Therapy FAQ

Can You Overshare in Therapy? A Guide to Openness

Therapy is a safe haven where we can pour out our hearts and minds, seeking solace and guidance in the pursuit of healing. It’s a space where we confront our demons and lay bare our vulnerabilities, hoping to make sense of our lives and emerge stronger than ever.  But amidst the desire to be completely […]

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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Therapy is a safe haven where we can pour out our hearts and minds, seeking solace and guidance in the pursuit of healing. It’s a space where we confront our demons and lay bare our vulnerabilities, hoping to make sense of our lives and emerge stronger than ever. 

But amidst the desire to be completely open and honest, a question arises: can there be too much of a good thing? Is it possible to overshare in therapy, leading to potential pitfalls in the healing process? 

Unraveling the complexity of oversharing in therapy can help maximize the benefits of the therapeutic journey. By understanding the fine line between openness and overindulgence, we can empower ourselves to forge stronger connections with our therapists, cultivate deeper self-awareness, and, ultimately, foster a more effective and transformative therapeutic experience. 

What is Oversharing? 

By establishing a clear framework for what oversharing encompasses, we can better grasp this behavior’s nuances and potential consequences in various aspects of life, including personal relationships, social interactions, and even therapeutic settings. So, what exactly does oversharing mean, and how can we recognize it when it occurs? Let’s explore this definition to gain a comprehensive understanding.

Definition of Oversharing

Oversharing is characterized by disclosing an excessive and often unnecessary amount of personal information, extending beyond the context’s relevant boundaries. It involves divulging details that may not contribute to the intended purpose of the conversation or interaction. Oversharing can occur in various settings, including both within and outside of therapy sessions.

Oversharing in the therapeutic environment pertains to disclosing information that may not directly align with the therapeutic goals or the client’s progress. While therapy encourages openness, oversharing can inadvertently divert the focus from productive exploration and healing to unrelated tangents. 

Beyond the therapy room, oversharing manifests when individuals divulge intimate or personal details without considering the appropriateness of the context. In social interactions, oversharing can lead to discomfort or misunderstandings, potentially affecting relationships.

Oversharing looks different in individual therapy settings and group therapy settings. In a group therapy setting, oversharing may involve providing extensive details on traumatic events. This sort of sharing can lead to intense emotional responses in other group members and is generally discouraged unless the group can prepare in advance.

Understanding the dynamics of oversharing is crucial for maximizing the benefits of therapy and fostering healthy communication in all aspects of life. While sharing is a cornerstone of therapeutic progress, it’s important to recognize and understand when transparency might cross into oversharing territory. 

Oversharing vs. Sharing Sensitive Information

Navigating the line between openness and oversharing in therapy requires a nuanced understanding of what constitutes productive disclosure versus divulgence that may hinder progress. 

Oversharing can involve discussing mundane details that are unrelated to the therapeutic process. On the other hand, sharing sensitive information involves discussing personal matters that contribute to the therapeutic journey. This type of sharing aligns with treatment objectives and aids in self-exploration. 

Throughout the therapy journey, clients may naturally disclose past experiences, emotions, or thoughts that tie into their healing process. This gradual self-revelation fosters deeper understanding and insight, ultimately supporting the therapeutic goals.

Psychology Behind Oversharing

The psychology behind oversharing in therapy encompasses a range of factors, shedding light on why individuals might be prone to excessive disclosure. Attachment styles, such as anxious attachment, and certain diagnoses like ADHD, social anxiety, and borderline personality disorder (BPD) can influence one’s tendency to overshare. Outside of a traditional diagnosis, individuals struggling with low self-esteem can also have a tendency to overshare. 

Anxious attachment individuals may seek validation and connection, leading them to divulge more than intended. Meanwhile, conditions like ADHD might result in impulsive communication, causing clients to overshare before evaluating the relevance. 

BPD, marked by emotional dysregulation, could lead to oversharing as a coping mechanism to manage intense emotions. Additionally, anxiety disorders might prompt individuals to share excessively in an attempt to alleviate anxiety about being judged or misunderstood. 

By understanding these psychological factors, readers can begin to recognize potential triggers that increase the likelihood of oversharing, enabling them to approach therapy with greater self-awareness and introspection. 

According to Alan Deibel, LCPC, oversharing in his practice is often employed as an avoidance strategy, steering clients toward less uncomfortable topics. Christy Barongan, Ph.D. adds that some clients hesitate to share or practice honesty regarding their emotions and actions. Clients may also monopolize the conversation, leaving limited space for the therapist to contribute.

Oversharing in Therapy

Let’s now turn our attention to a series of examples to further illustrate the concept of oversharing and provide practical insight into its manifestations. These real-life instances will help us recognize the diverse scenarios where oversharing can occur, shedding light on how it can impact personal, therapeutic, and professional interactions. 

Examples of Oversharing in Therapy

Oversharing in therapy can look like:

Inappropriate detail: Providing an exhaustive description of your recent meal, including the ingredients and cooking techniques. This level of detail might not contribute to the therapeutic goals and can divert the session’s focus.

