As a client in talk therapy, it can feel like there’s an unspoken boundary between you and your therapist concerning what questions you’re allowed to ask about their personal life. Can you ask them if they are married or single, or if they have kids, or about their political beliefs? Should you?
There’s no easy solution to this dilemma, and there’s definitely a line you don’t want to cross. You don’t want to make things weird with your therapist by prying into their personal life or pressing them for sensitive information — which is, admittedly, slightly ironic, given the candidness a client/therapist relationship requires from you. But it is possible to negotiate this boundary, and you have every right to do so.
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Having questions about your therapist is normal
You bare your soul to a therapist, so it’s natural that you might be curious about the specifics of who they are — their personal politics, their sexual orientation, if they believe in god, or any other number of questions. It’s also incredibly common to have a nagging curiosity about the person whose professional mandate is helping you overcome personal difficulty.
Randy Withers, a licensed mental health counsellor, has done some research into the matter, listing the most commonly searched questions that clients have about their therapists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of them pertain to the vocation of therapy and its ethics, but many of them have more to do with people’s anxiety concerning what their therapist thinks about them.
“Does my therapist like me?” and “does my therapist care about me?” were the the top two search queries. According to the men’s mental health and relationship expert, Justin Lioi, LCSW, this could be indicative of the client projecting certain insecurities onto their counsellor. Lioi tells Lifehacker that in his own experience, he will answer some personal questions, but he often, “prefer[s] to explore what the client imagines the answer is first and how the answer might colour our relationship moving forward if I do disclose.”
Beyond insecurities that may be gnawing at you, there are many more personal questions you should feel asking your therapist about themselves.
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‘Feel free to ask anything’
“The easy, quick answer is that the client can and should feel free to ask the therapist anything,” Lioi says.
For the most part, he suggests, you should take cues from the general tenor of your relationship with your therapist. If you have an easy rapport, asking personal questions might seem like any other conversation you’d have with a friend or acquaintance. If your interactions are more formal, questioning them might feel less natural. The time you’ve worked together is also a factor; you might feel more comfortable asking a personal question a year into a relationship, as opposed to a week, Lioi says.
But ultimately, it’s the therapist who dictates the parameters of what is an appropriate question and one that is too prying.
There are lots of reasons the client is asking the question. The good news is that the client doesn’t need to know where to draw the line — that’s going to come through the relationship with the therapist who will have their own boundaries.
Lioi believes the client-therapist relationship should remain within traditional boundaries, which is to say, the client should never be taking care of the counsellor. A therapist expounding upon their own burdens can be difficult for their clients, he says, especially if said client is prone to taking care of other people in their relationships.
Ultimately, Lioi notes, “there are very few hard rules to all of these issues, and self-disclosure is constantly discussed in therapy circles — what’s too much, what’s too little.” In the simplest terms, if there is a question you feel compelled to ask your therapist, you should ask it, and to see where the ensuing discussion takes you.