‘Ah, so now you tell me,’ says the therapist to their patient, at the very end of a session.
Welcome to the doorknob confession, a colloquial term used by therapists to describe the infuriating moment when a patient drops a bomb, so to speak, on their way out of the room.
It’s a common occurrence, given therapists have named the experience, and it might reveal something about the patient’s thoughts and feelings.
Even on TikTok it’s become a source of tongue in cheek comedy, as memes circulate around therapists ‘reactions’ to doorknob confessions.
Caroline Plumer, psychotherapist at CPPC London, says: ‘As the name suggests, a doorknob confession is a piece of major information a client shares just as the session comes to an end, or even as they are leaving the room.
‘It is often very personal in nature and potentially crucial to the therapy process.’
Perhaps this is why it’s avoided until the last second.
‘Unloading your deepest, darkest fears and secrets to a near stranger (or anyone) can be hugely stressful and scary,’ Caroline explains.
‘There are often feelings of shame, the worry of judgement and even the concern that we are somehow beyond help.
‘If we share and nothing improves or our therapist can’t help us, then all of that vulnerability is seemingly for nothing.
‘It may take the entire session (or even weeks or months of sessions) for the client to not only feel they can trust the therapist and build rapport, but also to work up the courage to say the thing that is on their mind.’
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By making a last minute confession, you may experience some relief that you’ve got what needs to be said off your chest, but Caroline warns you’re also avoiding dealing with it.
‘Effectively, they have bought themselves some time before they must speak about it again and in more depth,’ she says.
‘If they decide talking about it is too unbearable, they can also opt to not return for the following session, meaning they do not need to face it at all.’
Of course, therapists want to hear these emotionally difficult things and work through them, but there’s understanding that it’s not always easy to bring them to the light.
However, it’s best to avoid doing this in sessions in order to get the most out of them.
There are things to keep in mind to avoid doing doorknob confessions and find ways into the information quicker.
Caroline says: ‘It is worth deciding what, ultimately, you want to get out of therapy and what information you will need to provide in order to meet your aims.
‘Remember that a therapist is there to help you, not judge you, and if you do feel judged by your therapist, or just don’t gel with them, you are well within your rights to raise this or find an alternative therapist.
‘Your therapist will also have heard all sorts of things and worked with all sorts of people – in general we are very hard to shock.
‘So, while we completely appreciate how hard it is for you to share your story, and we are so grateful when someone trusts us with their struggles, there is very little we haven’t heard before in some shape or form.’
She recommends writing down your thoughts and reading them out if they feel too tricky to bring up otherwise, and to spend time before a session considering what you’ll struggle to say.
‘It’s okay to tell your therapist there’s something you want to talk about but are struggling to find the words – they can help make it easier,’ Caroline adds.
‘Even owning that there is something you want to share but feel nervous about can be helpful and your therapist may be able to offer some strategies or reassurance.’
There’s nothing wrong with a doorknob confession, but you might find talking about the bigger issues earlier on in the session helpful.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
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