Unrelated personal stories: Narrating a lengthy and unrelated personal anecdote about a friend’s recent vacation without connecting it to your own experiences or therapeutic needs.

TMI (Too Much Information): Revealing explicit details of your intimate relationships without clear relevance to the therapeutic progress. This can lead to discomfort and divert the conversation from productive exploration.

Instant deep disclosure: During the very first session, you share highly traumatic experiences without building a foundation of trust within the therapeutic relationship. This can be overwhelming and may hinder progress before it starts.

Non-goal-oriented topics: Consistently talking about pop culture, hobbies, or unrelated current events without relating them to your emotions, thoughts, or therapeutic objectives.

Excessive focus on others: Spending a significant portion of the session discussing the personal lives and problems of others rather than exploring your own feelings and experiences.

Repetitive or tangential sharing: Repeatedly revisiting the same unrelated topic or going off on tangents, preventing meaningful progress in addressing your primary concerns.

Overemphasis on minor details: Fixating on minor, irrelevant details when discussing a significant life event, potentially avoiding the deeper emotional aspects that are crucial for therapeutic exploration.

Constantly seeking validation: Frequently seeking reassurance or validation for your thoughts or actions, leading to repetitive and unproductive discussions.

Focusing on external issues: Primarily discussing external factors or blaming others for your problems rather than delving into your internal thoughts, emotions, and patterns.

The Impact of Oversharing

Establishing a safe and constructive space where clients can engage in open and purposeful dialogue is central to therapeutic progress. Oversharing, however, can positively and negatively influence this process. 

On one hand, sharing personal experiences, even when extensive, can foster a sense of trust and vulnerability, thus strengthening the therapeutic alliance. The purpose of therapy is to allow space for individuals to engage in a caring and empathetic connection to help with chaos in their own lives.

When oversharing stands in the way of the treatment goals or it is used to deflect from topics necessary to cover.

- Alan Deibel, LCPC

On the other hand, excessive disclosure might lead to tangential conversations, sidetracking from the core therapeutic objectives. Alan Deibel, LCPC, says, “When oversharing stands in the way of the treatment goals or it is used to deflect from topics necessary to cover.” 

Conversely, Christy Barongan, Ph.D., emphasizes the importance of freely sharing in therapy while also depending on the therapist to set boundaries and redirect as needed. This intricate interplay between openness and oversharing underscores the delicate art of therapeutic communication.

Therapist Response to Oversharing

Understanding the therapist’s role in managing and responding to oversharing is integral to maintaining the efficacy of therapeutic sessions. 

Christy Barongan, Ph.D., sheds light on this crucial aspect, stating that therapists do want to set boundaries with their patients, “perhaps by saying things like, ‘Let me interrupt you for a second to ask you a question before you continue.’” These boundaries delineate the scope of conversation, ensuring that discussions remain aligned with the client’s therapeutic goals. 

Therapists aim to balance fostering a safe, non-judgmental environment for clients to share while preventing the session from derailing due to oversharing. Setting these boundaries involves verbal and non-verbal cues, helping clients comprehend the limits of productive sharing. 

Some therapists may try to gently interrupt the conversation to avoid diving too deep into traumatic stories as this can sometimes cause re-traumatization or panic attacks. This is not your therapist telling you they don’t care – rather, this is your therapist trying to protect you and the space you hold together.

Through these strategies, therapists can gently redirect conversations back to the therapeutic focus when oversharing occurs. The therapist’s role as a guide and facilitator becomes especially prominent in instances of oversharing as they navigate the fine line between fostering client expression and maintaining therapeutic progress.

How to Stop Oversharing in Therapy

Refraining from oversharing in therapy is a vital step toward creating a balanced and constructive therapeutic environment where clients can openly express themselves while maintaining the therapeutic boundaries necessary for growth and healing. 

Let’s explore some practical approaches and techniques that therapists and clients can employ to manage and reduce oversharing in the context of therapy.

Increasing Self-Awareness

Elevated self-awareness serves as a potent tool for navigating oversharing tendencies. By honing this skill, you can recognize when your sharing veers into oversharing territory. 

Increased self-awareness enables you to:

Assess relevance: You become better equipped to evaluate the significance of your disclosures, ensuring that what you share aligns with your therapeutic goals.

Pause and reflect: Self-awareness empowers you to pause before oversharing, allowing you to assess whether the information contributes to your healing process.

Manage impulses: With heightened awareness, you gain the ability to manage impulsive urges to share irrelevant details or excessively personal information.

Fine-tune communication: As you become attuned to your communication habits, you can fine-tune your ability to express yourself more effectively, focusing on insights that truly support your therapeutic journey.

Here are actionable tips to enhance self-awareness and its role in managing oversharing tendencies:

Engage in reflective practices: Dedicate time to journaling or introspective exercises encouraging self-reflection. Recording thoughts, feelings, and experiences helps better understand your emotional landscape and communication patterns.

Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, can heighten your awareness of thoughts and emotions as they arise. This heightened consciousness lets you recognize and manage the impulse to overshare in real-time.

Monitor your communication: Pay attention to your interactions outside of therapy. Observe whether you tend to overshare in everyday conversations as well. Identifying patterns in various contexts can provide insights into your natural tendencies.

Check your motivations: Ask yourself why you feel compelled to disclose a particular detail before sharing. Are you seeking validation, understanding, or simply venting? Understanding your motivations can help you gauge the relevance and appropriateness of sharing.

Recognize emotional triggers: Reflect on situations or emotions that prompt you to overshare. Becoming aware of the triggers that fuel excessive disclosure allows you to prepare strategies to manage these triggers in therapy.

Talking to Your Therapist About It

Initiating an open conversation with your therapist about oversharing tendencies can help your therapeutic progress toward your goals and deepen your therapeutic connection. Engaging your therapist in this dialogue sets a collaborative path for managing oversharing. Their insights and guidance are instrumental in devising strategies for purposeful and constructive sharing within the therapeutic context.

Tips for approaching this with your therapist include:

Direct Approach: Acknowledge the issue straightforwardly, saying, “I’ve noticed occasional oversharing in our sessions. I’d like to work on finding balance. Can we discuss strategies?”

Reflective Approach: Express self-awareness with, “Reflecting on our sessions, I’ve noticed a tendency to overshare. I’d appreciate guidance on navigating this better.”

Questioning Approach: Open a dialogue by asking, “I’m curious about dynamics around sharing and oversharing in therapy. How can we ensure my sharing aligns with goals?”

Stopping Yourself in the Moment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) offers valuable tools to address oversharing tendencies. Thought-stopping, a CBT technique, empowers individuals to recognize intrusive thoughts, such as the impulse to overshare and interrupt them. By employing thought-stopping, individuals can create mental space to evaluate the relevance of their disclosure. This technique enhances self-awareness, allowing individuals to differentiate between constructive sharing and oversharing. 

As people become adept at recognizing and redirecting these impulses, CBT equips them with the skills to communicate purposefully, ensuring that their conversations in therapy remain productive and aligned with their healing objectives. 

Dealing with the Aftermath

Reconciling with the aftermath of oversharing can increase feelings of shame and guilt. However, there are ways to manage the emotional impact of oversharing.

Here are some strategies for coping with the aftermath of oversharing:

Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Acknowledge that everyone experiences moments of oversharing, and it doesn’t define your overall progress.

Reflect with objectivity: Step back and objectively evaluate the oversharing incident. Recognize the triggers, emotions, and intentions behind it without self-judgment.

Accept imperfection: Understand that oversharing is a common human tendency. Embrace your imperfections and view them as opportunities for growth.

Learn from experience: Consider what you can learn from the oversharing episode. Reflect on how you can make more purposeful choices in future interactions.

Grow Therapy is Here to Help

In the pursuit of healing and self-discovery, therapy offers a sanctuary where we can freely share our innermost thoughts and emotions. However, as we’ve explored, there is a delicate balance between sharing and oversharing. 

Oversharing in therapy can potentially hinder our progress, disrupt the therapeutic alliance, and even impede our journey toward growth. To ensure we make the most of our therapeutic experience, it is crucial to understand the fine line between open communication and excessive divulgence. By cultivating self-awareness, we can begin to recognize patterns of oversharing and identify the underlying emotions driving this behavior. 

Through this heightened awareness, we can better navigate our therapeutic sessions, ensuring that the information we share aligns with our treatment goals and supports our healing journey.

Engaging in open dialogue with our therapists is equally important. Communicating our concerns about oversharing can foster a stronger therapeutic alliance, enabling the therapist to provide tailored guidance and support. 

Additionally, by learning thought-stopping techniques derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), we can develop strategies to halt oversharing in the moment, promoting healthier communication patterns and emotional regulation.

If oversharing proves challenging to manage independently, seeking the assistance of a qualified therapist from our therapist search tool can be a transformative step. A skilled therapist can help us explore the roots of our oversharing tendencies, address any underlying attachment styles or diagnoses that may contribute to this behavior, and guide us toward more effective and goal-oriented sharing practices.

FAQs

  • No. Although it can be extremely difficult to discuss things like childhood traumas and other painful experiences, it's important to be honest with your therapist. Lying to a therapist or mental health counselor is a waste of their time and yours. Plus, it can undermine the entire therapy process. If you feel the need to lie about something in therapy - it may be worth considering whether a different therapy may be a better fit for you; especially if the difficulty in sharing is coming from a fear of real or perceived judgment from the therapist.

  • Yes, the more honest you are with your therapist, the better. Just make sure it's relevant. Sharing intimate details about your roommate's dating life or other irrelevant topics won't help you reach your individual therapy goals.

  • Always. The more your therapist understands about your thoughts and feelings, the easier it will be for them to help you identify and overcome your mental health challenges.

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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