• What to Do If Therapy Gives You More Anxiety

    What to Do If Therapy Gives You More Anxiety

    You are committed to your sobriety. And as any addict with any type of addiction knows, getting and staying “clean” is not an easy journey. It is filled with fear, worry and anxiety.

    But you are at a point where you are completely dedicated to your rehabilitation and a drug-free life.

    Still, it took an immense leap of faith for you to commit to attending weekly individual therapy sessions. And although you have been working with a professional therapist for over a month, you are mystified as to why you encounter anxiety both prior to, and after a meeting.

    Your therapy treatments have been valuable in uncovering the root of your addiction. In fact, since you began these counseling appointments, the desire for your drug of choice has diminished significantly.

    Nonetheless, the apprehension and uneasiness intensifies each time you approach or leave the building for your one-on-one conference.

    These scenarios and tips below may help you better understand why this anxiety occurs and then offer options for reacting to the anxiety:

    During the Session

    • Avoidance

    This therapy thing is new to you. It is challenging to trust a stranger who investigates your extremely private experiences. As a result, during the initial stages of treatment, there are topics you may try to avoid in order to “protect” yourself.

    The truth is that holding back your concerns actually creates anxiety.

    The apprehension you are experiencing is normal when you first seek support from a “stranger.” In most cases of addiction, trust is a central concern. Numerous alcohol/drug dependent individuals have faced betrayal in the past. Trust isn’t dispensed easily.

    But by dodging discussions on distressing topics, you are cheating yourself. Evading the important issues that will help conquer your addiction is destructive and certainly accelerates your anxiety.

    Tip: Don’t give up on yourself or your therapist. You will develop a secure relationship over time which will reduce your anxious reactions to revealing your “secrets.” There is truth in the saying, “keep coming back.”

    • People Pleaser

    It may sound strange, but for those with an abusive habit, keeping their therapist happy may become a focus of their rehabilitation. In fact, it isn’t just your therapist that you want to be happy, it is everyone you treasure to in your life that you want to take care of.

    These “people pleasers” find much of their self-worth in putting others before themselves. This theory was clearly proven in a study that demonstrated how people chose to reduce a stranger’s pain before reducing their own pain.

    Referred to as “the disease to please,” psychologists may discover their people-pleasing patients enhance (even exaggerate) their issues, hoping their counselor will be happier with them. One client who was new to therapy indicated, “I was so stressed out. I didn’t know what to talk about and I didn’t want my therapist to be upset with me.”

    Tip: Take the opportunity in therapy to find out why it is so important for you to take care of others. The truth is that “people pleasing’ has little to do with pleasing others. Rather it centers on fending off our own fear of rejection…even rejection by a therapist. Explore how to engage in honest and candid discussions so you can make progress and heal. Learn how to let your health professional help you.

    After the Session

    • Being Judged

    If you leave your health care professional with a sense of guilt over an issue you disclosed, you should reevaluate your session.

    A qualified and skillful therapist is not critical of your behavior. In fact, one of the most essential responsibilities of a good therapist is to remain nonjudgmental so that the addict does not suffer from shame, anxiety or remorse.

    Most addiction counselors have heard a multitude of abusive stories. No matter what you reveal or what you decide to share, a capable professional should not pronounce judgment on your actions, regardless of their own personal responses or experiences.

    Tip: It is time to take a chance and confront your “demons.” However, if your therapist communicates in a condemning and unconstructive manner that evokes anxiety, you may need to search for a better match in healing from your addiction. A word of caution: don’t leave your current therapist without a legitimate reason. Too often, an addict searches for the easy way out and will leave for someone who simply agrees with their behavior and choices.

    • Awkward Embarrassment

    We all know the feeling of talking before we think. There have been countless times in our lives where we reveal something very personal and instantly regret it. The reaction of others is humiliating.

    During your one-on-one sessions, it is common that embarrassing situations will be examined. Remember, this is the confidential space where you can open up and live through the situation. Exploring awkward situations will help you better handle similar circumstances in the future.

    Tip: Avoid the urge to flee. Your therapy sessions should be a safe haven to discuss any (and all) distressing events honestly in order to learn new behaviors. Confront your fragile and sensitive emotions in the security of therapy. Admit to any feelings of indignity. It is time to venture into a different, more positive pattern.


    Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master’s Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and Examiner.com.


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