The truths we tell in therapy can go deep, but sometimes there’s fear around the consequences of those truths. Whether being honest has hurt us in the past, or we’re worried about what our therapists might do if we tell them the full truth, many of us consider what we should tell our therapists vs. what might be best left out.
Honesty is one of the most important parts of therapy—it allows for real change to occur and lets us feel real support from someone else. In terms of going too deep or talking about our emotions, it’s often best to tell our therapists everything, as long as it pertains to our therapeutic goals.
Can You Overshare in Therapy?
Yes, it is possible for a person to provide excessive amounts of information about their life in a therapeutic setting; however, “oversharing” is not necessarily a bad thing.
Oftentimes, the word “oversharing” has a negative connotation, as it can colloquially be used to refer to the act of telling someone sensitive information that they may not have wanted to hear, either in-person or on the internet. This can sometimes be in line with “trauma dumping,” or making someone uncomfortable, even triggering them, by talking in-depth about a traumatic event.
However, oversharing in therapy is different, since it is a time and setting meant for discussing things like trauma and deep emotions. Because of this, “oversharing” actually occurs in a therapeutic setting when a client shares a lot of irrelevant information.
Oversharing is often handled compassionately and effectively, since, again, sharing information that isn’t necessarily relevant to what you’re trying to address isn’t “bad.”
If a client provides excessive information about their life that isn’t relevant to their treatment, a therapist is likely to seek clarification, ask about its relevance, or redirect the conversation back to the original purpose of the conversation.
What Is “Too Much” to Tell Your Therapist?
Telling your therapist “too much” is very dependent on the subject matter being discussed. A therapist’s basic tools are intelligence and words, and to them, a client’s greatest contribution is their awareness, honesty, and words. In a few words, therapists like words. The key point with oversharing in therapy isn’t so much quantity or depth, but relevancy.
Sometimes, when someone says that someone else is telling someone else “too much,” it can refer to going too deep into their emotions or experiences for the current setting. Since therapy is, again, one of the most appropriate places to talk about your most intense experiences and emotions, saying “too much” to your therapist really involves getting off-topic or talking about something that doesn’t pertain to your treatment or therapy goals.
It is very important to ensure that the client is clear about their therapeutic goals—the purpose of the interaction between the client and therapist. This way, it will be easy to define what topics are pertinent and which are less important or relevant.
What Trauma Causes Oversharing?
While oversharing is not unusual following a traumatic experience, it does not appear to be the effect of any specific traumatic event. A traumatic experience generally elicits intense feelings of fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other negative feelings.
For some, talking through the experience can help give them clarity about the event, make them feel less shame about what occurred, take ownership of their experiences, or feel understood and supported. However, there is certainly a time and place for conversations about trauma, and sometimes these discussions are started in inappropriate settings, such as work, school, or in another public setting.
When a person who has experienced a disturbing event such as trauma shares excessive information about their experience, it can result in the unprepared listener feeling varying levels of discomfort.
What Disorder Makes You Overshare?
There are many factors that can cause one to provide excessive information about their life, though oversharing is not necessarily an attribute of any specific disorders. Common behaviors caused by disorders that might make someone more likely to overshare can range from having difficulty with silence to facing the detrimental effects of a substance.
Here are some common examples of behaviors that might lead one to overshare:
- Discomfort with silence: People will sometimes fill the silence with excessive information about themselves to avoid silence.
- Impulsivity: People sometimes will act or talk without consideration. This can be due to simply being an impulsive person or having a disorder, such as ADHD.
- Poor boundaries: If someone isn’t good at setting or enforcing boundaries with others, they may start sharing the intimate details of their life with people they don’t know very well or in settings that some might deem inappropriate.
- Poor social skills: People with poor social skills might not be able to read a room or situation and accurately assess whether their current situation is the right time or place to share excessive personal information.
- Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem might overshare about their “failings” or perceived character flaws in order to garner sympathy and praise from others.
- Insufficient social outlets: people that have few or no close relationships may tend to misinterpret attention or kindness for closeness and therefore express strong feelings, ideas, or energy to people that are not prepared for that kind of sharing.
- Artificial advancement of relationship: People can use oversharing as an attempt to build a relationship quicker than its natural progression and create an artificial closeness, rather than taking the time to slowly build closeness and intimacy.
- Attachment disorder: Disorders such as reactive attachment disorder affect one’s ability to initiate or respond appropriately to a social situation.
- Effects of a substance: Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can impair one’s situational and emotional awareness.
For one reason or another, many people have a tendency to overshare with others. However, a therapeutic setting is extremely different from most social settings, which is why “oversharing” in the sense of sharing too much about one’s emotions or experiences is not as taboo as in public or social settings—talking and being honest about deep emotional and personal experiences is highly encouraged in therapy.
