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How to Ask Awkward Questions and Handle Uncomfortable Situations in Therapy

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Awkward situations are uncomfortable, but they happen, even in therapy. No matter how strong your therapeutic relationship is with your therapist, you may end up having some uncomfortable questions for them. Or, you may experience some awkward feelings and moments around therapy. 

This is a normal part of your therapeutic journey, and you should feel comfortable talking to your therapist about these things. Here, we share some common awkward questions you may have while in therapy and how to best handle them. 

Can I ask my therapist about their life? 

It’s normal to wonder about your therapist — you’re sharing personal information and experiences with them, so it makes sense to want to know more about their life and experiences. It’s okay to ask your therapist about their life. Any questions you have in therapy are valid and are likely relevant to the therapeutic process. 

Whether your therapist answers the question and shares personal information can depend on their individual personality, philosophy, and approach to your treatment. If they choose not to answer your question, they may still explore its significance with you. 

Therapists are people and go through life experiences just like you, but that’s not what makes therapy work. Having a strong relationship with your therapist that’s built on trust and openness is key, as it allows you to feel comfortable sharing your personal challenges and enables you to feel comfortable working on them with your therapist. So if you want to ask your therapist about their life, ask away. Just trust that they have your best interests and goals at heart when they decide whether or not to answer it. 

Can my therapist and I get coffee?

Just like any other relationship in your life, your relationship with your therapist grows the more you talk and spend time with them. You may wonder if at a certain point it would be okay to have a therapy session over coffee at a local coffee shop, or even grab coffee together before a session. While this sounds like an appropriate activity to do with someone you see and talk to frequently, most therapists won’t agree to get coffee with you. 

This decision is based on protecting your confidentiality. Therapy sessions should be private and confidential, so your therapist likely won’t agree to have a session with you in a coffee shop, or any other public place. Most therapists believe your confidentiality could also be compromised if you were to get coffee in public together, even outside of a session. Here’s why.

You may see someone you know at the coffee shop, and they may ask to be introduced to your therapist — or you may feel obligated to introduce them. Now, this person knows you’re in therapy, and it may not be something you want to share with them. Ultimately, your confidentiality would no longer be protected. 

Getting coffee with your therapist could also weaken the therapeutic relationship, as their role in your life is to be your therapist and focus only on helping you reach your goals, rather than engaging in casual conversation outside of therapy sessions. 

How should I act if I run into my therapist in public? 

One day you’re out getting groceries, and just as you turn down the cereal aisle, you see your therapist. What do you do? Do you say hello, or ignore them? Should you wait for them to say hello to you? 

It’s important to know that your therapist will always be thinking of your confidentiality if they see you in public. This is why they may wait for you to acknowledge them first. If you don’t approach them and say hello, your therapist may pretend not to see you in order to protect your confidentiality. 

That being said, you can say hello to your therapist in public — there are no rules saying you can’t. However, your therapist is likely to limit your in-person interactions outside of therapy to — you guessed it — protect your confidentiality.  Limiting public interactions with clients helps protect your therapist’s privacy, too. They don’t want your therapeutic relationship to weaken due to casual conversation that may disclose too much of their personal information. 

Whether you talk to your therapist in public or choose to ignore them, it’s perfectly fine to bring it up in your next session with them, especially if what you were doing or how you were feeling in that moment has relevance to your therapy journey. 

Can I get my therapist a gift?

Your therapist helps you overcome deeply personal challenges, so it’s normal to want to give them a gift to thank them for their help. Whether your therapist accepts a gift from you will depend on if the gift could potentially harm or have a negative impact on your therapeutic relationship.  

Some therapists have a “no gift policy”. However, other therapists choose to make a judgment on whether to accept a gift from a client on a case-by-case basis. If you’d like to get your therapist a gift, you can ask them how they feel about it beforehand to see if it’s something they’re comfortable accepting. 

What do I do if I’m attracted to my therapist? 

If you have a strong therapeutic relationship with your therapist, you feel comfortable sharing personal information with them, trust them, and look to them to help you overcome difficult situations and feelings. You’ve built a strong connection with them, and you could find yourself growing attracted to them. 

