Things my (former) therapist told me that I wish she hadn’t:
Details of a night in the early 1970s when her husband, on a manic binge, picked up a woman at a well-known downtown eatery, got knifed by said woman, and called my therapist to take him to the (mental) hospital
Her regrets over an affair she had with a friend of her husband, a man who took advantage of her youth and vulnerability in the wake of the knifing
“Yes, go back to school now! Better to do it now, before you’re 40!” I was 41.
The weight issues of her daughter and the daughter’s partner
These revelations, given over a friendly cup of tea as we eased into our sessions, were conversational. My appointment was the first of the day. The husband was long dead. Perhaps her border collie was not a good listener—she needed someone to talk to. Though the conversations always made me uncomfortable, it wasn’t until later that I realized their inappropriateness.
Then there was the marriage counselor (a different marriage, a different state, a different time). Intuiting the relationship’s inevitable breakup, he provided a dramatic narrative to counter our lack of spark. He described a violent scene from his childhood, a habitually abusive parent, the resultant broken arm. You say your childhood trauma affects your ability to trust—it could be worse! he seemed to be saying. I remember nothing else about the therapy except the sandwiches my then-husband and I would eat before session in a park near the office.
And so now I am a therapist. I understand the urge to say too much. A client’s story or situation can activate the churn within. Health history. Family history. Depression history. Family depression history. That sinking feeling. Self-hatred. Fear. Anger. Dread. Shame. Embarrassment. All universally human experiences, all part of me, all tugged upon in session at some point. Yes, I survived what was an objectively traumatic adolescence. I’ve watched people die. I know what it’s like to not be chosen, to feel the hollowness of rejection. I was that age and angry, so angry, too. Does this shared experience–if you accept the premise that there is something shared about it—mean that I truly understand their experience? And if I do “truly” understand, does my expression of this apparent understanding help the person in front of me?
The answer is not straightforward. Sometimes it may help to share. But the potential to cause harm when disclosing is always there. I have self-disclosed in ways that have been appreciated. I have self-disclosed in ways that were more about me than the person in front of me. It helps to take time to think about whether self-disclosure is in service to the client. Very little good comes out of giving in in the moment to an impulse to share.
I don’t remember why we ended marriage therapy. Our time in that city and in the marriage was short. I stopped seeing that individual therapist after she broke her leg, had to change the parameters of her practice, and let me know via text. Both still see clients. Perhaps both continue to be leaky containers, allowing their own pain to spill into their sessions. As for me, I become more careful over time, crafting my boundaries, allowing a little room for sharing when indicated and carefully thought through, not perfect, but human and, hopefully, healing.