What not to share with your therapist?
What Do I Have To Share In My First Therapy Or Coaching Session?
When you begin working with a new therapist or coach, how much to share, especially in that first session, might be one of the biggest questions on your mind. The good news is that, like most things in therapy or coaching, how much you choose to share is up to you. But just because it’s up to you, doesn’t make it any easier to decide what and how much to share in the first place! Here’s how to prepare for your first therapy or coaching session and figure out what works for you when it comes to deciding how much and what to share with your therapist or coach.
Thank you! Your download was sent to your email.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.
Your first therapy or coaching section can be nerve-racking. Will my therapist or coach judge me? Will we connect with one another? What will they ask me? And of course: How much should I share?
When you begin working with a new therapist or coach, how much to share, especially in that first session, might be one of the biggest questions on your mind. The good news is that, like most things in therapy or coaching, how much you choose to share is up to you. But just because it’s up to you, doesn’t make it any easier to decide what and how much to share in the first place.
Here’s how to prepare for your first therapy or coaching session and figure out what works for you when it comes to deciding how much and what to share with your therapist or coach.
Do I have to share everything about myself in the first therapy or coaching session?
The short answer is: no. How could you? You’re a complex human being with a lot going on and there’s no expectation that you would be able to share everything about yourself in an hour or less.
“New clients are often curious about how much they will be expected to share in their first session,” said John Brown, a hypnotherapist and MyWellbeing community member. “As a hypnotherapist, my new clients are also often curious about whether they’ll reveal all their secrets under hypnosis. In both cases, the answer is going to be the same: you’re not going to disclose any information that you don’t want to, and you don’t have to share any more information than you feel comfortable with.”
So what do I share in my first session?
Anything you want! Before you have your first session, most therapists and coaches will have a phone consultation with you where you can ask questions and find out more about how the two of you can work together.
- What might an average session look like?
- How active are you in the therapy or coaching process? Do you expect me to primarily lead or do you guide me?
- What is your training?
- Have you ever worked with someone who…
- I’m interested in beginning therapy or coaching because…
- (If you’ve seen a therapist or coach before) Last time, here is what did and didn’t work for me.
- I’m hoping to work on.
If you have some idea of what you’d like to work on, the phone consultation is a great opportunity to share your thoughts with the therapist or coach and learn more about their experience with your specific issue areas. And if you don’t know yet, that’s totally fine! Let the therapist or coach know, and they’ll be able to share their approach to learning more and finding out how best to work with you.
The exploring you do in the phone consultation can help set you up for your first session
If you’ve decided to work with a provider who is more goal-oriented, you might take the first session to start to identify some of the goals you have for your treatment or the outcomes you want to see. Other providers might leave it more open-ended and leave space for you to share some things that might be top of mind for you.
You might take some time to talk about things that happened in your past, things that are happening now, or things that might be coming in the future that have initiated your coming to care. You can be as broad or specific as you’re comfortable being.
The important thing to remember is that you are the one who is in control in your therapy or coaching sessions
You get to decide what you feel safe and comfortable sharing and whether or not you want to withhold something to discuss later on. You’re the one who decides if enough trust and rapport have been established between you and your therapist or coach for you to share what’s on your mind.
“Your therapist, hypnotherapist, or coach is there to listen to you, but they don’t have to know every detail of your life; they only have to know enough to be able to help you effectively,” said John. “Depending on what you’re working on, there may be more or less backstory involved, but you’re likely not going to be asked to disclose more information than you’re comfortable with.”
Sharing everything you possibly can in your first therapy or coaching session might seem like the right thing to do, but it’s not for everyone
It might sound counterintuitive, but if we push ourselves to share as much as possible, we might leave our first session feeling raw and vulnerable and retreat into ourselves for a sense of safety. It’s not a bad thing to find safety in ourselves, but overdoing it can cause us to associate that sense of rawness with our sessions and might make it harder to open up later on.
It’s true that therapy may be painful and uncomfortable at times, but episodes of discomfort can occur during the most successful therapy sessions. Still, your treatment should help you cope with your feelings more effectively or help you reach your goals—it’s never the goal to feel discomfort all the time. Again, it’s all about doing what is best for you.
