Mercedes Brookins
Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor

Imagine you’re scrolling through social media and you see your therapist, and they’re complaining about your session earlier that day because you were “trauma dumping.” Unfortunately, this is someone’s reality. A therapist on TikTok under the handle @sidequesttherapy posted to their account saying, “when your client wants to trauma dump on the first session” with the caption, “Not happening under my watch ever again.”

As a therapist would say, there’s a lot to unpack here. First, let’s look at the term  “trauma dumping;” it was created to address people giving unsolicited information about their trauma or emotional baggage to others. This term might be used if you suddenly told your friend about your childhood trauma with no warning or context. This friend might be considered the “therapist friend,” another commonly-used term on social media, describing a friend who always listens to their other friends’ issues, but has no one to listen to theirs. It is important to balance being able to talk to someone, not pushing the boundaries of that friendship, and making sure to communicate if they have the energy to discuss your issues. The difference between a friend and a therapist is that a therapist is paid to listen to your emotional baggage. Personally, if I saw my therapist roasting me on TikTok, I think my mental health would deteriorate. It isn’t good for a therapist to disclose anything in reference to a patient, let alone to complain about them publicly.

Your therapist is actually there to listen to your trauma, emotional baggage, or anything going on in your life that you think is important to your healing process. So you can’t ‘trauma dump’ on your therapist during a therapy session — if you see them outside of your session and corner them about your issues, that’s another story. When they are on the clock, however, it really should be your time. Resistance is a way of pushing against the therapeutic process; one example of this is waiting until the end of your therapy session to talk about what’s really been going on with you. Resistance may be the closest you ever get to “trauma dumping” on your therapist, which, according to psychology professor and licensed therapist in the field for 15 years, Patricia Pint, can be healthy, as it shows a sign of development, and tells the therapist that they hit something. Pint also says that, as a therapist, you are trained on how to hold that space when a patient is unpacking their trauma. Pint, who, although she sees anyone, specializes in helping  LGBTQIA+ patients as a whole, continues stating that you can have vicarious traumatization, but that’s only if you, as the therapist, are not managing and facilitating that trauma, and setting those boundaries. She also states that patients with “heavy trauma often acknowledge there’s another person in the room,” meaning the patient themselves often help in the facilitating of their trauma, even at a subconscious level.

Often, the first therapy session is your therapist asking you “what brings you here,” in which, if you are there to work out your trauma, you should do so. Professor Pint explained that the first therapy session is all about framing; this is where you and your therapist discuss the days, times, and frequency of your meetings, and go over confidentiality and HIPPA. According to Professor Pint, framing is all about setting up boundaries, and she said it is very important for the therapist to go back and tighten the frame. You should also know you don’t have to share everything with your therapist, but it’s perfectly fine to do so. There is no right or wrong way to heal in therapy.

As someone who has been in and out of therapy myself over several years, I know the structure of therapy sessions pretty well. I know what has helped me most in therapy, and what hasn’t, and, fortunately for me, I have had really good therapists. I have needed extra reassurance in therapy due to a lot of lack of that in my life. Sometimes, I have apologized to my therapists for sharing what I considered too much, or for changing the subject to something else I wanted to talk about. My therapists have always reassured me that it is okay to talk about what I want to talk about, and that I couldn’t share “too much.” It is important for anyone considering going to therapy to remember that your therapist should be patient and understanding with you. If you go off subject or feel more quiet or more talkative, none of this is wrong in therapy, and there is actually very little wrong you can do in therapy. The most important thing is to feel like you are making progress.

The therapist known as @sidequesttherapy on TikTok has since been getting negative attention on TikTok and Twitter, has deleted many of their videos, and gone private on the platform as well. I definitely agree with the negative feedback, as your therapist should want the best for your healing journey and shouldn’t be complaining about you on social media. Simply put, some therapists shouldn’t be therapists. 

There is something to be said about the culture, community, and stigma of mental health. Stories like these would deter young people from seeking help. The stigma around mental health already makes it more difficult for people to go out of their way to get help. There is a lack of education about mental health. A lot of people dismiss mental health/illnesses as something that does not need to be treated, is not that important, or altogether deny that mental illnesses exist. People assume that, since mental health isn’t physical, it is not as important to take care of — but it is extremely important and can, in fact, impact your physical health as well. For example, men’s mental health is not taken as seriously because they are taught to never show emotion, so a lot of men tend to bottle everything up. I have also personally noticed in minority communities that parents and family members do not often understand when their child has a mental illness. Besides this, there is just an overall stigma about mental health that makes it extremely hard for people to open up about or get help with.

Apparently, a lack of education on mental health is also present in the therapy community. More and more people are majoring in psychology, and I believe some people therapy as a back-up plan. Some people get a psychology degree just to have it, not knowing what they want to do, and then become a therapist. This is where being passionate about what you do comes in. Those who are not passionate about helping other people and who lack emotional intelligence just should not be therapists. You should be able to tell your therapist wants to help you in whatever way you need help, they should never make you feel bad for seeking the help you need. According to Professor Pint, “you [the therapist] have to meet the patient where they are.”

For anyone considering going to therapy, remember that your therapist should be there for you, and should treat you in a way that is best for you. Different therapists treat and help in different ways, and may specialize in a variety of issues as well. Professor Pint says that finding a therapist that is a good fit for you is very important, and you shouldn’t feel bad about hurting your therapist’s feelings or ego. She also said that that just because they’re a therapist doesn’t mean they’re right for you, and that if you don’t feel a connection with your therapist during the first session, it is more than okay to “shop around.” Some things to look for in a therapist is good rapport and trust, stating “if you don’t feel that way, walk away;” you should trust your initial instincts. Professor Pint noted that there will be a difference in the language and tools used in each specialization of a therapist; for example, a therapist who specializes in substance abuse will be different from a therapist who specializes in LGBTQIA+ youth.  If your therapist isn’t compatible, and you aren’t as comfortable with them, then you should get a new therapist, or discuss another form of treatment. Don’t give up on your journey to getting better just because one therapist didn’t work out! If your therapist does say that you are trauma dumping, don’t be afraid to dump them. 

Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus

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