How to Open Up in Therapy: 16 Tips from a Los Angeles Therapist
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
Seeking therapy is a significant milestone in your wellness journey. However, opening up can be challenging if you are a reserved person who doesn't like talking about yourself. It's normal to be afraid to share your deepest secrets with a stranger. We all have things that we would rather not share with close friends or family, let alone a stranger. But for therapy to be productive, issues that have or are interfering with one's life need to be addressed.
To make the most of your sessions, you have to learn how to open up in therapy. In doing so, you learn to be open to the vulnerability that comes up and learn to express said vulnerabilities in therapy.
More than 80% of respondents from an online survey done in 2019 admitted to being dishonest or omitting details during therapy sessions. Some of the most common issues the respondents lied about include suicidal thoughts and their sex lives in individual and relationship therapy.
Read our post on "How to email a therapist for the first time"
If you feel reluctant about opening up during therapy, you are not alone. The good news, however, is that you can use several effective strategies to ease this fear of sharing your life details and thoughts.
Why is it essential to open up during therapy?
If you have decided to go to therapy, you are well aware of the benefits and relief that come from it. But the problem usually arises when it's time to express your thoughts.
Considering that your therapist is a stranger, you may omit some details, thinking they are irrelevant to your treatment. Or, you may feel the urge to alter the truth so that you don't have to sit in your discomfort.
Rest assured, your conversations are safe and free from judgment
A therapist's office is a safe space. Therapists do not view thoughts, actions, or behaviors from a place of judgement. They are clues to helping us do our job. Our job is to help you overcome your problems-not to judge you. Therefore, being open with us is extremely important.
Should you be concerned with your story being told outside of the therapy room, be assured confidentiality is paramount. We adhere to a patient confidentiality code. Therapists don't discuss what happens in session with people in their lives, not their spouses, family members or friends. However, the truth is, we are all human. It’s not uncommon for your therapist to think of you in between sessions. During this time, we brainstorm on ways we can show up for you and provide you with the specific guidance you need.
The devil is in the details
When you omit a particular detail about your life or distort the truth, you may believe it's not a big deal. You might think there is no need to spend much time dealing with an issue you would rather avoid. The truth is, you may miss out on an opportunity to address a problem that s bothering you.
In medicine, a doctor recommends an antibiotic when you have a bacterial infection. In most cases, it’s a very straightforward approach to healing well-known physical illnesses.
In therapy, however, there is no universal treatment plan. Every patient requires a unique approach. That's why you need to open up to your therapist and share details that you may think aren't important.
Understandably, it may not be easy to open up. But you should strive to trust the process. When you feel comfortable with expanding your openness, you will find the therapeutic process to begin to flourish and begin to gain new insights and perspectives.
16 Tips to help you open up during therapy
Now that you understand why you should be more open and honest with your therapist. Let's look at some strategies you can use. These tips are recommended by professional therapists and patients who have been in a similar situation.
1. Write down your thoughts before sessions
One of the ways to ease the anxiety of opening up to a therapist is to write down your thoughts before every session. The day before your first session, grab a pen and paper and start writing the feelings, experiences, and life events you will want to discuss during therapy. Many patients find it easier to be more open after writing down their thoughts before a session.
It's a good idea to have a therapy journal. Other than writing your thoughts, you can use it to track progress. A pro tip that comes in handy if you are afraid of opening up to a therapist is to write them a letter before the first visit. This gives the therapist some context about the problem you want to address.
You can bring your journal or paper with you to the session. If you are shy to say it aloud, you can hand the paper to the therapist. They will know how to address these issues.
2. Prepare yourself physically and psychologically
Blindly walking into a therapist's office can instill fear and nervousness. Therefore, it's vital to prepare both physically and psychologically. Before the session starts, you can listen to calming music or affirmations. You can take deep breaths or meditate for about ten minutes.
It's easier to have an open discussion when you are relaxed. It's also a good idea to clock in early. This gives you time to familiarize yourself with the therapist's office. Arriving early gives you more time to calm yourself down.
3. Choose a convenient appointment time
It's not advisable to schedule therapy sessions when you are on the run. For instance, when you are between shifts or other tasks. It can be hard to let your guard down and open up if you are busy and unable to be fully present. Therefore, make an appointment at a time when you know you are free of other priorities.
4. Inquire about patient confidentiality
Most people know that therapy is private. But it can make a big difference if you hear this confirmation from your therapist. It's interesting how our minds work. Hearing your therapist clarify the confidential policy can ease your fear of opening up. Feel free to inquire about confidentiality.
5. Don't feel pressured to immediately dive in
You don't have to lay down all your issues in the first session. This can feel overwhelming. You can start with sharing who you are, what your life and relationships are like, what your hobbies are, your goals and dreams, etc. As you build rapport with the therapist, your comfort level will increase. You'll get to the deep issues with time, remember, there is no pressure to immediately dive in.
