Should I Tell People I'm in Therapy?
People are more open today about seeing a therapist or counsellor to help them through life's problems
Whether or not you tell people you are in therapy is however, ultimately, up to you, says therapist Rachel Farhi
If you've been considering starting therapy, begin your search here
Having therapy is, thankfully, no longer the taboo subject it once was. As more ordinary people seek professional help with their emotional challenges, the experience of going into counselling has become normalised and no longer something to be feared. However, as weekly therapy sessions become part of one’s activities and, if the therapy is having impact on you in all kinds of ways, it may seem logical to want to share your experience with those closest to you. But should you? And if you do, where does the limit go on what exactly you share?
Why did you seek therapy?
This will be unique to you but generally people contact a counsellor when they come to some kind of impasse – a feeling that won’t go away, or when tried and tested strategies for managing a difficult situation no longer seem to be working. Opening up to a stranger, albeit a qualified and empathetic one, can seem easier than sharing private thoughts with even the closest of friends, simply because of the relative anonymity of the transaction. A therapist makes no demands for emotional reciprocity. You meet on a professional basis within a highly boundaried setting and there is a fee exchanged. Yet there soon develops a very special relationship and atmosphere associated with this process which can become transformative – and as it does, you may find that you would like to share your fresh insights or learning with others.
Who needs to know?
Perhaps your therapy was suggested by a partner or family, or possibly by a professional or even by your place of work, meaning that others are aware that you are engaging in a life-affirming process and, hopefully, are supportive of you. But this doesn’t mean that you are obliged to tell anything of what you and your therapist discuss in sessions, unless you feel that you would like to share general observations. Sometimes, when therapy succeeds and change happens, those closest to you may make their own observations on how things are going from their end i.e. you seem less tense than before, or you are more relaxed or confident.
Who wants to know?
Unfortunately, there may be people who will feel they have some kind of vested interest in your therapy journey and may quiz you for details. Others may simply be curious, possibly because they admire your courage in opening up, or may want some more insight before taking the plunge themselves. Again, it is your call as to what, and how much detail you give them – if any.
Who do you want to know?
Sometimes, where a particular relationship is under scrutiny in the therapy process, you may feel that the time has come to speak to that person about what you have been processing. Usually, this is for the right reasons – because you have to change something and you need their participation. Or there has been a break down in trust and/or communication and you wish to repair the damage. In these scenarios, it is likely that you will have come up with something specific to say or do in your sessions and will want to put it into action. Alternatively, you may have just started therapy and want to let those around you know that you may be in need of some extra support and understanding as you work through your issues – which many people are happy to give.
Possibilities and pitfalls
Therapy can open up opportunities to refresh long-standing connections and relationships by offering alternatives to the status quo. This means that you will have gained some new insights and ways of relating to others. Sometimes, where a relationship has been based on an uneven power balance, your new way of relating may come as a surprise to the other party – and they may react in unexpected ways as a result. For example, it isn’t unknown for an abusive partner to ‘blame’ therapy for changes that threaten their sense of control and, possibly, to blame the therapist for being a significant new person in their partner’s life.
Whatever you decide to do, ultimately it is up to you to judge whether disclosing your therapy to others is appropriate or relevant and, of course, there is no obligation of confidentiality upon you as there is on your therapist.
Rachel Farhi is a verified welldoing.org therapist in South East London