want to do. (Seeing your advisor, etc.) Think of it as a prep for longer-term work.

Good luck. You deserve to experience and enjoy your life.
posted by epersonae at 8:35 PM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Here's the thing about therapists -- they've dealt with all of this before. Print this question out and take it to the therapist at school. Or just email the office. They'll tell you what to do.
posted by empath at 8:36 PM on April 22, 2013

A surprising thing I've found is that the simple act of going to therapy is helpful for me no matter how well that week's session goes - it feels good to know that I am making an effort to take care of my mental health. If that turns out to be the case for you too, you could use that positive self-message about "I am doing something healthy for myself" to help balance out the negative messages you may hear. Also, when you hear negative messages from your family, you can remind yourself that you have the option of discussing them in your next therapy session! When I have a particularly bad day, I'm comforted by the thought that I'll be able to talk about that day with my therapist later that week.

For longer-term therapy, taking a few sessions just to outline your issues is very normal as far as I can tell. But you can start with the three free sessions as short-term goal-oriented sessions without the extensive background ("I'd like help with declaring my major and talking to my parents about therapy").

I'm so glad that you're working on this! I hope it goes well for you.
posted by mysh at 9:02 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding mysh's suggestion to go into your school's three-appointment deal with two goals: 1) declaring your major, and 2) talking to your parents about therapy.

If you are open to it, considering going to your school's health clinic (just any regular doctor, not necessarily a mental health professional) and explain that extreme anxiety is preventing you from filing for your major. They should be able to provide you with a short-term, fast-acting anti-anxiety script. I had never thought I would ever take something like that, but when I went in and asked my doctor for help because my mental health was getting in the way of my life, she was extremely understanding and gave me a small script that absolutely helped me jump my mental hurdles (and it was far more effective than I expected it to be, and with minimal side effects-- it was klonopin, fwiw). I still had to do the mental legwork to get fully healthy, but I was able to use the meds as a one-off so I could kick start that legwork.
posted by samthemander at 9:48 PM on April 22, 2013

One thing I've found useful, for my anxieties, is to look at all the things you're scared of doing. Of all those things -- which one is the least scary? Do that one first. So if going to see an on-campus therapist for three sessions is not as scary (no confronting parents, you know where it is, you don't have to find or pick anyone), then do that. Maybe in three sessions you will have some techniques or medications that will make finding another therapist easier. Or maybe this therapist will have other ideas of what might help you to try next. (Or if you have a regular doctor who is easier to see, again, can help you find medication that would make doing some of these harder things easier and more manageable.)

The more you practice doing the small scary things, the better you will get at it.

Another thing about convincing yourself to do scary things -- let yourself be nervous and give yourself credit every time you try. You're doing something difficult, so try to be as gentle and supportive of yourself as you can along the way.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:53 PM on April 22, 2013

I don't think that your need for therapy is any of your parents' business. You've already established that their toxic attitudes will be absolutely detrimental to taking care of your mental health, so I would avoid involving them at all. Take the free therapy sessions offered by your school and explain what's going on. It will be something of a pain to have to move on to a different low-cost clinic after the initial sessions, but that seems better than having to try to reason with your parents and deal with their reaction. Truly.

I say this as someone who, upon trying to tell her mother that she desperately needed help for depression, was told at different times, "This is all your own fault," "You don't need help," and, bizarrely, "Why don't you take a year off and write a movie script? I bet that will make you feel better!" It's really scary to have to deal with depression and anxiety; unsupportive parents just make it so much worse. But you are doing the right thing, the brave thing, in taking care of yourself.

Feeling like it will take hours just to explain the basics of what's going on is incredibly common, but (if you can!) try not to worry too much about that--it's a phenomenon therapists see every day and they're used to helping people through it.

I wish you all the best.
posted by corey flood at 10:29 PM on April 22, 2013

When I was a teenager, my pediatrician waited until my dad was out of the room and then told me he would prescribe birth control if I ever needed it, no questions asked, without having to tell my parents. I think this is a common issue (needing to treat a child for something without parent's knowledge). A good therapist might be able to figure out a way to treat you under your insurance without your parent's knowing.
posted by bananafish at 10:54 PM on April 22, 2013

I am going to copy and paste part of an answer I gave a month ago:

I am so shy and awkward that dealing with strangers had become genuinely terrifying, but a few years ago circumstances forced me to take a job that required me to deal with the public a lot, and I've found that I can actually do OK with it. It was sink or swim, and I have been clumsily paddling along. I still despise trying to make small talk with strangers, but in a professional setting there's always stuff to ask people or tell people. Even if I'm having a freakout, I can just kind of go into smiling android mode and give the same spiel I've given 1000 times before.

