Should I Disclose That I’m in Therapy?
First things first: The best relationships are built on honesty, support, and mutual trust. As such, if you’re seeking a healthy long-term intimate relationship with someone, keeping secrets is nearly always counterproductive. Sure, you want to “look good” and maybe you’d prefer that not everyone on the planet know about every little thing you’ve ever done, but if you’re dating seriously and you find yourself keeping a secret about the fact that you go therapy every Thursday at 3:30, it doesn’t bode well. Honesty is a much better approach.
If you find that you’re reluctant to share about therapy with someone you’re dating, you may want to ask yourself why. Are you afraid that your intimate partner will think you’re loony tunes and reject you? If that’s your fear, then I’m going to let you in on a little secret. A person who would reject you simply because you’re in therapy is probably not the loving and supportive partner that you deserve, so good riddance to that person.
Of course, there are lots of other (more valid) reasons to either not disclose or to hold off on disclosure. Perhaps you are embarrassed about needing therapy. (This occurs more often with men than women.) If so, you may want to discuss this issue with your therapist, who hopefully knows you well and can offer some useful suggestions for overcoming this issue. Or perhaps you’re dealing with a thorny, difficult, emotionally painful issue - childhood abuse, for instance - and you’re not comfortable sharing that information with the person you’ve been dating. If so, this too might be an issue you should discuss with your therapist, who will likely have some useful input. It may be that you will never feel comfortable sharing about this topic with the paramour in question. If so, a change of partner may be in order, with you moving on to a person who feels safer and is therefore easier to open up with.
I also want to point out that being in therapy isn’t nearly as big a deal as it used to be. Cultural perceptions have changed, and in many parts of the country “having a therapist” or saying “When I said XYZ to my therapist last week…” is almost as hip as talking about the latest app that you can’t live without. Frankly, most people have either been in therapy themselves or are close to someone who has been in therapy, so they know that rather than signaling you’re bonkers, being in therapy may actually signal that you’re a person that likes to address his/her issues in a healthy and productive fashion. So if you are dating someone and you really like that person (and are hoping that the relationship will progress to something serious), the question isn’t so much whether you should disclose, but when you should disclose. If your partnership is meant to be (and probably even if it isn’t), the other person will react empathetically to your disclosure. And if they don’t, so be it. All that really means is that the person is not a good fit for you, and at least you know that now for certain.
When Should I Disclose About Therapy?
As mentioned above, if you’re serious about a relationship with a particular person, disclosing about therapy is not so much a question of if, but when. Obviously, the first few dates are probably not appropriate. It is always important to have healthy boundaries about what you do and don’t share in the early stages of dating, and a useful boundary is to keep things light in the beginning. In fact, bringing up therapy within the first few dates may cause the other person to wonder how serious your issues really are, and if you’re looking for sympathy or a rescue rather than an intimate partnership. If, however, you’ve had several dates and the other person is beginning to feel important to you, you should probably think about no longer keeping secrets. In no event should you wait until you’re already a “committed couple” before springing this information. That is bad form, and it will likely engender both resentment and worries about what else you may be hiding - neither of which bodes well for the long-term health of your relationship.
In my opinion, the best time to talk about therapy with a person you’re dating is during the same conversation in which you say, “Gee, we’ve been dating for a little while and I’m really enjoying this, and I want us to get to know each other a little better and maybe even get a bit more serious.” If the other person responds to that or a similar statement in a positive way, you can then say, “I want to start by letting you know more about my life as a way to help us grow closer.” Then it might be useful to talk about some of the ways you want to grow as a person, and/or to provide some background about any family of origin issues that you may have (which is the sort of stuff that typically leads adults into counseling). If you are still getting nods and a smiling, engaged face, you and the other person can move forward into the kind of open, honest, nonjudgmental conversation that forms the basis of all lasting relationships.
How In-Depth Should I Get?
The depth of the conversation that you want to have about being in therapy is probably related to the shame you feel (or don’t feel) about being in therapy and/or the issues that led you to therapy. Most people attend outpatient psychotherapy seeking help with relatively minor life issues. For these folks, being in therapy is usually a low-stress, non-shameful, fully integrated activity leading to insight and personal growth. In such cases a short, straightforward disclosure tends to work best. In other words, you can simply mention that you’re in therapy, with a brief explanation of the issues you’re working on. Of course, if therapy has a more important role in your life or your issues are more in-depth, a larger discussion may be in order. In such cases, you may feel more comfortable disclosing your issues with therapeutic assistance (i.e., in your therapist’s office).
In short, the depth and length of the conversation you have should be guided by how important and/or necessary therapy is to your emotional wellbeing, how long you have been going out, and how much trust has been developed. In general, it is best not to go on and on about your issues and/or treatment unless questions are forthcoming from your date. In other words, you should not expect that person to willingly sit and listen to every little detail. Instead, just give the basic information, and then your date can ask for more information if desired.
When you disclose this personal information to the person you’ve been dating, be sure to watch his or her reactions, seeing how your disclosure (your honesty and trust) is received. The other person’s reactions will tell you a lot about who you are dating and what that person is really like. Simply put, when you allow yourself to become vulnerable in this fashion and you are accepted in kind, it develops true intimacy. If your disclosure helps the other person feel closer to you (and you in turn to feel closer to them), that’s fantastic. If the other person decides to share a few secrets of his or her own, even better. This is genuine (and potentially lasting) intimacy in the making.
One final note: Keep in mind the fact that you being in therapy does not mean your date doesn’t have more problems than you do. In other words, sometimes our fears of rejection (over any issue) can cloud our ability to discern that we are dating a dud. So ultimately what may be more important than when, how, or why you talk about being in therapy is how that person responds when you do it. So watch - and feel - as you speak and discuss. How the other person responds, or doesn’t respond, is as important for you in terms of getting to know that person as it is for them in terms of getting to know you.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch outside Nashville, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. He is the author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships.