Meeting a therapist for the first time is like going on a blind date. Sometimes, you are overwhelmed with feelings of excitement and nausea; other times, you go because your friends talked you into it. You ponder about what kind cologne they wear, if they sit with their legs crossed, use a pad of paper or wonder about the type of sympathetic head nods they use. If you think you found your dream therapist, or at least the one that will see you twice a week without judgement, it might be time to introduce your family to your therapist, not literally.
Telling loved ones that you’re in therapy can be as much of a whirlwind of emotions as seeing a therapist, since it can be hard to disclose the more vulnerable and internal details of your life. I can’t say I am an expert, since my family doesn’t know about the therapy that I started over six months ago. However, with tips provided by my therapist, Dr. Can’t-Disclose-Her-Name, we can find the time to have that talk.
Probably the most important step to discussing your therapy would be to set boundaries for yourself. How much do you want to disclose? Do you want to talk about why you go to therapy, or even go further than that? If you don’t want to talk about the reason why, like me, focus on the therapy itself: the sessions, how long you have been attending or even what your therapist is like personality wise. If your family asks any questions that go more into what you discuss during therapy, politely tell them you don’t feel comfortable talking about that, yet.
Picking a time and place
Once you have boundaries set, think about where and when would be a good time. This is a problem for me, since I can’t decide when is the perfect time, and the answer is that there isn’t. Don’t just shout that you are going to therapy during a fight, or call someone when you are intoxicated; it can attach a negativity to the situation that might lead the person to be more jaded. The time should be whenever it feels like, and however long it takes to be comfortable disclosing. It doesn’t matter if it takes six months, a year or longer to let your family know, because it’s your responsibility to do what is best for your mental health.
Be prepared for any reaction
This is the number one reason why I haven’t told my family. Since therapy is perceived to be useless in my family, it’s hard to push those nagging thoughts out of my mind. A big part of why I have waited to tell them is that I am concerned that they will think of me as weak. However, if you want to comfortably share your experience, you let that fear take over your emotions. Stay calm, no matter what they say. If you receive a negative reaction, end the conversation before it escalates and revisit it when tempers have cooled. With time, family will learn to adapt and move forward.
Maneuvering through college life can be challenging, and there is no shame in talking to a third party at Cook Counseling. No matter how or when you tell your family about therapy, whether six months from now on vacation or in a Collegiate Times article, make your priority safety, and put mental health first.