Most clients I work with are pretty nervous on their first visit. It's completely understandable to feel nervous when showing up to talk to a complete stranger about your most private concerns- the kind of intimacy you never share with friends.
In my work I am often a secret holder. People come out to me, share abuse stories, tell me their deepest fears and their biggest insecurities. Things they have never and may never tell anyone else.
Trust is essential to effective therapy.
It is a deep honor for me personally to hold these secrets- but it is also critical to the healing work my clients come to me seeking. If they didn't feel safe telling me their most honest truths it would be really hard to make progress toward living a more authentic life.
Which is why confidentiality is central to my work as a therapist. I protect it in a number of ways:
I don't share the things you say in session with anyone outside our session.
First and foremost the things you say in session will always stay in session (unless you are going to hurt yourself or someone else or you ask me to share your records in a legal process). What you say to me stays with me.
It's that simple- your information is kept confidential. If you ever worry it might be compromised there are safeguards in place that can take away my right to do business. Therapy is protected by very high ethical standards.
I won't be your friend.
This is one strange part of my work. Unlike your doctor, who can come over for dinner if you invite her, we will never be friends. I won't follow or friend you on social media. I will ignore you if I see you in public. We'll never hang out.
It's a bummer, because so many of my clients are great people who I would befriend in a heartbeat in another life. But, because you hired me as your therapist, we can't be friends- partially to protect your confidentiality.
Imagine if you shared your secrets and then I have dinner with your family, or a lunch date with your friend- because I am a part of your friend circle. You might begin to wonder if I was sharing your information with others in our circle- and this would be a huge problem for our work.
So we won't be friends- because I am working for you. And in order to do that work, you need to be able to trust me- and I won't let anything compromise that trust.
But I will keep your secrets.
Gina Senarighi is a therapist in Portland Oregon specializing in positive psychology, living with integrity, building resilience, and strengthening relationships.