How to handle when a therapist self-discloses suddenly?

J

JediKit

How to handle when a therapist self-discloses suddenly? Been seeing a trauma therapist for 4 months (previously saw someone else for 7 years). And over these past couple of weeks, I've finally gotten to the point of being 'comfortable-enough' to sit back on her couch... instead of always perched on the edge, scanning the room, giving topical answers. Hadn't yet opened up much yet.

However, I think I musta got a little too comfortable last week and mentioned how I used to self-harm and used to have those kinds of "-al" tendencies. I felt like I was finally comfortable enough to want to open up. But the therapist got a little angry in the spur of the moment and said she had a loved one do 'that' to her family -- she elf-disclosed a LOT of details. I felt like I was rightly being shamed for bringing it up.

Now I KNOW her intentions were in the right place; she might have just been worried about me or triggered herself. I totally get it.

But now, I'm feeling like I said wayyyy too much. How do I broach this without feeling like I'm traumatizing the therapist? Do I pull back? Not talk about stuff? Go back to perching on the edge of the couch and keeping things topical? Any thoughts?
 
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Teamwork

MyPTSD Pro
Oh dear. I’d be so leery. Sounds like therapist has to do more work on self. In my situation I have a lot to work on regarding my mom and I’ve always avoided a great deal of it. Last year my t needed to go home to be with is mom. He was merely saying why he’d be away. I asked if she will die and he said yes then got tearful. I was mortified that I had said something wrong but we did talk it out. He left for two months came back and I’ve never said anything about my mother stuff. But here’s the thing, I totally know he would of done his grief work and would be totally open to me talking moms because he is able to separate his stuff from mine. In this case it’s me avoiding. In your case if it called up feelings and you can do it say so in next appointment. Like I felt with your disclosure that suicide is off the table for me to talk about or whatever it was you felt. Some therapists become therapists because of their own trauma, but they have to do the work to not bring it to you in a way that causes you distress.
 
J

JediKit

Thank you both!! How do I bring it up without... you used the word: destabilizing ???... how do I bring it up without causing more discomfort between us both?

What happened was she took 10 minutes over our session to tell me her very specific family details. I was cool with her going over session... but I was worried that I might have been impinging on someone else's time, and I sat there listening feeling like I royally screwed up by telling her about my long-ago SI and stuff. It's all I can think about since last week. Did I just give her my nightmares? How do we not traumatize the therapist if they can't separate their stuff from mine?

What I was thinking was going into session this week with an alarm set on my Fitbit to vibrate 10 minutes before what is supposed to be the end of the session (which I kinda also don't know that either... is a session supposed to be 50 minutes? 45? Sometimes she goes over time, and I'm not great at looking at my watch at the end of the session... usually just sit in my car in the parking lot for a while chilling afterward, so I only know roundabout what time I get home each week).

Do I as the client need to be better about boundaries in this situation by what I choose to share? I know the therapist should be the clock-watcher, but she doesn't know what words are gonna come outta my mouth towards the end of a session. And I really don't wanna make her feel uncomfortable. Because now, I DO feel unconfortable, like I screwed this up.

I doubt she's gonna bring it up (it's gotta be embarrassing; it would be for me), so any suggestions for how I should broach this at our next session? I don't wanna get out in front of my skis with words I know nothing about (other than my B.S. in WebMD googling trying to figure out how the therapy-sausage is made) like "counter-transference."
 

Sues

MyPTSD Pro
How do I broach this without feeling like I'm traumatizing the therapist? Do I pull back? Not talk about stuff? Go back to perching on the edge of the couch and keeping things topical?
So yes, therapists are people too. BUT we as client should never have to hold back, tone down, or worry about being too much for them. Like others said here, they are doing their own work on their own stuff. Plus, they live for this stuff. It's what they do, especially if they are trauma therapists.

You should definitely bring it up and talk about it and your feelings of worry with hurting your therapist. This will give them the opportunity to reassure you and let you know they are more than ok hearing about all of you.

But the therapist got a little angry in the spur of the moment and said she had a loved one do 'that' to her family -- she elf-disclosed a LOT of details. I felt like I was rightly being shamed for bringing it up.

