The Secret Life of a Family Therapist

Therapists are the keepers of secrets.

Within the process of therapy, clients often share knowledge that is very private and personal. They share their fears and anxieties, topics that are sometimes very hard to share openly with other people in our lives. The therapy room can be a safe place where people can take off the masks that they wear or to share thoughts and memories long kept hidden. A place where secrets can be shared and processed while still being kept safe.

Even before I began seeing clients, the significance of the secrets that people share in therapy was something that I was made keenly aware of throughout my education and training. Confidentiality is often a central theme in any therapy course, reinforcing the importance of protecting the private information shared with us by our clients. In addition there’s the importance of acknowledging the trust that clients are placing in us in sharing their stories as well as their courage in telling it. Even with all the checks and balances, sharing a story that has long been kept hidden can still be a significant challenge and as a therapist it’s always important to be reminded of this.

As therapists, not only are we responsible for honoring the secrets shared with us by our clients but in addition, we have the responsibility of guarding the secret of participating in therapy itself. The decision to attend therapy is often seen as very significant and often it’s a very private decision. In addition, there can be social stigma associated with attending therapy and sometimes the well meaning concern and curiosity of others in our lives can make it harder for clients to protect the content of their therapy work when their attendance is publicly known. This, I’ve discovered, is even more important in couple and family therapy work when different components of a family system can be involved in therapy at different times. Creating a safe and open space for dialogue is a central component of any therapy work and ensuring that clients are confident in the privacy of their work with you is of key importance to any therapist. Continue reading

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The Intimacy of Personal Space

I always had my own room as a kid. I was pretty lucky in that way that I didn’t have to share it with a sibling as some people did. It was really nice to have a place in my house that I could really call my own and that I had a lot of control over. The rest of the house was definitely my family’s house and the spaces were shared with other people and others dictated the rules surrounding it but in my room I was in charge. Well, as long as I kept it clean enough that my parents didn’t have to step in that is.

As I grew up, this space became an extension of my own identity. I organized it the way I wanted, I decorated it with pictures and posters and my favorite things.  It was a place where I could retreat if I wanted to be alone, a place I could go with friends where we wouldn’t be interrupted. I place that I could share with whomever I wanted and keep away from those I didn’t.

This pattern continued, as I got older and moved out of my parents home. Now the house was an apartment and was shared with roommates and friends instead of family but my room was still my own. I could decorate it as I liked without having to negotiate with others and people only came in if I wanted them to. It was still my place, where I could be me and no one could tell me different. Continue reading