Before I started working with the public, I had reached a point where the world was getting really scary, and I was becoming afraid of strangers beating me up. It felt like there were all these violent people out there, and I was risking a beating just by going out at all. I hadn't become properly agoraphobic, but agoraphobia was starting to make sense.

And now here I am dealing with strangers all freaking day, and I'm surviving it. Seriously, maybe you should try some volunteering, something to get yourself out there in the world. It's not so scary, when you have a reason to be there and something to do. You may be surprised by how quickly some of these fears fall away.

Beyond that, I would strongly suggest you make therapy a priority. I think you should go for the 3 free sessions/low cost option. That will just be much less complicated for you in various ways. I have the feeling that for now, while you're just starting to work on your issues, you should keep your parents out of it as much as possible. It sounds like they weren't supportive years ago, and you REALLY don't need anybody to discourage you now.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:58 PM on April 22, 2013

My college offers 3 free therapy sessions and then has a list of low-cost therapists in the area, but I'd rather just go to one on my insurance plan instead of switching around after 3 sessions.

With this you are basically saying you'd rather your parents know about this instead of taking advantage of something free your school provides that they wouldn't have to know about.

Start with one free session, you can probably see the therapist right on campus, and you won't have to check with your insurance company to see what they cover first.
posted by yohko at 11:08 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Adding a data point. My young adult daughter is on my insurance. Not once did I ever even know she'd seen a doctor, since she's not a minor, and she has seen several doctors for both routine care and for illnesses. This is because of HIPAA and patient privacy. Additionally, mental health information is subject to a higher bar for information release than regular medical information, and requires a separate and specific consent the patient has to sign.

I would not assume your parents would ever know you'd seen someone if you didn't choose to tell them. Just make sure there are no unpaid charges that would be billed to them and leave an unintended trail.
posted by citygirl at 5:44 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of people get A LOT better after three therapy sessions (or even one!). Go to the three free sessions, and then the rest of it may seem a lot easier.
posted by mskyle at 6:08 AM on April 23, 2013

Small steps, lots of them, over and over. I know this feels like a big huge problem, but each one has little tiny steps you can do to get started. Then you just gotta take the next one. Asking this is a good start. We are all proud of you.

Please, walk into the counseling office ASAP. They can and will help. A lot of places will even have slots for extremely low cost, or even free therapy. But you never know till you ask.

I am sorry your parents are so un-helpful. In my non-professional opinion, they have failed you and their parenting jobs quite a bit. But you need to do what is best for you, and getting help is that.

As for the major declaration... well, the therapy office can walk you through that :) From my experience, it took less than 5 min with no idle chit chat. Practice what you want to say? Be ready for the most expected questions? Reading between the lines, it seems your transcript is fine, since you didn't mention anything bad. It should go smoothly. In general, everyone working at a college is there to help you.

In general, have faith in yourself, be nice to you when you don't succeed, or don't succeed as well as you wanted. You are worth good things.

As always, you are welcome to memail me.
posted by Jacen at 6:30 AM on April 23, 2013

Part of what the three sessions is for is referral. This means you can see someone for those three sessions, just to clarify the best approach, and then they can refer you to someone (more suitable) who is on your insurance. The downside to this is that you will have to be around both the first person and the second person but I agree that you don't necessarily have to speak to them--print out your question and bring it with you, and write down a list of concerns about finding a new therapist. Eventually you'll need to speak to a therapist, but you can work up to it. Just start wherever you can, and give yourself credit for your bravery and good effort.

I agree your parents might not know if you see someone, unless the insurance company mails a paper explanation of benefits to your house. But you could also contact your insurance company (by email?) and ask them what their procedures are.

You can have a better life. Even this is a good start.
posted by epanalepsis at 7:01 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Taking immediate action on this is a good idea, before your determination to make a change falls back into your regular way of living with your situation.

The recommendation to just print out what you wrote is a great idea. You don't need to know how to 'do' therapy. One thing that a good counselor or therapist can help with is giving you some of tools/referrals/ideas to help address your most immediate problems, including helping you gain some perspective on the side of this thing that involves your parents. If whoever you talk to first doesn't help clear things up, find someone else.

The life your living now is happening every minute. You should go to your schools counseling office (or med center, etc.) and ask for an appointment the very next time they are open. You will start to feel better as soon as the appointment is made. That very minute.
posted by shimmer at 11:08 AM on April 23, 2013

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