Here is April’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I’d like to start therapy. I’ve been feeling sad and irritable lately, and I know it’s having a negative impact on my marriage and my kids. I just feel too embarrassed to go. What if I see someone I know in the waiting room? I don’t want people thinking I’m crazy or thinking my marriage is on the rocks or something. Is there any way to get help without having to go in to a therapy office?
Signed, Avoiding Embarrassment
I hear the same fears from other clients. I have had a few instances where my clients leaving and next clients coming in were good friends who didn’t know either was in therapy. They passed in the hallway and one or both felt some sense of embarrassment. I have several reactions to that kind of situation. One is care and concern for my clients’ comfort and privacy. The other is hope that seeing people you love and respect accessing therapy will help end the stigma around getting help for mental health and relationship issues.
I lived in Southern California before moving to Pennsylvania, and the culture around therapy there is so different. A lot of people are in therapy, and people talk openly about their therapy experiences. Having a therapist isn’t seen as embarrassing, it’s seen as a sign of health and wellness. It’s like going to the dentist, or primary care physician or massage therapist. It’s a regular part of taking care of your overall health.
If someone sees you in the waiting room of a therapist’s office, I hope you know you have the same level of privacy that you do at any other health care provider’s office. In the primary care physicians’ waiting room, no one knows if you are there for a sinus infection, an annual physical, or an STD unless you tell them. People come to therapy for a variety of reasons, and sometimes they are the exact same reasons for visiting a primary care physician, like anxiety, depression, stress, or weight issues. Sometimes it is to process a loss, to preserve and protect a marriage or parent-child relationship, or to explore next steps in life, like re-entering the workforce after a long hiatus. Whatever brings you in to therapy, I hope you can feel healthy and strong for accessing services. Too many people miss out on good healthcare because they are afraid or embarrassed, whether at the dentist’s, primary care physician’s, or therapist’s office.
There are ways to avoid visiting a therapist’s office. You can hire a therapist who makes home visits. Be prepared to pay a premium for this service. You can see a therapist via Skype or the telephone. Just know there are important parts of the therapeutic experience you will be sacrificing if you aren’t in the same room with your therapist.
I encourage you to let go of the fears you have around seeing a therapist, and know that if you see someone you know in the waiting room, you are not a spectacle, but rather a gift…one more step in giving people permission to see a therapist without any stigma attached. The more and more people know that other lovable, respectable people see therapists, the less people will wrestle with the all too common feelings you described.
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.