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Are You Keeping Secrets from Your Therapist?

Throughout my career, I’ve heard “I’ve never told anyone this before” multiple times. It’s an honor to be trusted with this information and to hold onto peoples’ stories. My goal is to foster an environment where clients feel safe to share and confide in me. I truly love supporting and listening to my clients. 

Truly engaging in the work of psychotherapy is a difficult task. People often focus only on the positive  things and conjure happy emotions. We often tend to “box up” negative experiences or emotions in order to cope with daily life. It’s how a lot of us survive and function. 

If you’ve ever sat in a therapy session and thought to yourself “I should talk about this…” but then stop yourself, you are not alone. 

Some reasons why people keep secrets from their therapist:

They’re not ready to talk about it: If they are currently feeling that there are more pressing issues, are feeling especially emotionally fragile, or the issue seems too impossible  to discuss, they might simply not be “ready” to talk about. 

They repressed it: Much of the work in therapy is to open those proverbial “boxes” and explore what’s inside. When we have spent years building up defenses to past traumas and difficult experiences, our brains work to push away uncomfortable memories or incidents. We might not even remember that event happened. 

They don’t think that it’s big of a deal or that it impacts their current functioning: When a person hasn’t thought about something in a long time, they often believe that the issue does not influence their day-to-day life. Sometimes, however, those insignificant moments can be pivotal in changing our behavior or approach to situations. 

They talked about it with a previous therapist: When clients have seen multiple therapists, it can be difficult to recall whether or not the information was shared with the current therapist . It’s always important to check with the therapist to see if they have been made privy to the information. 

They aren’t ready to face it: Bringing up a topic  in therapy means that it’s allowed to be addressed. Statements like “I am failing all of my classes” or “I cheated on my significant other” are often embarrassing to acknowledge. When people say these things out loud, they become “true “ facts and can no longer be avoided. 

They are worried about being judged: Therapy should feel like a safe space for you to express yourself without worrying about facing any judgment. Oftentimes, when clients refrain  these statements, it’s because of their own internal judgments  Therapy is the place to talk about embarrassing, uncomfortable, or bothersome things. 

If there is something you are struggling to talk about in therapy, try the following: 

Keep a list: If you have been working hard to repress this memory, your brain will continue to do so. Keep a running list of topics to address in therapy and reference it in your sessions. 

Know that it’s not going away on its own: As much as we hope that we can “forget” difficult situations, they don’t completely disappear on their own. Much like an external scar, they leave a mark on our brain or get stored in our bodies. However, discussing these difficult situations often diminishes the power these memories have. 

Take baby steps: Work with your therapist to slowly unravel the proverbial thread of the story bit by bit. Be open and tell your therapist when you feel too overwhelmed or need to take a break. 

Ask yourself why you’re avoiding talking about it: Think about your hesitation, fears, or concerns. Is it that you are making self-judgments? Are you assuming the therapist will respond in a particular way? 

Therapy is about building relationships: The therapy room is a safe space to practice being vulnerable, open, and completely honest with another individual. Although this may be challenging, like learning a new skill, regular practice is essential for improvement.   

Therapy is most effective when the therapist has a complete understanding of the situation. In many ways, therapists are like detectives. When we have all the information, it’s easier for us to put the puzzle together and determine what could be negatively impacting  your  current levels of functioning. Ultimately, what you do not disclose to your therapist can hold the key to your progress in therapy.

 "Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets." –Paul Tournier


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