Is Therapy Safe?
Is Therapy Safe?
Written by Corry Hawkins, LCSW, Clinical Director of Kranz Psychological Services.
Many people are unsure if therapy is truly a safe place to share their personal information and problems. There are some legitimate reasons for these concerns. If you are seeking help for a problem that others in your life may react poorly to, it can understandably be difficult to then share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a therapist. Many fears about starting therapy include undesirable thoughts and feelings, substance use, abusive relationships, and problems with other people in the community. These often lead to shame and doubt about who to trust. Even external factors, such as immigration status and prejudice, can keep people from starting therapy when they desperately need the support.
With so many things to consider before starting therapy, is it really safe to start? Before you make a decision, it’s important to consider the benefits and risks of therapy, as well as what protections exist to keep you and your personal information safe.
Benefits and Risks
As with any form of treatment, mental health counseling and therapy has potential benefits and risks. Most often, people find themselves in therapy to work on problems, process past events, improve relationships, and improve their emotional and mental health. A safe, trusting relationship with a therapist is key to benefiting from therapy. Benefits include improvement in mood and a decrease in the symptoms that brought you to therapy in the first place. You can also learn new skills and develop a better understanding of yourself and others.
Of course, there are risks to mental health treatment. Bringing thoughts and feelings to the surface can be uncomfortable or upsetting. While it is rare, therapy can bring up thoughts of suicide or self-harm. If this happens, a therapist will support you during this time until you are able to cope again.
Cost can be a barrier for some to receiving long-term mental health care, as therapy can be costly without insurance. Many people fear being “labeled” with a diagnosis, but if you are using insurance to cover your therapy costs, most insurance providers require a diagnosis.
Perhaps the most common risk to getting therapy is that it simply does not help. Not all types of therapy is effective for all people. Remember, therapists are people too. So while you may not make much progress with one therapist, another therapist may be a great match for you. Keep trying and be honest if you feel it is not helpful. The possibility of healing almost always outweighs the risk of nothing changing at all.
If you have already started working with a therapist, then you have already heard the term “confidentiality.” Your therapist is required by ethical codes of conduct and state licensing boards to respect your privacy and protect confidential information. Confidential information includes personal or identifying information and anything shared in therapy, including that a person is receiving therapy. This is why many therapists will not acknowledge their clients in public.
As you can imagine, this allows for people to share more openly in therapy sessions than they may be able to in other areas of their lives. This is one of the reasons therapy can be so effective and beneficial. However, there are limits to confidentiality.
Don’t panic! They are not as concerning as you may think. Therapists and other mental health professionals are required to disclose confidential information when it is necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or others. There are many reasons throughout the history for this requirement, but put simply, therapists are required to keep you and others safe from harm. See? Not so bad?
There are other reasons someone may ask a therapist to share confidential information, such as testifying in court or releasing records to a medical professional. When a person wants their therapist to disclose information, they can ask them to do so and will have to sign a release of information form to allow the therapist to do so. If a therapist receives a court order for records or to present for court proceedings, they may be required by law to release information pertaining to the case. This is not always the case, so if you have concerns, talk with your therapist.
Reasons a Therapist May Break Confidentiality
When a client is a threat to themselves or others and breaking confidentiality is necessary to address this threat.
When there is reason to suspect child abuse or neglect, or the abuse or neglect of an elder or other dependent adult.
When a client has requested the therapist share information.
When the therapist receives a qualifying court order.
So is it safe to start therapy?
Often the possible benefits of improvement and healing outweigh the risks. Having the support of a licensed professional can give you perspectives and support that are often lacking when life becomes difficult. What is shared in therapy is protected, confidential information, only shared when it’s necessary to prevent harm. Your doubts, fears, and shame are safe to share between you and your therapist. Often what keeps us from starting therapy is just the fear of the unknown. So be honest with yourself and your therapist about what is troubling you and work through it together. That’s what therapists are for!