So this part seems worrisome to me. Normally, a therapist should not get angry at you. (unless you do something inappropriate or dangerous in the office) It's ok to disclose in order to help the client feel more at ease, but too many details can do a lot of things, like make you feel shamed for bringing it up. These sessions are about you. Only you. Your therapist should know this and not only honor this, but work to help you through all of your "stuff."

Bottom line, talk about all of this next time. Work it out, or figure out if it's not fixable and you need to find someone else. Either way, find what works best for you.
 

internal

Sponsor
Thank you both!! How do I bring it up without... you used the word: destabilizing ???... how do I bring it up without causing more discomfort between us both?
you will probably not be able to avoid discomfort. what she did was profoundly uncomfortable and you need to be blunt about that. if you are not, it is not likely this can be repaired unless you elect to ignore a profound part of your personal history. and that is assuming that she never engages in this behavior again, which is also unlikely, if it is not addressed.
 

Sideways

Moderator
is a session supposed to be 50 minutes? 45? Sometimes she goes over time, and I'm not great at looking at my watch at the end of the session
My personal experience is Ts vary a lot with this. My current T? Sticks to the clock. We reliably start within 5 minutes of the scheduled time, and in 5 years, I think we've gone over time about twice, never more than 10 minutes.

One of my earlier Ts by comparison? Was rarely less than 30 minutes late, frequently well over an hour late, and it took as long as it took. We went over time by more than 30 minutes on a fairly regular basis.

It's your Ts job to watch the clock primarily. But if your curious where they sit on running to schedule? Ask. Straight up. It ain't a thing, so don't overthink that one.

If you know you need to not bring things up with only 10 minutes left? Tell your T, and ask them to help you with that.

But the therapist got a little angry in the spur of the moment and said she had a loved one do 'that' to her family
This is concerning. Can I ask (because it can mean a whole lotta different things), what's your T's professional qualification (eg psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health nurse, school counsellor, yoga instructor, etc etc)?

And second, have they held themselves out as a professional who specialises in dealing with trauma?

I had a psychiatrist for a brief period who kept freaking out on me whenever I brought up my SI. Which I did every week, because it was a problem every week.

I got the hell outta dodge and found a trauma-specialist to replace her asap. No hard feelings on either side. I'm sure she was good with her niche area of psychiatry, but that wasn't the niche area I needed her to be.

And I really don't wanna make her feel uncomfortable.
This ain't gonna work!

It's actually surprisingly normal for us folks with shocking trauma, and even more shocking self harm and suicidal ideation to worry about how that's going to be received, can I say it out loud, is it too shameful, is my T gonna flip, etc etc.

It's also normal for us to have transference issues. Some people decide to hang around and work on that, some people (me!) decide I'd rather prioritise other things (I now have a completely female therapy team, because of issues working with male Ts in the past. I could work through that, but I have bigger recovery priorities atm than being able to have therapy with a male T) and find a different T.

Available resources can make this all a lot harder. If you can't afford anyone else, or there isn't anyone else because of where you live? It may be a case where you limit what you work on to what this particular T is qualified and experienced to help you with (I've had plenty of psychologists, for example, who have helped me profoundly...just not with my trauma).

But, if SI, or SH, remains an ongoing issue for you? I'd personally prioritise finding a T who has both the experience and qualifications to deal with that professionally.

Because no, a T responding you raising SI or SH concerns with a story about what happened in their family? Completely inappropriate. If that's the standard of care we look for in a therapist, then we may as well just offload each week to the poor sod running up our groceries for us, because we can get inappropriate, unhelpful and counterproductive advice for free by simply talking to complete strangers!

This is a service that you pay for. It's okay to require the service to be value for money.
 
I agree with everyone else. Self-disclosure can be extremely great for the therapeutic relationship, done appropriately with a client who will get something out of it. This ... was not that. It was inappropriate and there was nothing you could have gotten from it other than her anger about it. Totally unhelpful to the point of being unprofessional.
 

whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
I'm feeling like I said wayyyy too much.
So, it is not your responsibility to take care of the therapist. You are there for you, not her.
How do I broach this without feeling like I'm traumatizing the therapist?
See above. Not your problem. If she can't handle whatever you have to say, she shouldn't be a therapist.
Do I pull back? Not talk about stuff?
If this were me, I would be re-evaluating my work with her. You should never have to limit what you say because you're concerned that the person who was hired to help you can't handle it.

I would absolutely discuss with her (and don't worry about offending) and then proceed from there.
 