Other people might be very guarded and find it difficult to open up at all
There might be a very good reason why you’ve set strong boundaries for yourself, and that’s okay. If it’s a challenge to be vulnerable or to share at all, instead of setting more boundaries for your first session, you might prepare yourself to open up. Think about the things you want to share during your first session that might make you stretch yourself and build a strong foundation to work with in further sessions.
See if you can make a plan ahead of time for what you’d like to discuss in your therapy or coaching session
Of course you can discuss whatever comes up for you in the session itself, but especially when you’re first starting out, it can be helpful to plan what you would like to share. You can journal or make a bulleted list on your phone of the topics you’d like to discuss and see if anything else comes up for you. Be mindful of your boundaries and if something doesn’t feel right to you, it might not be the time for you to discuss it.
You can always discuss your thoughts and feelings about what you want to talk about with your therapist or coach with your therapist or coach themselves!
“Remember that each session is made up of two-way communication. and you have the right to be a comfortable and well-informed client,” said John. “If you’re unsure or uncomfortable about a question asked, just ask for a little clarification. A good therapist, coach, or hypnotherapist will be happy to explain their approach and will want their clients to be comfortable. So make sure you ask questions and let your professional know if you have any questions.”
If you’re worried that you’ll share too much too soon and lose focus, you can share that. If you’re finding it hard to break down the walls you’ve built up and open up to your therapist or coach, you can share that as well. It’s normal to feel shy, nervous, awkward, overwhelmed, energized, scared, apprehensive, or any combination of those emotions or others—and sharing that with your provider will give them the opportunity to support you even more.
Set realistic expectations for your first session and all the ones that come after
It makes total sense that you may need more time before diving into personal issues or past trauma, so take things slow if that feels right to you. Remember that every session doesn’t have to be groundbreaking—especially the first one.
Again: what you share is up to you, and you shouldn’t feel any pressure to share or address a topic before you’re ready to do so. Especially in the first therapy or coaching session, take time to communicate your needs and expectations to your therapist or coach so you’ll be on the same page. Your space and time at your sessions are for you, and your therapist or coach will be there to support you every step of the way.
Is It Okay to Lie to My Therapist?
If you’ve ever been to therapy, you might know the feeling: your therapist asks you a question and, despite your best intentions of telling the truth, a lie slips out. You panic. Can your therapist tell you’re lying? What if you decide that you want to tell the truth later? Is therapy worth it if you can’t be honest with your therapist? Long story short, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t lie to our therapists. But what counts as a lie, really, and what can we do if one (or more) has made its way into our therapy sessions?
Thank you! Your download was sent to your email.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.
If you’ve ever been to therapy, you might know the feeling: your therapist asks you a question and, despite your best intentions of telling the truth, a lie slips out. You panic. Can your therapist tell you’re lying? What if you decide that you want to tell the truth later? Is therapy worth it if you can’t be honest with your therapist?
First of all, you’re not alone—plenty of people lie to their therapists. In one study, 93% of respondents said they lied at least once during therapy. Lies included a whole range of topics, from pretending to like their therapist’s comments to lying about why they were late or missed sessions and pretending to find therapy effective. People even lied about romantic feelings toward their therapist or about ending therapy when they wanted to switch therapists or move on.
Long story short, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t lie to our therapists. But what counts as a lie, really, and what can we do if one (or more) has already slipped out?
Do little white lies count as lies in therapy?
Well, it’s in the name: white lies are lies. We usually tell them to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, but you don’t need to worry about that in therapy; your sessions are for you, not your therapist.
White lies in therapy are often about how beneficial the sessions are (when they’re not), how helpful a technique or method is (when it isn’t), or some other issue pertaining to your therapist when you’re trying not to hurt their feelings. If you feel like telling a white lie, consider opening up instead—that way, your therapist will have more information in order to be able to help you.
Here are a few other types of lies that might be holding you back in therapy:
- Lies of omission, otherwise known as secrets: While it’s up to you how much you share in therapy and when (which we’ll touch on later), not eventually telling the full truth means your therapist can’t help you with the full scope of the issue.
- Half-truths: Similar to lies of omission, but you share just a bit of the truth (ex: sharing that you use drugs like marijuana but neglecting to mention that you also use pills).
- Exaggerating: Sometimes we exaggerate the actions of others, like partners or other family members, to minimize things we see as negative in ourselves (ex: my partner picks every single fight, my mother has never listened to me in her entire life).
- Minimizing: On the other hand, we can also minimize how we feel, especially when we’re feeling mental health impostor syndrome (ex: saying work isn’t that bad when you’re actually completely burned out).
Just because lying in therapy is common doesn’t make it right, unfortunately. But remember that therapy is all about you and your growth and support. No shame here; the goal is to get you comfortable enough to have a healthy therapeutic relationship and pave the way for progress.
Can my therapist tell when I’m lying?
Your therapist is smart, but they’re not a mind-reader. They’re human, just like you. Can you tell when some people are lying? Sure. Other times, do people manage to fib to your face? Absolutely.
If you’re lying to your therapist, the very first thing to do is explore why
No judgment or guilt, just practice some curiosity around why you feel the need to lie.
Do you feel pressured to share something you’re not ready to share?
You are the one who is in control in your therapy sessions—you get to decide what you feel safe and comfortable sharing and whether or not you want to withhold something to discuss later on. You’re the one who decides if enough trust and rapport have been established between you and your therapist for you to share what’s on your mind.
If you’re feeling pressured, is it something your therapist is doing that you could talk to them about? Have you been pressured in the past in another relationship and now your sessions are triggering?
Are you afraid of being judged?
It’s totally valid to feel a little afraid of opening up with your therapist and feeling judged in return, but your therapist is there to support you—it’s different than other relationships in your life.
Do you feel shame about the topic you’re withholding?
Shame is such a powerful and toxic emotion. If left unaddressed, it can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, depression, worry, and social isolation. If you feel shame, therapy is exactly the place that can support you by providing the opportunity to express emotions that might not feel safe to express otherwise and the ability to recognize patterns in behavior and relationships over time.
Therapy provides a space to be seen and heard by another and to feel less alone in your experience—no shame, no guilt. And if you feel these emotions, that’s also something you can explore with your therapist.
Do you feel like your therapist isn’t a good fit for some reason?
Remember that developing a good relationship with your therapist or coach will take time, but there are a few ways to tell if your therapist is a good match for you: you should have a sense that your therapist is listening and developing cumulative knowledge of what you’re sharing, you should never feel dismissed or shamed for anything that you share with your therapist, and you should feel comfortable asking anything that comes to mind.
Do you want to break up with your therapist?
If so, take some time to reflect on why you think the therapeutic relationship isn’t working. Then, there are typically two stages of the conversation: the first part, where you talk about your concerns or what’s not working and then, if necessary, the relationship-ending part. It takes courage to have a conversation like this, but you’ll be better off in the long run.
Being vulnerable in therapy is hard
We shouldn’t expect ourselves to walk into therapy and share everything immediately—and strengthening that vulnerability muscle is difficult, but the more you do it, the more natural it will begin to feel.
Once you know why you might be lying, think about what the impact is if you don’t stop
If you continue to withhold or bend the truth with your therapist, what does that mean for your growth? What would be possible for you if you could share the truth? What could you work through, what goals could you achieve, how could you heal, what progress could you make?
When you practice open communication with your therapist in a safe, accepting space, you’ll be more likely to practice these skills with other people in your life. Help your therapist help you by letting them know what you like, what you hate, and what you feel is missing from your work together.
Everyone deserves to get mental health support. By examining the ways you might lie to your therapist, why you might feel the need to lie, and what the impact of lying might be to your growth, you can start getting the support you need from your therapist about your truth.
What a Therapist Should Not Do: 23 Red Flags to Watch For
Maybe you’re new to therapy or considering starting it for the first time. Or maybe you’ve been in therapy for a while. Wherever you are in your journey, it’s important to have an open, honest relationship with your therapist. But if you ever feel uncomfortable, it’s natural to ask yourself, “How will I know if what my therapist is doing is right?” There’s no easy answer, but here are 23 examples of what a therapist should not do.
1. Skip building trust or rapport
Trust is the foundation of any relationship between a licensed therapist and their client. But if they jump into the details of your life before you’re comfortable sharing, it can be very awkward for you.
Instead, a therapist should start with basic details that are easy to talk about. After that, they can gradually move into the deeper layers of what you’re experiencing.
2. Lack empathy
It’s critical that you’re honest and open with your therapist, but that’s hard to do if they don’t show empathy. In fact, showing empathy is considered necessary for adherence to treatment plans, and is considered to be one of the most important therapeutic relationship skills for improving health.
