If you feel like you’ve disclosed too much in therapy, it might feel awkward or nerve-wracking. But this common experience might actually be an opportunity.
It’s your first or 15th therapy session, and you blurted out something you’re convinced you shouldn’t have.
Maybe you mentioned a weird dream you had, a painful experience you never told anyone about, or that you’re furious with your therapist.
At best, you feel awkward and a tad bit anxious. At worst, you’re mortified and decide you’re never going back to therapy ever again.
First, feeling like you’ve disclosed too much in therapy is actually pretty common. Second, disclosing revealing information is often a good thing.
As psychologist and professor Thomas G. Plante, PhD, notes, “Therapists can’t really help people unless they know what is troubling the person they are trying to help.”
Here’s how to pinpoint why you’re so bothered, and how to turn it into a fruitful moment for growth and change.
There may be many reasons you think you’ve said too much in therapy. Identifying the underlying concern helps you better understand what’s going on and gives you a starting point to discuss in therapy.
Maybe you’re experiencing the sinking feeling of regret, embarrassment, anxiety, or deep discomfort because:
- you’re not ready to face a very painful event or a trauma that you’ve revealed
- you don’t trust the therapeutic relationship enough (yet)
- what you said wasn’t the truth, or it wasn’t the whole truth
- you’re afraid of the legal, moral, personal, or relationship consequences
- you think your therapist might judge you for what you said
- you fear your therapist will reject or abandon you
- you think your therapist will find what you’ve said too difficult
- you think you’re betraying a loved one’s trust, or feel bad for talking about someone negatively
Either way, remember that you’re absolutely not alone in feeling this way.
And after the initial “Oh no!” feeling, remind yourself that therapy is such a powerful tool for change precisely because you’re processing thoughts, experiences, and emotions you’d never say to anyone else.
With that said, it’s still natural to feel some discomfort and negative feelings.
When you think you’ve shared too much, you might yearn to take it back. You might minimize its importance, glossing over it with your therapist as if it weren’t a big deal. Or you might berate yourself, feeling a deep sense of shame.
Try to resist the urge to pretend it didn’t happen, and be gentle with yourself.
Consider these tips:
- Bring up what you said at your next therapy session. A good therapist will understand your discomfort and help you work through it, Plante says. Together, you can discuss why the information you shared made you feel uneasy.
- Let them know you don’t want to talk about it. At your next session, tell your therapist you’re just not ready to explore the topic (yet).
- Let them know why you’re feeling regretful. If you feel you said too much because you’re uncomfortable with the therapist, consider sharing this, too. Sometimes you may need to find a therapist who’s better aligned with your values and needs, says Cadence Chiasson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver, Colorado.
The amount of information you share with a therapist is entirely up to you. After all, you’re the client.
Still, the more honest you are with your therapist, the better. Giving your therapist a window into your thoughts, feelings, and experiences provides them with context and details, so they can best help you.
As you start therapy, you may choose to focus on less intense topics. This helps you get comfortable with the therapist. But everyone’s comfort levels around self-disclosure vary.
“I’ve had clients tell me what seems like all of their deepest, darkest secrets in our first meeting,” Chiasson says. “I’ve also had clients who take 6 months or more to start opening up.”
There’s no topic truly off the table when it comes to therapy, says Ryan Drzewiecki, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and director of clinical operations at All Points North Lodge in Edwards, Colorado.
In fact, learning to speak freely is an essential part of therapy, he explains.
Most therapists will not judge you, says Peter Cellarius, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Gatos, California.
If they do — after all, they’re human — a good therapist will not let feelings of judgment get in the way of helping you.
Therapists are trained to put any judgment aside and focus on why a client is working with them, Chiasson says.
Therapists accumulate thousands of hours of direct and indirect counseling experience. They also complete continuing education on ethics throughout their career, says Drzewiecki.
This training guides them to help clients who have a wide variety of life experiences, and to do so without letting judgment affect their approach.
All therapists are trained to keep your information private and confidential. Creating a safe space for you to share revealing, personal information is a critical part of therapy that mental health professionals take very seriously.
However, in some situations, a therapist may be required to break confidentiality. Typically, this happens when the client or someone they know is in danger. The intent is to protect them from harm.
According to the American Psychological Association, these situations may include:
- plans of suicide or severely hurting yourself
- plans to hurt or kill another person
- ongoing domestic violence involving or in the presence of children
- abuse or neglect of children
- abuse or neglect of an older adult or an adult with disabilities
- a court order, which sometimes occurs if the client’s mental health comes into question during a court proceeding
Therapists may need to report this information to the police, adult protective services, child protective services, or similar law enforcement authorities. Different states may vary slightly in their confidentiality laws.
When starting therapy, mental health professionals typically explain privacy policies and are happy to answer any questions clients might have.
After all, most people aren’t familiar with these rules and regulations, so if you’re unsure or confused about confidentiality, raise your questions and concerns to your therapist.
Sharing something you think is too sensitive or personal can be uncomfortable. But know you’re not alone in thinking you’ve disclosed too much in therapy.
When this happens, it can help to explore why you think you’ve overshared and talk it over with your therapist. It’s often these types of vulnerable discussions that lead to illuminating insights and major growth.
Also, remember that therapists hear all types of stories and see all sorts of emotions. They’re trained to listen and help you reach your therapy goals.
Still uncomfortable about your sharing? It might be that your therapist simply isn’t the right fit for you. This, too, is common, and might mean it’s time to end therapy with them and find someone else to work with.
Whatever path you choose, be patient and understanding with yourself.
In therapy, as in life, it’s natural to stumble and fall. While difficult, these tumbles also provide the best learning opportunities — when we let them.