6. Practice what you're going to say
Have you ever practiced how to ask someone for a date in the mirror? Have you seen someone on TV practice talking to someone in the mirror? You can also do the same if you are nervous about sharing during therapy. Go in front of a mirror and have a simulated discussion with your therapist. It may seem silly, and you may even laugh several times, but it can boost your confidence and ease your fear or worry.
7. Follow the guidance of your therapist
Therapists know that a lot of people struggle with opening up. That's why they often guide the discussion in the first few sessions. They have the ability to make you feel comfortable in conversation and create a safe space for you to ultimately open up. It is important to be as present as possible in the therapy room. You may find your mind wandering or thinking about the next topic you want to talk about. When this happens, bring your attention back to your therapist and the conversation at hand.
8. Feel free to use references
If you are struggling with opening up, or it's in your personality not to share about challenges, feel free to use references. It could be a movie, a celebrity, or even a fictional character. For instance, you can tell your therapist that you always feel like Squidward from the SpongeBob cartoon.
References help the therapist easily understand what you are going through. Take the Squidward reference, for instance. This fictional character is always sad and tired. These are primary signs of clinical depression.
9. Ask if it's okay to use other modes of communication
Talking isn't the only way you can inform a therapist about your problems. Other methods are equally as effective. You can write them a letter. Or you can use another form of therapy, such as the sand tray or art therapy. It would be best if you expressed your challenges with the therapist so that you could identify a suitable mode of communication.
10. Summon the courage to share your feelings
Sometimes, you must remind yourself why you are in therapy and summon the motivation to open up. Progress doesn't come easy. Remind yourself that opening up and sharing will only benefit you. Take a step back and reflect on your therapeutic goals and all you want to achieve. This reflection can reframe your mindset and increase your comfortability.
11. Know that you're not alone
Always remember that you aren't the only one going through a particular problem. Feeling like you are the only person going through your challenges can make one feel lonely and misunderstood. Know that there are many others who face the same or similar challenges you are facing, and that your therapist has the knowledge and expertise to help you through it.
12. Understand that therapy is a form of guidance
There is a myth that therapists tell you what to do. Many people resist going to therapy because they believe this myth. Therapists do not tell you what to do, nor do they give you advice. Therapists guide you to recognize and identify the things that will help you achieve your therapeutic goals.
13. Be honest
Holding back important information or being dishonest with your therapist is a detriment to your growth and progress. Being honest is vital to your journey and the therapist's journey in guiding you.
14. Be yourself
Transparency and vulnerability are important to the therapeutic process. It is important for the therapist to know you, understand you and see you. With this knowledge, the therapist can show up for you in the way you need it.
15. Tell the therapist you have trouble opening-up
Other than the core issues affecting your life, you will find a therapist can help you with challenges, such as difficulty opening up. Informing them of your difficulty with sharing will provide them with important insight. As a result, they can employ strategies aimed at building your confidence.
If you find opening up to a therapist challenging, you may also feel the same in other relationships. Working through this obstacle can benefit other relationships in your life.
16. Give it time
Know that the therapy process takes time. The early stages of therapy can feel uncomfortable. But as time goes by, you will become more at ease with your therapist and feel the relationship grow. With time and patience, you will find that the therapeutic relationship is a significant game changer.
Reasons you struggle with opening up to a therapist
One of the common reasons is the therapeutic relationship. A therapist can know everything about you. And you may know absolutely nothing about them except their first and last names. Such a relationship is complicated for most people. Because, as humans, we are obliged to share with a person only if it can be reciprocated.
As an individual, some fears can hold you back from opening up.
Fear of being misunderstood, judged, labeled, or rejected.
Afraid of being dismissed or considered an attention seeker.
Fear of sharing and the information landing in the wrong hands.
Being worried that your problem isn't serious or significant enough for therapy.
Afraid of giving the wrong answer or being misunderstood.
All these fears are valid. You should never be afraid of expressing these fears to your therapist. For example, you can tell your therapist that you are afraid of opening up because you feel that your problem is too small. Your therapist will explain that no problem is too small for therapy. As long as it's bothering you, we will sit down and discuss it.
Therapy knows no boundaries. You can discuss anything and everything. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to hold yourself back. Should you feel that the relationship between you and the therapist is taking too long to take off, you ought to consider switching to another.
Therapy is more effective when you open up
It's hard to be vulnerable with someone, especially if that person is a stranger. Nonetheless, therapy can significantly help with your mental health. Therefore, you need to let loose and share more. Combining the above tips can help you open up and reap more from therapy sessions.
Feel like talking to someone? Schedule a call and see what therapists are the right fit for you.