8 Uncomfy Things That Are Totally Normal to Talk About in TherapyWhat you say in therapy stays in therapy.
It can be intimidating to divulge dark stuff you’d rather forget (like cheating or suicidal thoughts) to a therapist. But bringing up the random shit that makes you cringe, like the sporadic visual of you punching a baby, isn’t any easier.
It’s valid to feel weird (maybe even embarrassed) about disclosing all this stuff, but it’s a therapist’s job not to judge you, says relationship therapist Erica Turner, LMFT. That means you can basically talk to your therapist about anything. “Our job is to literally hold your experiences without shame, without judgment, to remain curious, to remain empathetic,” she promises.
That’s cool and all, but, aside from the potential judgery, you might feel like discussing those dark or random things is pointless. Say you’ve been navigating depression with your therapist and aren’t sure if it makes sense to bring up your out-of-the-blue attraction to your best friend. Even if something seems off-topic or NBD to you, if it’s messing with the way you show up in the world or invades your brain more often than you’d like, your therapist wants to know about it. Worst-case scenario is they don’t feel equipped to address that particular issue and they refer you to a specialist who can offer more help, says certified sex therapist Donna Oriowo, PhD, LICSW, MEd.
In case you need more convincing, we talked to mental health pros about the things their clients are often nervous to discuss but 100% can (and should) bring into the room. Consider this permission to let it all out, friends.
1. Intrusive thoughts
The uncomfy brain montage of you and a stranger making out? Weird! But, also, it’s normal. Bizarre ideas like that can pop into your head even if you don’t want those things to happen or truly have no idea where they came from, says psychotherapist Chris Trondsen, LMFT. And your therapist wants to hear about it—especially if it’s bothering you.
When you broach the subject, you can be as specific as you want about the intrusive thoughts. If you’re uncomfortable saying them out loud, you can always write them down, suggests licensed therapist Jessica Shoflick, LCSW. If that’s still too much, just talk about how they’re affecting you so your therapist can help you deal, notes Trondsen. They’ll be able to remind you that you are not your thoughts and thinking something isn’t the same thing as doing it, he says.
Talking about sex can feel embarrassing as fuck (heh). But therapists have literally heard it all, says Dr. Oriowo. Therapy’s supposed to help you create a life that feels good, and, for a lot of people, sex is part of that, agrees certified sex therapist Shadeen Francis, LMFT.
If you’re still unsure, you can start by asking if sex is a topic your therapist is fine talking about, says Francis. For example, you can say, “I might want to ask you about some sex fantasies I’ve been having. Is that OK?” From there, if they’re down, your therapist can help you unpack it all. They might empower you to release the shame you feel, notes Francis. Or, they can help you figure out what to do about an issue.
3. Race-based concerns
If you’ve experienced microaggressions or any other discrimination based on what you look like, you might be nervous to talk about it in therapy. Sometimes that’s because, in the past, someone told you that you’re being sensitive for calling it out or you internalized it as “not a real problem,” says Dr. Oriowo. You also may hesitate to bring it up if you think your therapist can’t relate, she says.
Still, if you’re comfortable talking about it, a mental health pro can help you unpack the ways colorism and texturism impact your life and relationships, Dr. Oriowo says. “We have been taught that certain people should be devalued based on what the color of their skin is or what the texture of their hair is,” she says. “So in doing the work to unravel the messages that they have internalized about themselves and learning about beauty diversity, they can start to feel better about themselves.”
4. Cheating on a partner
If Scandoval taught us anything, it’s that people hate cheaters. So it’s no wonder you’d be nervous to bring your own infidelity up in therapy. Though, if you don’t, you might be missing out on some helpful or even healing insights from your mental health pro.
To bring it up, you can start broad and let the therapist ask the followups, says Turner. They’re not going to boo you or refuse to meet with you ever again. They’ll help you get to the bottom of why you cheated, which could be seeking excitement or feeling disconnected from your partner, she notes. Whatever it was, they’ll help you explore that and what you want to do about it, she says.