A good therapist should be compassionate and understanding in order to better connect with you, make you feel comfortable, provide you with the right guidance, and let you know that you’re in a safe place.
3. Act unprofessionally
A therapist’s office, whether it’s in-person or online, is a professional environment. Unprofessional red flags include:
- Dressing inappropriately
- Poor hygiene
- Talking too casually or informally
- Having a messy office
It can be hard for you to focus with these distractions. On the other hand, even if you find comfort in a therapist’s office, it’s still a professional work environment. A good licensed therapist knows that the way they present themselves as a mental health professional says a lot about them and how they work.
4. Be judgmental or critical
It’s a therapist’s job to look at your situation without their own opinions and biases. If you feel judged, it can hinder progress and make it difficult for you to open up. No one should have to experience this, especially from someone whose role is to help you.
5. Do anything other than practice therapy
Here are some non-therapy things a mental health professional should never do in your session:
- Ask you for favors
- Talk about things not related to why you’re there
- Make sexual comments or advances
- Touch you inappropriately
- Make plans with you outside the session that don’t relate to your mental health
This is a professional relationship between you and your therapist. They should know that anything that happens during these sessions is strictly about your mental health and nothing more.
6. Lack confidence
A therapist should not appear nervous, shy, or unconfident. It can be natural for new therapists to experience this, but how can you trust the guidance of someone who doesn’t have conviction in what they say? A licensed therapist has much knowledge (backed by a lot of training and graduate degrees) and should be confident about their approach to psychotherapy.
7. Talk too much or not at all
If you find your therapist is doing most of the talking in your sessions or you’re the only one talking, that’s another red flag. The focus should be on you. All licensed mental health professionals are trained in communication. That means they should know when to switch topics, how to read body language, how to guide you through tough situations, and when to talk.
8. Give unsolicited advice
Contrary to popular belief, a good therapist will never tell you how you should live your life. They won’t tell you how to treat your family members, to break up with a toxic spouse, or what hobbies to take up.
No matter how long it takes or how hard it is, a therapist’s job is to guide you to make your own decisions and build awareness of your thoughts and emotions.
9. Share confidential information
Client confidentiality isn’t just something a good therapist does — it’s the law. Many federal and state laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), make it a top priority to protect a client’s privacy. Unless it involves saving someone’s life, no clinician should share the details of your therapy sessions with anyone. Nor should they share confidential information about other clients with you.
10. Seem bored or uninterested
If you have goals you want to achieve during therapy or changes you want to make, it can be discouraging if your therapist doesn’t show that they share your interests. It can be even more disheartening if they show any of these other clear signs of boredom or lack of interest:
- Drawing on their notepads
- Yawning all the time
- Being easily distracted by something else
- Not focusing or concentrating
- Being late to sessions
- Doing anything other than talking or listening to you
Your therapist doesn’t need to share your interests, but they should take them into account so they line up with your mental health plan. To do this effectively, they should also be completely engaged and focused on you.
11. Avoid admitting mistakes or accepting feedback
It can be difficult to make progress in your therapy sessions if your therapist takes things personally or if they can’t admit fault. They should be able to own up to mistakes or respond to constructive feedback without negativity. No therapist is perfect, but a good one will respond to your input with maturity and calmness.
12. Talk in technical or academic language
Clinical psychologists are highly trained and educated people. But that doesn’t matter if you don’t know what they’re talking about. A therapist shouldn’t speak in psychobabble, or psychology jargon. Instead, therapists should ensure that what they’re saying to you is crystal clear, without making you feel dumb.
13. End your sessions without action items
Talking through problems or difficult issues, especially during your first sessions, is one of the most effective ways to treat a mental health condition. But if talking is all your therapist does, how can you take action in real life when you’re not around them?
During sessions, a good therapist will give you the tools you need and actions to take home with you. This will help you build independence and handle difficult situations on your own.
14. Fail to explain when therapy is no longer needed
If you keep seeing your therapist without a clear understanding of what the end goal is, not only will you not know when therapy is done, but you won’t have a standard to measure against your progress.
As for deciding whether to continue or stop therapy, there isn’t one answer. But a therapist should guide you toward goals that are attainable and ones that work best for you throughout your sessions.
