8 Things You Hide From Your Therapist But Shouldn't

Photographed by: Alexandra Gallivet.
At first glance, therapy sounds like a breeze. I get to lie on a couch in an office with someone whose professional job it is to listen to me talk shit about my parents? Sure, sign me up!

But as many of us who enter into therapy discover, it's hard. Don't get us wrong — it's rewarding. But as they say, nothing good is ever easy. Unpacking your emotions takes real effort, and working through them is just that, work.

And since your therapist is essentially a stranger, it can sometimes be difficult to really open up. It can feel awkward or scary, even when you know that this person is basically barred by law from ever repeating a word of it. Just as there are things in our day-to-day lives that we're too embarrassed to tell our friends and family, there are things we sometimes keep from our therapists, too.
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Of course, it's perfectly natural to have things that you'd rather keep to yourself. But while you don't have to tell your therapist everything, it's important to remember that the whole point of therapy is to give you a safe space to talk things out. "We do what we do because we want to heal and help you," Marcia Norman, PsyD, tells Refinery29. Your therapist isn't judging you, in other words.

"Remember that everything you say in your therapist’s office is confidential unless you are threatening to harm yourself or someone else," adds Samantha Boardman, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of Positive Prescription. "It's a sacred space to talk about sex and anything else that you might be embarrassed or ashamed to discuss with anyone else. After all, that’s the point."

The therapist/client relationship is incredibly unique, and there's no wrong way to go through therapy, but there are ways that you can get the most out of it.

With that in mind, we talked to a handful of counselors about the hardest stuff to talk about in therapy. Interestingly, they told us that these are often the same things that, once their clients finally open up about them, help them move forward the most.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Sex

Among the therapists we interviewed, sex was the most common topic that patients tend to avoid discussing. A therapist's job is to help you connect the dots of your life, and sex, of course, is a huge part of life.

"Many people in American culture have been taught to feel ashamed of sex, and so they don't talk about it," says Jamie Justus, LCSW. "Bringing up sex lets a therapist know about how a person connects intimately, or can be an indication of a lack of functioning."

In other words, when you open up about your sex life, your therapist can then help you think about how your stress level, or your relationship with your mom, or your anxiety, is truly affecting all the important areas of your life. Often, simply making that connection is enough to let go of whatever it is that's standing in your way.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Sexual Violence

This is such a hard topic to broach. Whether the person is a therapist or not, it can be hard to open up to anyone about sexual violence. But this is one thing your therapist definitely needs to know about.

"Sexual abuse is very prevalent in our society, and when one keeps it a secret it continues to cause shame and pain," Dr. Norman says. "With the help of a trusted, skilled therapist, you can start to understand it was not your fault: You were the victim, and you survived."

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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Money

Money makes us squeamish in a way that nothing else can. Why? Probably for the same reasons it's important to tell your therapist about your relationship with money. "I see money connecting to all sorts of areas of a person's life and functioning, ranging from family-of-origin issues, current relationship problems, power dynamics, control and power, decision-making, or impulse control," Justus explains.

Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Do you have a budget? Does money stress you the heck out? These are all things that your therapist wants to know about, so she can help you understand and work on behaviors or hang-ups that are holding you back.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Medical Issues

Your physical well-being and your mental health are dependent on each other. And while it can be awkward to bring up things like gastrointestinal problems or period complaints, if you are stressing over it, it's fair game. Also: Your physical pains may actually exacerbate mental-health issues.

For example, Justus says, "I was talking to a client about her anxiety, and she mentioned her history with an overactive thyroid. This helped me to understand another possible influence on her anxious body symptoms and refer her back to her physician for further follow-up that helped her anxiety immensely."
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Feelings About The Therapeutic Process

If your therapy sessions are leaving you feeling frustrated, it can be an understandably uncomfortable thing to bring this up. "It can be really awkward to share feedback or feelings with the person directly, and it can be a challenge even in therapy where there is space to do so," Justus says.

But not discussing your pain points with the therapy itself is fruitless, too. "If therapy is not going well, that feedback can help the client and therapist to come up with new goals," Justus says.

You might also just not "click" with your therapist, and that's okay.
"If you don't feel comfortable with your therapist, please tell us and we will be happy to help you find someone else," Dr. Norman says. "We don't take it personally."
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Food Issues

"People tend to be uncomfortable talking about their relationship with food and their body image, because they have internalized social messages about willpower and being able to control the body," Justus says. "It can feel uncomfortable to acknowledge patterns with food that the person feels they should be able to 'power through.'"

But trust: You are not alone in these issues, and working through your feelings about food can lead to a healthier mind and body.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Identity

Identity can refer to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. It may seem obvious, but Justus says "they are vital to understanding who a person is, their history, their experiences, and their values."

And while some aspects of your identity can be visible or briefly mentioned in a first visit, Justus says that it's important to explore these identities in order for your therapist to get a more complete picture of who you are and how your identities intersect.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Stories That Make You "Look Bad"

The need or desire to be liked is a fairly universal feeling, but it could hinder your process in therapy.

"I hear a lot of stories in which my clients are portrayed as heroes or victims, but it is more rare to hear about times when a client may have caused someone else pain or overreacted," Justus says. It's hard to admit to hurting someone or to open up about areas of your life that make you insecure.

However, Justus says, these types of events and beliefs often hold the core of where growth needs to occur. Everyone makes mistakes, and no one can change the past. But talking about something you have guilt over can help you find ways to make amends and ultimately let go.
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