What to Do if You Meet Your Therapist on the Street
When in therapy there are several common fears that many people have – the fear of their secrets being revealed, being judged by their counsellor, or bumping into them when out in public. Maybe your friends and family don’t know that you go to therapy, and you don’t want to tell them. Seeing your counsellor on the street could make you feel embarrassed or worried that those around you will discover your secret. But it shouldn’t worry you; knowing how to act if you see your therapist outside the working environment can help you feel more relaxed.
An important thing to remember is that manners do not matter when it comes to your counsellor. You have no obligation to acknowledge them, approach them or talk to them. You shouldn’t worry that you will appear rude, or fret that they might approach you. If you do bump into them, these following tips can help you to understand how to avoid embarrassment or damaging the comfort you feel in your sessions.
The Decision is Yours
Whether or not you acknowledge your therapist on the street is entirely up to you. Counsellors will steer clear of greeting you unless you indicate that this is okay. The last thing they want is to cause you any upset or embarrassment. Based on the time, place and people, some situations may make it harder for you to speak to your counsellor out in public. You may be happy to exchange a few words if you see them in the gym alone, but while food shopping with your family you could feel more uncomfortable. If it reassures you, feel free to let them know when you first meet them that your family and friends aren’t aware that you are in therapy. There is never any judgement and if you want to walk past them on the street without saying hello, that is completely fine.
However, if you do greet each other, then they will do their best to put you at ease. The conversation will often be kept short and friendly. Counsellors will know what to look for to see if you are uneasy or nervous and may end the conversation quickly to spare further anxiety.
They Never Talk About Therapy
Your therapist will never bring up any of the topics discussed in your sessions in a public setting. They want to avoid talking about anything that will make you feel uncomfortable, upset or agitated. The issues and situations that brought you to therapy are sensitive and personal and should always be kept in a professional setting. Even if you are tempted to mention any incidents that have happened since your last session, it is better to wait until you are there as you never know who is listening to you and your counsellor may feel unable to discuss the situation properly.
Moreover, the therapist’s office is an environment you are used to and is a safe and secure place to unload. Speaking freely can come easier there, and you don’t want to disrupt this by talking about issues on the street.
Don’t Feel Obliged to Introduce Others
If you are with friends or family and see your therapist on the street, you don’t need to introduce them. You may not want them to know that you are going to therapy. Or maybe you just don’t want to explain to your friends or family what the issues or situations are that led you to seek professional help. Either way, you don’t have to feel compelled to make introductions if you meet in passing. It is common for people to feel that they have to make introductions as they want to remain polite and conform to usual social standards, but you shouldn’t feel any expectation to do this when dealing with your counsellor.
If you do decide to acknowledge your therapist, this doesn’t mean you have to explain how you know them. You can refer to them as a ‘friend’ or as an ‘acquaintance’ if you feel you need to explain yourself. This can help you to avoid revealing anything to friends and family.
Debrief the Encounter at Therapy
Maybe something was said or happened during the encounter that worried or scared you. Or perhaps you are just confused as to why you acknowledged your counsellor in the manner you did. The best way to understand how you can and should respond, or even why you responded in such a certain way, is by speaking to them about it. In your next therapy session, be sure to debrief the encounter. Explain how it made you feel and I’m sure that they will ease your concerns and help you to understand their behaviour.
Don’t Feel Ashamed
The most important thing to remember when encountering your counsellor on the street is that you shouldn’t feel ashamed. Often people like to keep their public appearance and their therapy sessions completely separate from one another. So, if you see your therapist in public, it can feel like an invasion into your private life. These encounters are very rare, but when they do happen, you shouldn’t feel threatened or worried.
Going to therapy isn’t something to be ashamed of. You are seeking expert help for a private issue or situation which has brought difficulty into your life. Other people find expert help in the form of doctors and lawyers. A therapist is just a professional helping you to understand your feelings and behaviour. While you may want to keep your therapy a secret from friends and family, you don’t have to be ashamed of yourself or feel exposed when you see your confidante outside the office.
A lot of people worry that they may bump into their counsellor on the street, but the likelihood of this happening is incredibly slim. Therapy can be a necessary first step on the road to recovery, and your decision to tell your loved ones is yours alone. Should you happen to see your therapist out and about, remember that you have no obligation to acknowledge them or, if you do, to have a long and ongoing conversation. Keep it short and sweet or just walk away. If you are considering therapy and are looking for someone with experience and an approachable personality that can put you at ease, contact me today for more information.