15. Make promises or guarantees
There’s no way of knowing what type of therapy will work early on, especially if it’s your first time. And that’s not a bad thing. However, a therapist should not predict your progress, as it may set up unrealistic expectations. This may cause further pain or discouragement down the road.
Despite the uncertainty, a good therapist will be honest with you, and they’ll reassure you that you’re not alone in this journey.
16. Answer phone calls
Just like you wouldn’t like someone answering their phone in the middle of an important conversation with you, the same goes for your therapist. Instead, they should leave all forms of communication from the outside world for before or after your sessions.
17. Show insensitivity to your culture, religion, orientation, race, age, etc.
The need for therapists to be sensitive to personal, cultural, and religious backgrounds is important. If a therapist isn’t able to respect your traditional customs, it can damage your trust and hinder your progress.
However, this isn’t solely for the sake of being sensitive. As Dr. Kenneth Pargament said in an interview with the American Psychological Association, many healing actions — such as forgiveness, meditation, and kindness — “have deep roots in Eastern and Western religious traditions and philosophies.” A good therapist should know this and be able to incorporate your traditions and background with your treatment.
18. Use different therapy methods without your permission
Trying different treatments isn’t a red flag, but a therapist shouldn’t use them without your consent. There are many types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). These approaches are supported by evidence.
The dynamic process of finding the right treatment isn’t easy, and it may involve trying out different ones over time. But before jumping into one, your therapist should explain to you what it is they’d like to use and why they would like to use it. You can ask your therapist if the treatment they’re suggesting is evidence-based, and if there is research to support its effectiveness. Your therapist should be willing to have these conversations to show that they respect your boundaries.
19. Seem overwhelmed
Not everyone’s mental health condition is the same, and therapists work with many different techniques, backgrounds, and diagnoses. But if a therapist shows signs of overwhelm, it may mean that they are not present. Some body language cues showing this might include hands on their forehead, a blank expression, or not making eye contact. Their dialogue can also be a giveaway — being negative, having a cold tone of voice, or talking too fast or slow. This can be incredibly uncomfortable for you and make you feel like nobody can help you or you’re not worth a therapist’s time.
Compassion fatigue is a real thing that mental health professionals encounter, but they should have a good balance between commitment and detachment with each of their clients’ cases in order to be most effective.
20. Forget basic details
Constantly mixing up the basic details of your mental health treatment is another red flag and something a therapist should not do. It’s usually OK if it happens in the first session or two, but a therapist’s job is to take good notes on you. This includes the names of family members, what you’re comfortable talking about, what therapy techniques are being used, and the goals you want to reach.
A good therapist does this not only to ensure you get the best help, but it also shows that they care and that they’re genuinely involved.
21. Support the wrong decisions
In your journey for well-being, things won’t go perfectly. For example, if you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and lash out at someone, or if you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder and you haven’t eaten in days, it’s OK. Setbacks may happen. They’re part of the healing process.
However, a therapist should not support or praise behavior that doesn’t help you. That’s not to say that they should condemn you (see point number four). They just shouldn’t reinforce behavior that will harm you or others. On the other hand, a good therapist should always acknowledge or praise your successes and milestones.
22. Fall asleep
You can usually tell your therapist fell asleep if they respond awkwardly (after being awoken) or if they flat out start snoring. It doesn’t mean that your therapist isn’t interested in what you’re saying. They’re probably just tired. Many licensed therapists run their own practice, and they can sometimes work long hours to keep it running.
However, it’s a therapist’s responsibility to manage their own well-being, get rest, and stay alert for each of their sessions.
23. Keep telling you they’re right for you
Whether your therapist has the title of clinician, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), or psychotherapist, they shouldn’t try to convince you about their credentials or methods. Doing that can make you feel like they’re actually not qualified.
Aside from a professional relationship, you also have a therapeutic relationship with your therapist. This means that if you’re not getting the healing that you need, then perhaps they should refer you to someone else that may work better for you. If a therapist feels that you would benefit more from another service, then that’s something they should be honest about.
Don’t be afraid to speak up
If you’re new to therapy or if you’ve just started your first few sessions, use this list as a go-to resource to be sure that your therapist has your best interest in mind and can help you achieve your goals. It’s okay to speak up and find another therapist if you see any of these red flags. If you’re looking to connect with a therapist, here’s how SonderMind can help you connect with a licensed mental health professional who meets your needs.