Session-Talk or Session, Talk?
The decision to talk about your counselling session with another human being, not part of your sessions, is a personal one.
In this article I’d like to explore reasons why folks may share details about their counselling sessions with others, why others do not want to share, the range of what gets shared with others outside the session, and what some of the advantages and disadvantages of sharing or not sharing session content may be.
Why You Might Want to Talk To Others About Your Counselling Session(s)
There can be a number of reasons, including but not limited to:
- Enthusiasm about therapy in general
- Concerns about how a counselling session went, or the counsellor they are working with
- A desire to break the stigma about counselling
- Viewing counselling as a normal part of your life and not according it “special status”
- Sharing as a way of encouraging others to attend counselling
- To talk about things that you are learning about yourself as the result of counselling
- As a jumping off point in a conversation to deepen the emotional connection with another person
- To share coping strategies or other things you have found helpful
- As a way of staying accountable to the therapy process with someone other than your therapist
- To assist other helping professionals in your life stay in the loop and ensure that your counselling and allied health plan/treatments is harmonious
Why You Might Not Want to Talk To Others About Your Session(s)
The above sounds all very well and good, but wait….there are other reasons why we might not want to talk about our sessions. These can include but are not limited to:
- Viewing counselling conversation as sacred conversation that stays within the counselling room
- Fears that what you say about your counselling will be misinterpreted by someone else
- Not wanting a “third party” in your counselling relationship
- Where disclosing that you are going to therapy could put your safety at risk
- Worry or knowledge that sharing with others could make you feel that your therapy direction is being undermined
- Concern that you will be judged or not supported in going for therapy
- The desire to have a therapy experience that is “just for me”
- Where absolute privacy and confidentiality is one of the things that helps you open up in counselling
- Where disclosure of therapy content could complicate your current relationships
- In situations where others knowing would make you feel guilty if you were speaking about them in therapy or feel pressured or obligated to tell them what you are talking about
- Where talking about the therapy to someone else could hurt their feelings, even if it is not meant personally
- Because therapy is new to you and disclosures to others who may question you may undermine your confidence
There is a range to what people discuss in their sessions with the outside world. Some folks:
- Choose to share that they are in therapy and leave it at that
- Share general information such as the fact that they go regularly or intermittently
- Share the name of their counsellor
- Mention the topics discussed but provide no detail
- Talk about specific issues that came up in their sessions (with more or less detail), their counselling goals and strategies they are using.
As I hope is clear, even when session disclosure exists, there is a lot of variation and this variation is influenced by personal reasons for sharing.
Pros and Cons of Disclosing – A Therapist’s Point of View
While counselling clients will identify the advantages and disadvantages of talking or not talking about their sessions in a way unique to one’s situation, I wish to highlight a few pros and cons from a therapist’s point of view:
One of the biggest reasons people disclose therapy in general is because they are seeking help and recommendations from family or friends. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the therapy-seeker will discuss what happens in their future counselling session, however, but may speak more to the fact that loved ones can be the best source of referrals, because someone you trust has vetted the therapist. Of course, this is no guarantee that the recommended therapist will be a good fit for you but it’s often a great starting point.
Therapy is Normal
Reduced stigmatization and a the normalization of therapy in our society. As I’ve written before, when I was in my 20s, therapy was all very hush-hush, with secret, unmarked doors and passageways at the university I was attending, to get to the counselling office. Therapy was for people with mental illnesses and if your problem wasn’t considered serious enough, many of us were out of luck; I myself was sent away and classified a member of “the worried well” although this was far from the case.
Thank goodness that things have changed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: therapy is for everybody who is interested. And yes, some people are not.
Safety Issues, Dubious Therapist Behaviour
It’s important that if you think that something unethical, abusive or sketchy is happening in your therapy that you talk about it with either a medical professional, the therapist’s professional college or association if they have one (counselling is unregulated in British Columbia) or someone in your personal life that you trust. As a counselling client, you have rights around your care.
When Disclosure Is Part of your Therapy
For example, if you were attending counselling for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the therapist may request, if safe to do so, that you ask your partner to say no to ritual-assistance requests.
This could be the most important reason why people choose not to share the fact that they are going to counselling. This can include risk of bodily harm, threats to safety and security and emotional abuse. If you are a British Columbian in a a violent relationship, this resource can help you understand your options for help.
Risk To Your Confidentiality
If you have talked about your counselling experience to someone else, there is the possibility that this information could be shared with someone other than you intended, which may even happen inadvertently or unintentionally. Relationships can change as can feelings about others over time, which is something to bear in mind. Also, anything communicated online leaves a permanent trace. Certainly, if you are in a relationship of absolute trust, you may feel completely safe sharing and that may be a very good thing.
Being Caught in the Middle
A key factor I have observed as a therapist over the years is well-meaning advice from others that may inadvertently undermine clients’ therapy. This often occurs as a result of a counselling client sharing parts of the therapy, and then a loved one offering them another alternative that may contradict the therapy plan that client and therapist had collaborated on.
Sometimes this may be a good thing, particularly if the therapist is unethical or the client has not shared a key piece of information that would considerably help their counselling. However, when friends or family have not met the therapist, have not been privy to everything discussed in therapy (which gives context to the therapy plan) or have first-hand information about the counsellor’s rationale, a client can get caught in the middle, not knowing which direction to take; the client may then follow advice that compromises or ruins their gains in therapy or worse, puts them at risk for their safety.
How You Open Up
Disclosure to others can compromise your ability to open up in counselling. If you feel obligated to share the content of your counselling session with another person, you may start to edit what you say in session, just to keep your reporting ‘honest.’ Unfortunately, it’s the client that suffers most in this situation because when clients can’t necessarily be transparent in session, they may be left with an incomplete counselling experience.
In a related note, if you have set a new standard where you now feel obligated to report on your sessions, even if you feel that you don’t want to, the risk is heightened for discontinuing sessions, as it may now feel like another burden in your life, perhaps even reminiscent of the burdens which may have brought you to counselling in the first place.
When Sharing With Others Feels Premature
Most therapists are welcoming and non-judgemental but if you yourself are uneasy about opening up, and you don’t receive a warm, non-judgemental response from the person you are opening up to about your counselling sessions, you may experience a spike in shame or guilt. Sometimes it can be helpful to work through these feelings in therapy until you get to a place of confidence, before talking to others.
If it has taken a lot to get to therapy, talking about your fears in starting this process may be pounced upon by therapy nay-sayers, causing you to doubt your decision. If you have concerns about what to expect from therapy, be sure to alert your therapist to them and ask questions. If you still have doubts you may need to take a break re-evaluate or choose another therapist that can address your concerns to your satisfaction.
Above all, I wish to emphasize that you are the ultimate decision-maker in this process: not your counsellor, significant other, friend or anyone else who may want to know more. If session-disclosure is not an emergency, it can sometimes be helpful to wait until you know what’s best for you.
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