J

JediKit

This is concerning. Can I ask (because it can mean a whole lotta different things), what's your T's professional qualification (eg psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health nurse, school counsellor, yoga instructor, etc etc)?

And second, have they held themselves out as a professional who specialises in dealing with trauma?

Thank you for asking. She's a LPC-Associate, EMDR Trained, self-pay/no insurance so I pay a lower fee each week than I would in my area with a full-certified LPC. Her focus is working with adult survivors of CSA and CP.

I saw her supervisor (who was then an intern herself) for 7 years as recommended by my CVIP case worker until COVID hit. Then I took a year off from therapy because work got crazy (healthcare). I emailed the therapist, looking if she could squeeze me in (she was booked solid), so she referred me to this therapist under her practice that she supervises.

And I like her! But she knows which button to push: my kiddo. If I'm blaming myself with dumb cognitive distortions? She will hit the how-would-your-daughter-feel button. If I'm self-shaming, it's the what-would-you-do-if-your-daughter-did-this button? I don't ever do anger, but I tend to checked-out often, gone mute, Stuttering Sally shows up, and/or sometimes I'll even cry. So I know she's gotta be a pretty good therapist.

However last week I guess I got too relaxed on her couch and mentioned how a few years ago when I was in a bad place... when I was working a gatekeeper-QPR crisis program at my work (LODD for FD), and I saw & heard about several employees who followed through and "dun it"... and she asked me if I had ever had something like that personally affect me, my family. And I said no. But I said that I knew the outcome of that kind of work with others, with friends and co-workers families, and saw how it affected them. So that when I was in a real bad place back then, I had thought that I would never make mine look... well, that I knew how to make it look like an accident so as to spare my family. And I have some visible healed SI scars on my hands (geez, don't we all?).

And literally, that's EXACTLY how I phrased it. No details. I didn't even get to that part. Because she jumped immediately to anger, she raised her voice, and gave me a LOT of details that someone in her family had done it, how it affected her children, how they had to grow up like that, thinking it was their fault. She went on for a while in great detail and I absolutely wanted to crawl under the couch. I was so horrified, and so incredibly sorry.

All I could do when she was done and took a breath, was sit there in stunned silence a moment. I heard the clock ticking for what felt like a few minutes (probably only a few seconds though). Then I mumbled an apology, grabbed my keys and phone off the floor & asked if we were still on for next week. She said yes, next week's good. She stood up, smoothed her skirt down, opened the door, held it open, and wished me a good week. I just about ran to my car, and sat there for almost an hour bewildered how I could fix this.

I considered emailing... but I don't know what to say. And it's all I can think about. That's why I came looking for you good people :-) I went to therapy for 7 years and didn't say much at all; we only worked on safety & stabilization through the years of court stuff and work stress. The other therapist knew I SI, she saw the injuries. But we never talked "-idal' stuff. I had hoped that now I could finally get to the point of working on what makes me so sleep-deprived, the migraines, the somatic stuff.

But now... I don't wanna traumatize the therapist! I just wanna fix this and go back to the topical stuff. Thank you for asking... and for reading.
 

Sideways

Moderator
I considered emailing... but I don't know what to say.
Her superviser can help her out with this. She overshared some distressing details of her personal experience with ... . Personally I'd phrase it something like that.

It's the nature of the line of work that she's chosen that people are going to need to talk about this stuff, yeah? And while it may be an effective way to guilt trip you to not do things (she does that by using your daughter, but here, she's unwittingly guilt-tripping you again), but have you wondered at all...I mean, the reason that we don't go ahead with things like SI is because of the personal loss.

Yes, it would be devastating to our families. But ultimately, the real tragedy of it is the lost opportunity to experience our own future, and the endless possibilities that can open up if we heal from our past, the happiness and joy we could experience if we get through the recovery part...
 

NoWhereKnowWhere

MyPTSD Pro
if you’re never going to be able to talk openly about feeling suicidal literally what is the point of her as a therapist? That’s pretty much the worst case scenario with mental health issues. That’s the thing we’re trying to prevent. Imagine going to a oncologist that you couldn’t ask questions about chemotherapy with.

if you’re overly worried about her then you’re not getting what you need from this relationship. This early on if you have other options I’d fire her and find someone who’s better qualified to actually be a therapist.
 
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