This may feel uncomfortable, unexpected, and out of the ordinary. However, experts say experiencing some kind of attraction toward your therapist is normal. 

Being attracted to your therapist isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s something you should talk to them about if you feel that it’s affecting your progress in therapy or simply something you want to work through. 

Before the conversation, you may want to think about why you may feel attracted to your therapist — are you feeling unloved by important people in your life? Is your therapist standing in for other people in your life you want a loving relationship from? Is your therapist fulfilling an unmet need? 

Talk to your therapist about these feelings. With this information, they can help you understand where the attraction may be coming from. 

Ethically, your therapist cannot have a personal relationship with you. And there are times when talking about these feelings can get in the way of your progress in therapy. In those situations, it might be a good idea to find a new therapist. SonderMind can help connect you with a new therapist if you feel that’s the best decision for your therapy journey. 

Can my therapist be my friend after therapy? 

It’s a fundamental rule in psychotherapy that therapists maintain appropriate boundaries between themselves and their clients. But what about former clients? 

Many psychologists follow ethical guidelines of having no relationships with former clients for at least two years. Even after two years, some therapists may choose not to have friendships with former clients. Here’s why:

Given the nature of the therapeutic relationship, your therapist knows so much about you, but you don’t know much about them at all. Pursuing a friendship with them could set you up for disappointment.

The more you get to know your therapist outside of a professional relationship, you may find they have different views, interests, or even a different personality than you expected.

They might not meet your expectations as a friend, and this could affect your well-being.

In addition to having to navigate confusing and disappointing feelings, you may inadvertently develop doubts or even have resentment toward your therapist’s past advice or opinions, and question what you learned in therapy. 

That’s why your therapist will continue to put your well-being first and not agree to a friendship with you at any point in your therapy journey. 

How do I ask my therapist if they’ve treated people like me? 

You can and should ask your therapist questions about their professional experience, especially in your first few sessions to see if they’re the right fit. 

You can ask them if they’ve helped people with the same mental health challenges as you, and you may also want to ask them about their strengths as a therapist, and how those strengths would apply to your mental health condition. 

Your therapist will never share their experiences treating other clients, as they are required to keep all sessions confidential. They can, however, tell you about the mental health conditions they have experience treating. 

Asking awkward or uncomfortable questions can help you make progress in therapy 

Awkward questions and situations are bound to come up in therapy, but they are all part of the journey. It’s important to feel comfortable asking your therapist questions so you can build trust and a strong relationship with them, which will ultimately help you reach the goals you’ve set out to accomplish in therapy. Even if you feel a little embarrassed asking awkward questions, your therapist will always be there to answer them and help you discuss their significance.

Last Updated:
Published:
First Published:
September 1, 2022

Sources: 

Bratskeir, K. (2018, January 8). What to do if you’re attracted to your therapist. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/crush-attraction-to-therapist_n_5c2f82a6e4b05c88b708bc86

Bunch, E. (2021, July 23). Your therapist helped you survive a challenging time — is it okay to give them a gift? Well+Good. https://www.wellandgood.com/therapist-a-thank-you-gift/

Fagan, A. (2022, January 14). Is it ok to ask a therapist personal questions? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-therapy-center/202201/is-it-ok-ask-therapist-personal-questions

Gold, J. (2019, July 16). Can you ever be friends with your former therapist? Self. https://www.self.com/story/friends-with-former-therapist

Kolod, S. (2017, September 14). Sorry, your therapist can’t be your friend. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychoanalysis-unplugged/201709/sorry-your-therapist-can-t-be-your-friend

Reidbord, S. (2010, December 24). Should therapists accept holiday gifts? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sacramento-street-psychiatry/201012/should-therapists-accept-holiday-gifts

Soeiro, L. (2017, November 21). What happens when you run into your therapist on the street? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/i-hear-you/201711/what-happens-when-you-run-your-therapist-the-street

Steinberg, J. (2015, May 13). Why your therapist won’t have coffee with you. Through the Woods Therapy Center. https://www.throughthewoodstherapy.com/dual-role-relationships/

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