Can’t tell your counselor that?

By David Joel Miller

Can't Say That

Can’t Say That

What do you do if there are things you can’t tell your counselor?

Clients and commenters have told me a number of times that there were things that they had not felt able to tell their therapists in the past. Some said they were afraid to cry in front of the counselor or there were secrets they just hadn’t been able to tell.

For therapy to provide the maximum of help there really should not be anything you can’t tell your therapist. If you are holding back there are some questions you should ask yourself.

Counseling should be a place where you can talk about anything. It needs to be a safe environment and you need to feel that the counselor will not violate your trust. If you are having doubts ask yourself why? Do any of these reasons apply?

Is it really unsafe to tell them?

If you are being interviewed by the police psychiatrist you need to talk to your lawyer first. When the other person does not work for you and is deciding your fate there may be a reason you need to withhold information.

Therapists have certain legal mandates. You talk about ongoing child abuse and we probably will need to report that. I have written in other posts about those legal mandates. Remember that the reason we need to make these reports is not to get you punished but to help you and the victim to end the problem. If you are suicidal we want to help save your life.

I hope if you went to the therapist for an abuse or harm situation you are there to get help in changing the situation. If you don’t want to change the situation why are you seeing the therapist?

Is your therapist judging you?

This is a recurring problem in religious and ethnic communities. If you have selected a counselor because they are a member of your particular religious community or they are of the same ethnicity as you there could be things that you will feel unable to talk about.

A good therapist should be able to set their personal beliefs aside and help you. Some counselors feel so strongly about a particular issue that they can’t do that and while they may tell you upfront about their beliefs, that point of view may permeate the conversations.

Some ethnic communities are small and everyone knows everyone. Say your family is from a particular culture and you have been dating someone from a different culture.

This has been a particular problem in the faith-based” communities. A woman told me that she saw a therapist from her particular religious group. This therapist had a strong pro-life anti-abortion view and had pro-life items displayed in the office. One of this clients core issues was that she had guilt over having had an abortion in her younger days. She felt unable to share about that guilt and felt judged by her therapist’s disapproval of abortion and sex outside marriage.

Clients struggling with sexual issues, coming out because they are gay or past relationships that were outside of wedlock have told me that when they broached these topics their counselor reacted so negatively towards those behaviors they felt they could not talk about these issues in the future.

Sometimes there are advantages to seeing a therapist that is outside your religious or ethnic group as they will have less of a tendency to judge you over current or past actions that were outside the beliefs of your group.

Are you still trying to pretend you are OK?

Some people believe that if they give in to their feelings they will “fall apart” and never get back to where they are. People have commented that if they start to cry they will never stop. I haven’t seen that yet.

What we do see is people who have things they really need to cry about. Crying is a part of grief, loss and a lot of other life issues. The problem often is not that you won’t stop but that you have something you need to cry about and not letting yourself feel your feelings is keeping you stuck.

One school of counseling uses a technique called “prescribing the symptoms.” In this approach the client is told to cry more not less. Each night when you are able to get alone you plan to cry for at least an hour. Most people will find it hard to cry that full hour. After a few days of crying many people run out of tears.

What you learn is that they are so many tears needed and no more. Another thing you might learn from making yourself or allowing yourself to cry is that if you can make yourself cry then you can turn the tears off when you need to.

Do not ever be afraid to cry, be week or be struggling when you are with your counselor. We know that people have emotions they need to deal with and what better place to express them than in the safety of the therapist’s office?

Have you been feeling there are things that you will never be able to tell your therapist? Think about why there are things you find it hard to talk about with your therapist and see if you can get past this impediment to your recovery.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


4 thoughts on “Can’t tell your counselor that?

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. I liked the advice about who it was safe to share information with. I really liked the comment about people worried that if they start to cry they wont’s stop…I intend to share with my clients that we can cry together (because I tend to cry when I see others crying). I find crying often releases some stress and make it easier for people to “boot-up” again.


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