5. Suicidal ideation
Having thoughts about not wanting to be alive is probably not something you’re thrilled to admit, but it’s intel your therapist will want to know. Depending on what you’re comfortable with, you can lead with something vague like, “I’ve been having suicidal thoughts,” or, “I’ve been thinking about not wanting to be alive anymore,” suggests Turner. Of course, you can be more specific with, “I wish I wouldn't wake up,” but it’s ultimately on your therapist to ask what’s going on, she says. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get the words right.
Your therapist will likely help you come up with a game plan for staying safe when you have those thoughts, aka a safety plan, says Turner. You might jot down friends and family who always know what to say or how to listen, things that calm you or distract you in the moment, or crisis hotlines to call, she explains.
A mental health pro will also help you suss out your triggers and how to deal, Turner adds. Instead of staying in a spiral, you might plan to go for a walk, journal, or talk to a friend. If your trigger is past trauma, your therapist can help you “bring your brain and body into the present so you are no longer reacting to the situation you already have escaped from,” notes licensed therapist Alo Johnston, LMFT.
FYI: If you’re worried that bringing this up will result in a one-way ticket to mandatory hospitalization, here’s some helpful info on how to talk about suicidal ideation in therapy and what might lead a therapist to break confidentiality and act on your behalf.
Oftentimes people blame themselves or think their therapist will judge them for past or ongoing abuse, Turner says. You might also believe that talking about it will get the abuser in trouble, she adds. (Just so you know, elder and child abuse are typically the only cases of abuse that therapists are required to report, Turner says. Anything other than that would be breaking confidentiality.)
Because of all of these complicated feelings, it takes a lot of trust to talk about being intentionally harmed physically, emotionally, or sexually, Turner notes. But when you’re ready to bring it up, do it in whatever way feels safe for you, she says. “Therapy, for better or for worse, is a place to bring your pain and to be seen as worthwhile and whole and to have someone hold possibility and hope for your healing,” assures Francis.
7. Financial issues
Money struggles can stir up tons of shame and stigma. That can make it difficult to talk to your therapist about financial problems, says Johnston. But therapy can help you process those hard feelings and confront the practical issues. Your therapist can also clue you in on what fears are stopping you from talking about money with other people, like your partner, says Johnston. The convos might still be hard to have, but you can learn to manage them.
It can also be awkward to bring up your ability to pay for therapy with your therapist, says Johnston. But, instead of just ignoring it and ghosting when it gets too expensive, talk about it. See if they’re willing to work with you. You could say, “I don't have a job anymore, but I’d like to continue seeing you. Can we work something out?" he suggests. It’s worth a shot!
8. Issues you have with therapy—or your therapist
Sometimes a therapist might say something you don’t like. You might even feel like therapy’s run out of juice and isn’t helping you anymore. It can seem awkward, but a mental health pro can’t help you if you’re not being fully honest about how it’s going.
When it comes to correcting their assessments, you can say, “By the way, that’s not what I meant,” or, “I actually think something else is going on,” says Johnston. If confrontation freaks you out, you can email your therapist rather than say this in person, says Dr. Oriowo. Or, you can try a “sandwich” approach, where you put your feedback between two nice statements, suggests Shoflick. That could sound like, “Hey, it’s been great having your support, but I feel X way when you say Y to me. I’m grateful for the space you’ve given me to be so open, but I wanted to tell you that.” However you give feedback, “this is an opportunity to address issues directly and try new skills with someone who wants to do that work with you,” Johnston says.
You can also break up with your therapist if things aren’t going great or you don’t think you need them anymore. Usually, your therapist should be checking in with you anyway, and they know they won’t be with you forever, assures Dr. Oriowo. Use the last 15 minutes of a session to bring this up with something like, “I’m thinking about maybe not coming to therapy anymore. I’m feeling OK and don't think that I need it,” she suggests. Then, you’ll probably chat about how you came to this decision and if this should be your final session, she notes. There’s no shame in saying goodbye!
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.