Should You Tell Your Therapist the Truth?
Yes, to receive the appropriate support and guidance and to achieve the utmost personal growth, you should tell your therapist the truth.
It’s important to know that therapists are legally obligated to maintain confidentiality of what a client discloses in therapy; however, there are times when confidentiality needs to be breached. All licensed professionals are also mandated reporters and have the legal requirement to report suspected or known cases of abuse or neglect, as well as a duty to protect their clients from harming themselves and others.
Many people in therapy consider whether to tell their provider the full truth out of fear of the consequences, those potentially including being prescribed medication, reported to child protective services (CPS), or referred to a mental hospital, among other options.
These changes can be scary, but if your therapist or psychiatric provider believes that they are what’s best to help you, then they are likely the best course of action. However, if you doubt whether these actions are the right course for you, consider getting a second opinion from another mental health professional.
Is It Okay to Make Mistakes as a Therapist?
Many clinicians choose to acknowledge that, as humans, mistakes will occur; however, that doesn’t necessarily make them “okay.” Therapeutic mistakes can range in severity from mistiming the start or end of a session to misreading social cues to a breach of confidentiality. They may even commit an ethical violation, which would prompt disciplinary action from their employer and/or board.
The overwhelming majority of therapists are well-intentioned, caring people, and it’s helpful for the therapist to rely on external sources like a licensing board or supervisor to ensure the creation, maintenance, and enforcement of professional boundaries and to minimize mistakes.
Can I Ask My Therapist for a Hug?
It’s certainly okay, and definitely best, to ask for a hug, but it’s entirely possible to receive a “no” as an answer. Since a hug is a personal form of affection, it is up to the therapist whether they view it as a potential breach of professionalism in a therapeutic relationship or a helpful and comforting part of treatment.
The probability of a therapist agreeing to a hug increases if it’s contextually appropriate. These unlikely situations are:
- If it is relevant to your treatment goal or achievement of goals
- A termination of their services has occurred
Therapists may also be concerned that giving a client a hug may be misinterpreted as a sign of emotional closeness. Though mental health professionals want to help their clients, it’s important for them to keep an emotional distance between themselves and their clients.
Why Is Honesty Important in Therapy?
Being truthful has significant worth to the therapy process. Being honest to your therapist—as well as yourself—is the most important building block to emotional growth. Without a firm base of truth to start from, the real issues will go unaddressed or may even be treated incorrectly, since the treatment is being based on false statements or claims.
Most therapists do not believe a client being dishonest with them is indicative of flaws in their character, though. Instead, it often shows an individual’s discomfort with the reality of their situation, which is fair—therapy gets into the grittiest parts of your life, and revealing those truths can be a very uncomfortable and painful experience.
However, if one is self-aware that they are investing their time and money to provide dishonest statements to their mental health practitioner, it could be beneficial to identify what need is being fulfilled, i.e. establish clear therapeutic goals. If the goal is not emotional growth, self-acceptance, or anything else along those lines (a very possible situation), then honesty will likely be less important in their sessions.
Why Is It Hard to Be Honest to My Therapist?
Someone might find it hard to be honest with their mental health provider if they want to avoid discussing “negative” feelings like sadness or anger, being perceived negatively, or confronting the consequences that might result from telling the truth.
Another common occurrence is being untruthful due to a lack of awareness of one’s situation. There’s a difference, though, between finding it hard to be honest and not having realized the truth of one’s situation. Many feelings and truths can remain buried or overlooked within one’s mind until a mental health professional helps unearth them. In that sense, it wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to be honest, since honesty for the client and stating the truth may not be aligned yet.
Do I Have to Be Completely Honest With My Therapist?
No, you don’t need to feel obligated to be truthful in every way possible. For clarification, not being “completely honest” is not synonymous with dishonesty. If you want to be honest in a conversation with your mental health provider but are hesitant to talk about a certain subject, you can always inquire about the relevancy or purpose of their question, as well as notify the therapist of your level of comfort with the topic. Therapy is a long process—every step counts, and it’s okay to draw boundaries as you explore your mental health.
However, it’s not usually in one’s best interest to be dishonest with a therapist. This isn’t necessarily from a moral standpoint, but it will complicate your therapeutic process and potentially impede your progress in therapy.
If you find yourself providing dishonest statements to your therapist, the best way forward is to find your courage and tell them what has happened. A good therapist will not shame you or be angry about your dishonesty once you come clean, as people being dishonest in therapy is not a rare occurrence. They will instead be glad you told them and help you confront what needs that dishonesty was trying to satisfy.
Though therapy can be a time of great growth and self-acceptance, that growth doesn’t come easy. Being honest about yourself and your relationships can be hard, especially when acknowledging uncomfortable or depressing truths.