How Do I Trust a Therapist If I Can’t Trust Anyone?


I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I know every family is a little dysfunctional, but my parents were a special case. They were always trying to catch each other cheating. Back before cell phones were a thing, Dad would sneak down into the basement and listen on our house’s landline. Mom would hide a camera in Dad’s office. It was like a bad spy movie.

As an only child, getting caught up in their spy war was inevitable. When I started doing normal teen stuff like sneaking a boy into my room, my parents would magically “know,” even if they were fast asleep at the time. They would parrot back private stuff I said to my friends over the phone, then laugh when I freaked out. After years of gaslighting, I seriously thought I was losing my mind.

I know now that my parents were the messed-up ones, not me. But I still have all the habits I learned as a kid. I don’t talk about anything that could be used against me. I have a phone, but I’m leery about using it unless it’s an emergency.

I know this kind of paranoia isn’t healthy. I want to change. Coworkers and friends have told me to see a therapist, but telling somebody my darkest secrets sounds like my worst nightmare. The only reason I’m emailing you is because I know this is anonymous (and because I’m using my throwaway email).

I know deep down that most therapists would not blackmail me. But when I think about contacting one, I freak out and start thinking, “What if this is a bad one? What if they have hidden cameras in their office?”

Trust isn’t a switch I can just turn on. I have barely any faith in my own memory some days, much less in a person I don’t know. Is there a way I can get help without throwing myself into a panic attack? —Cautiously Pessimistic

Dear Cautious,

I am so deeply appreciative that you took the risk to write in with this question and share so much of yourself. Even with the anonymity and “throwaway email,” I imagine sharing the details of your life is quite unsettling for you.

Human beings are remarkably adaptable. When children grow up in unhealthy environments, they typically adapt to those environments by developing various ways of being. These include behaviors, emotional regulation, communication styles, and relational approaches. While these ways of being help children survive the unhealthy environments they’re in, they become problematic outside of said environment. As children move on to adolescence and eventually adulthood, these ways of being either lead them to find other unhealthy environments or they find that in healthier environments, their ways of being create discord.

It sounds like this is where you find yourself now. You learned not to trust, not to share, and to be cautious about what, where, and how you communicated. The good news is it sounds like you have found some healthier environments; you mention friends and coworkers who care enough about you to suggest getting help. Unfortunately, I imagine you are finding that the ways of being you developed as child are now getting in the way. Therapy is, of course, an excellent forum for dealing with this. But because not trusting and not sharing were central to your adaptation, it is terrifying to think about trusting a therapist enough to share your “darkest secrets.”

Give yourself some time to develop a sense of trust in your therapist before you disclose anything that feels too private. Also, as you move through the process, don’t be afraid to continue talking about any feeling you might have around trust between you and your therapist.

The question then becomes, how can you engage in the therapeutic process when trust is so difficult? First, I would suggest you look around at local therapists’ profiles and websites. Read a little about them and see if there are some you feel drawn to. Ask some of the friends and coworkers who have suggested therapy to you if they know of any therapists they would feel confident recommending. Once you gather a list of potential therapists, call them and spend a few minutes speaking to each. Then you can schedule appointments with a few you feel comfortable with and from those initial sessions decide who you’d like to work with.

Once you select a therapist, rather than diving right into the meat of the work, take some time to allow the therapeutic relationship to be established. You raise the question of how you can “get help without throwing (yourself) into a panic attack.” Perhaps you could begin your work by talking about the anxiety you feel about starting therapy and the fears you have about trusting a therapist. Maybe you could even work on learning some techniques to help you manage your anxiety. Give yourself some time to develop a sense of trust in your therapist before you disclose anything that feels too private. Also, as you move through the process, don’t be afraid to continue talking about any feeling you might have around trust between you and your therapist.

Finally, I just want to say that I applaud you for pushing beyond your comfort zone to consider getting help. Understandably, you have some deep-seated trust issues. And while that makes the process of seeking out and engaging in therapy challenging, it will be well worth it if you walk away from the process with a sense of healing and the ability to enrich your life with strong, trusting relationships. You deserve that.

