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Why Is It So Hard to Make Your First Therapy Appointment?

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Michelle Williams—who's talked openly about how she's struggled with depression since her Destiny's Child days—proudly revealed this week that she's finally seeking mental health treatment. But Williams has been an advocate for destigmatizing mental health for years—why did it take her so long to finally follow her own advice? 

Williams hasn't shied away from talking about her mental health struggles. Last year she revealed on The Talk that she'd been struggling with depression since she was 13-years-old. "So many people are walking around acting like they've got it all together when they're suffering," she said, as reported by The Cut. (She's right BTW—depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and about 16 million adults deal with the disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.)

But despite being an advocate for mental health awareness and destigmatizing treatment, Williams hadn't gotten professional help herself until this week when she shared on Instagram that she was "proudly, happily, and healthily," seeking treatment for her mental health struggles. (Related: The Best Therapy and Mental Health Apps)

"For years I have dedicated myself to increasing awareness of mental health and empowering people to recognize when it's time to seek help," she wrote. "I recently listened to the same advice I have given to thousands around the world and sought help from a great team of healthcare professionals."  (Related: Is It Bad to Rely on Workouts As Your Therapy?) 

Why is it so hard to see a pro for your mental health?

Williams situation might sound familiar: Even if you're totally behind the benefits of therapy, actually getting yourself a therapist can be anxiety-inducing in itself. "You can be an advocate for something and still have to face your human side when advocating for this for yourself," says Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, a therapist in New York. It's the same paradox as being totally behind the benefits of going vegan but not actually committing to making the diet switch yourself (because, ice cream). With therapy, taking your own advice can be particularly intimidating. "It can be hard enough sharing your feelings with a girlfriend, so the thought of doing this with a stranger can be overwhelming," Hendrix says.

The truth is, therapy can be uncomfortable, she says. Dealing with your mental health issues involves admitting there's a problem and then facing it. "Making an appointment with a therapist turns your problem from something you need to work on 'someday' to something that's out in the open today," Hendrix says. "It makes it very real."

Secondly, seeing a therapist means change. And even good change, Hendrix says, can be scary. "Sometimes it's easier to keep your problem in the 'need-to-work-on-it-someday box' because change is scary," she explains. "But a good therapist can help you feel the fear and do it anyway."

How to take your own therapy advice

If you've been putting off making that first appointment, the first thing to do is recognize you're not alone—it can be scary and that's okay. "Acknowledge that making the call isn't an easy one and feel compassion for yourself," Hendrix says. "It isn't an easy call for most people."

Instead of focusing on all the reasons why you should put off making an appointment, focus on what you hope to gain from getting mental health treatment. "Think of all the sleepless night you have spent wishing this area of your life was different," Hendrix says. "Now, imagine this area of your life being better." Getting there means taking the first step, she says. "Change typically happens with small steps—but a step still needs to be taken," Hendrix says.

Finally, remember you're in control of your mental health journey. "Your therapist is there to support you—you are the client who is paying for their services," Hendrix says. "If the therapist or style of therapy isn't a good fit for you, you can and should leave and try someone else."

No matter how much you evangelize the benefits of seeing a good therapist, the reality is, taking our own advice is always hard. But as Williams put it: "If you can change your mind, you can change your life."

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