By Lisa Fields
Do you go to therapy to better manage your ADHD or another condition? During therapy, you probably share details about your thoughts, experiences, hopes and failures. Sometimes, unpacking so much personal information may make you feel that you’ve overshared with your therapist.
Fortunately, it isn’t possible to reveal too much. In fact, any insights that you divulge may help your therapist treat you more effectively.
“I cannot ever imagine a time doing therapy when too much information would ever be a bad thing,” says Cynthia Edwards-Hawver, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania. “It is worse when clients do not share, rather than sharing too much.”
Anyone who meets with a therapist may second-guess themselves after opening up about certain topics. People with ADHD, in particular, may regret disclosing information.
“Some people with ADHD tend to blurt out their thoughts easily and so might reveal something sooner than they meant to,” says Kara Nassour, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor in Texas. “Others get embarrassed talking about themselves or their interests, because they’ve previously been rejected by peers for doing that. ADHD sometimes makes it harder to tell if other people are interested in what you’re saying.”
Even if you understand that it’s normal and expected to share personal details, you may still regret saying too much.
“In my work with ADHD clients, it is incredibly common for them to apologize for how much they talk, for what they share and for expressing emotions, specifically when they cry,” says Candin Phillips, LPCS, a licensed therapist in South Carolina. “Many grew up hearing over and over again that they talk too much, that they share intimate information too soon or that their emotions are too much. So they feel ashamed when they do those things in therapy.”
Figuring out why you regret sharing
Everyone has different reasons why they worry that they’ve revealed too much to a therapist. Some people are ashamed to admit things that they’ve done. Others may be embarrassed that certain topics dredge up strong emotions. You may have other concerns.
“[Perhaps] they spoke a truth that they’ve never said out loud before. They feel the need to ‘win’ at therapy and be a ‘good’ client. They worry that their therapist will think less of them. They spend most of their life masking their ADHD symptoms and are surprised when that mask comes off in therapy,” Phillips says. “Or they are naturally internal processors and are not used to verbally processing their thoughts and feelings.”
Some people worry that therapists will judge them for what they share, but this is highly unlikely.
“Sometimes (people with ADHD) will struggle with substance abuse or perhaps get fired from a job, get in trouble at school, be failing classes or get broken up with in a romantic relationship,” says Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Connecticut. “Therapists are trained not only in a diagnosis like ADHD … but are also trained to put judgment aside and focus on why a patient is coming to therapy and what goals they can work on attaining together in treatment.”
What to do about sharing too much
If you slip and say something that you didn’t mean to share during therapy, you can tell your therapist right away that you regret mentioning what you said. You can also say that you aren’t ready to talk further about the topic.
“Nine times out of ten, they immediately apologize or try to justify what they said,” Phillips says. “I’m grateful when they share this, as it helps me recognize the extent to which they likely struggle with honest expression in their lives outside of my office.”
If you don’t realize until later that you said more than you meant to, bring it up at your next appointment. You may feel better if you explain why you regret having shared the information. Your therapist should respect your privacy.
“A good therapist will understand the discomfort and help the patient work through it,” Schiff says. “It [may lead] to an open conversation where it can be explored why what the patient shared made them feel uneasy. This type of vulnerable discussion may actually lead to some new insights and provide an opportunity for growth and fruitful progress.”
How much to share with your therapist
There are no official guidelines about what to say during therapy, but the more that you share, the more you should gain from the experience.
“The more honest the patient is, the better, because it gives the therapist a window into their feelings, thoughts and experiences,” Schiff says. “It provides the therapist context and details, so they can best figure out how to help you.”
If friends and relatives have discouraged you from revealing too much over the years, you may be inclined to limit what you tell others. It’s important to remember that therapy is unlike other relationships: Your therapist wants to hear what you have to say.
“Many teens, children and even adults with ADHD have spent a lifetime receiving mostly negative feedback from the adults in their lives through teachers, coaches, camp counselors and even parents,” says Franki Bagdade, a limited licensed masters social worker in Michigan. “They come to me with walls built up and strong defenses. Much of my work is geared towards helping these patients see their strengths and demystify their struggles.”
Ask your therapist for validation, if you’re unsure how much to share.
“Oftentimes, patients will report that they feel uncomfortable sharing things, and I reassure them that therapy is a safe and confidential place where they can reveal the hardest parts of their life without being judged,” Hawver says. “Once I validate this to a patient, I have never had them regret sharing. I always find that they feel some relief in finally being able to share.”
Although therapy is confidential, your therapist should let you know that if you share certain thoughts — such as the desire to harm yourself or others — therapists are required to report that to the appropriate authorities.
“A therapist should … make you aware of state reporting laws in advance of a client sharing, so they can decide if they want to share something that is reportable,” Hawver says. “This is a rare occurrence, but I always tell a client, day one, in writing and in person, what cases I have to report on.”
Feeling confident about sharing
Once you realize that talking about yourself during therapy isn’t oversharing, you may feel more relaxed about revealing your thoughts and feelings.
“If a client feels uncomfortable after opening up in therapy, then it is on the therapist to do better, as it is our job as therapists to help a client feel safe and validated,” Hawver says.
Don’t worry if you’re too timid to share much at first; opening up is a gradual process for some people.
“I spend a lot of time helping my ADHD clients accept that they are allowed to have big emotions [and] express their thoughts,” Phillips says. “The more open and authentic they are in my office, the better chance I have in supporting them, which opens the door for more progress on their goals.”