Best wishes,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Anonymous

    August 14th, 2018 at 8:28 PM

    Trust is not always a linear experience, especially for those who have had it broken by people who were meant to instill trust and a sense of protection. It’s okay if you don’t trust your therapist right off the bat. There might also be times that your trust is broken by someone in your everyday life and it might feel like your distrust is leaking back into your relationship with your therapist. Being open with your therapist when you’re feeling some of that can help. Therapy is meant to be your own process and pace, so don’t be disheartened if there are steps forward and backward at times. It’s all part of the healing process.

  • protect me

    October 3rd, 2020 at 5:19 AM

    They always say you need trust in therapy, guess what it never works don’t trust anyone even the therapist will betray you on a few occasions if you say the “wrong thing”

  • Johnny

    March 3rd, 2021 at 11:26 PM

    I agree. Tried therapy and I felt how I was being scripted all along. I don’t have money to keep inventing until I find the right one. This isn’t an easy process now that human touch is gone and everybody just wants to get their money. It’s not easy to trust people. I wish things were just a little bit simpler I live in a world where people don’t do bad things but then reality settles in.

  • Doug

    May 4th, 2022 at 9:06 PM

    Wow – yet another therapist who doesn’t even read a letter other than to devise a response that could lead to another source of income. How very American. The author of the letter asked how they can trust a therapist when they can’t trust anyone, yet you seem not to have read that part. No – your advice is to talk to a few therapists and then select one. The author said they *don’t trust therapists* and your advice is to select one? Seriously? Wow.

  • Darin

    May 21st, 2022 at 9:45 PM

    Hi! I wouldn’t trust therapy after reading your reply to this person’s heartfelt letter. Your reply is basically saying it’s his fault or her’s. People sometimes have to just use what they have especially when they’re already feel “less than”. Why pile on top of it? It’s more sadness on top of sadness when really all people want is to just feel valued and needed. That’s what really missing and it shouldn’t come from someone else including a therapist! It has to come out from within with the right kind of help not brainwashing from you or the alphabet soup out there. Please reply. Thanks!

  • Shiva

    May 27th, 2022 at 9:06 PM

    Oh dear I think I understand some of it. I actually share a lot of myself because I don’t think this life matters as much and what they can do with my information! Nothing! But what I get over and over is that they are as unkind and inhumane as anyone else. I mean everyone. I have seen unkindness from all sorts of people mostly due to being a vulnerable social person. I wanna say you can share your information and don’t worry because people are more silly than being able to use it against you but if you think they are gonna be nice kind people no no people serve those from whom they expect a return it isn’t humane kindness . I had a therapist who wanted to have more clients and tried to show himself caring but when he found new clients despite knowing I m unwell he didn’t bother to ask what happened to us and where you are.

  • A.

    May 28th, 2023 at 10:02 PM

    My wife is a therapist. She came home with semen in her hair. I have trust issues with the lot of you because you all think you’re smarter than everyone else. I have trust issues BECAUSE of therapists. A previous therapist took me off of lexapro to put me on something he was getting paid to prescribe. That caused a 2-year downward emotional spiral that I’m still recovering from. The next therapist prescribed 12 different drugs in 12 months, causing nerve damage in my left eye.
    I don’t trust any of you.

  • K.

    November 30th, 2023 at 1:26 PM

    It makes me feel really good to see all these other people reacting to this “advice” the same way I did.
    Oh, you have a crippling fear of trusting a therapist? Why don’t you just go talk to a therapist!! :D
    JFC. No wonder nobody trusts you lot.

  • Twila

    March 11th, 2024 at 2:31 PM

    I’m saddened that so many seem to have had negative experiences with counselors, and trusting is hard or impossible. I have a fantastic relationship with my counselor. Glad I moved from an early 30s one, to an early 50s one who has a lot more experience and has proven to be very trustworthy. Her trustworthiness has a direct relationship to my ability to trust her bit by bit more over months. A key to this is that she’s shown some of herself so that I don’t feel intimated, or like she can’t relate to me, or me to her. Some counselors don’t share a thing about themselves, and it feels so out of balance to me that I find trusting hard then. I am so grateful for the person I found. I am really healing life long wounds, because of our counseling relationship. I trust her training and I trust her. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders every time my trust grows deeper.

  • Davis

    March 19th, 2024 at 10:40 AM

    I’m super glad that the writer of the excerpt was able to find somebody they could trust. Unfortunately that seems like The exception, so much so that it got a blurb today here.

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