If you’re on the therapy side of TikTok, you may have seen a viral video posted by therapist Ilene Glance that garnered so much backlash that she’s since deleted her account, @sidequesttherapy.
Glance titled the clip “When a client wants to do a traumatic dump on the first session” and captioned it “It will never happen again on my watch.”
Unsurprisingly, many other therapists (and people in general) posted their own videos in response, talking about how problematic and hurtful his post was and wondering why Glance would seemingly belittle a client for talking about their traumatic experiences.
“Trauma dumping” is a buzzword on Twitter and an online breakout term, according to Google Trends. It describes “when a person, uninvited, shares or ‘throws away’ highly personal, emotionally charged, trauma-based or story-based information about someone who is not a willing recipient,” said Kelly Kellerman, Certified Clinical Social Worker at Thriveworks. in Michigan, who added, “This is also called oversharing.”
“It’s not the same as talking about something that bothers you, like dating someone or having a difficult boss,” said Billie Katz, licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“When we discuss trauma with someone who is not professionally prepared or trained, we risk they may act or react in a way that further triggers the speaker and unknowingly reinforces the trauma they went through,” Katz explained.
Sharing is important, however, because trauma is something we need the support of others to deal with. We can’t just drag it under the rug. So where is the balance between healthy sharing and unnecessary sharing?
“Therapy is the only space where you don’t have to censor your trauma.”
– Tasha Bailey, therapist
“It’s a good thing to find people to share our trauma with, because connection builds safety, which allows us to heal from that trauma,” said Tasha Bailey, therapist and content creator who specializes in trauma. “However, it’s important to both of you that the receiver is ready and willing to support you in this task.”
With your therapist, it’s their job to listen when you talk about your trauma, despite what may have been implied in the viral TikTok video. There really shouldn’t be any “trauma discharge” in a therapy session.
“Therapy is the only space where you don’t have to censor your trauma,” Bailey said. “Sometimes the therapist may need to help the client slow down the narrative so the work can happen on a deeper level, but essentially all trauma is welcome. Therefore, trauma dumping does not exist in therapy.
Don’t believe those who suggest you should censor yourself in therapy.
What’s particularly concerning about Glance’s TikTok video is that a therapist’s apparent disregard for a client’s trauma could deter many people who aren’t in therapy from getting the necessary treatment. A study in psychological medicine found that stigma is one of the main reasons people avoid seeking help.
“It’s so incredibly dangerous because people who go through traumatic events should look for mental health professionals,” Katz said. “The viral TikTok video insinuates that this type of in-session sharing is ‘wrong’ and ‘wrong’, which may lead some viewers to withhold their trauma for fear of trauma dumping.”
According to a study in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, traumatic life events are associated with suicidality, particularly in men. Additionally, trauma – especially when left unresolved – can lead to serious challenges. such as eating disorders and self-harm.
“If a therapist doesn’t have the skills, training, and supervision to handle receiving information from a client, they shouldn’t be working with people who have experienced trauma,” Kellerman said. “It’s heartbreaking to think that a therapist would say things that would stop people from seeking help or further reinforce shame and judgment because of what they’ve been through.”
It’s a double whammy. “Many trauma survivors take on caring roles in their normal lives, caring for other people in the way they would want to be cared for before or during their traumatic experience,” Bailey said. . “This video could potentially inspire some clients to take on caregiver roles with their therapist for fear of overburdening them.”
Here’s how to talk about trauma in therapy.
Sharing your trauma in therapy is undoubtedly a difficult experience. You may worry about your therapist’s reaction, think you’re screwing up, or look for signs that he’s judging you. But you don’t need to be discouraged.
“Feelings aren’t always crisp and clean; sometimes it’s a messy process,” Kellerman said. “None of us, not even the therapists, shared our feelings or experiences perfectly every time.”
Your therapist can understand what you are going through first hand. “They receive regular supervision and many go to therapy themselves,” Bailey said. “Therefore, you don’t need to worry about your therapist. Instead, let them take care of you.
“If you don’t feel comfortable opening up – yes, even emptying out – to your therapists, you won’t get what you need from the process.”
Making sure you’ve found the right therapist can help. If your therapist makes you feel like you’re sharing too much, that’s a red flag that they’re not the right therapist for you. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up—yes, even venting—to your therapists, you won’t get what you need from the process. You can find trauma-informed therapists in your area at The site of psychology today.
“Finding the right ‘fit’ between patient and provider is important so that the patient feels comfortable entering into vulnerable conversations about their past experiences,” Katz said. “In fact, the patient should do the majority of the talking…In return, patients should know what they deserve from a therapist…openness, authenticity, empathy, praise, and ultimately skills in overcoming impacts of their experiences.
A necessary part of getting better is sharing what you’re going through, traumas and all. “The more I can learn about my patients and their experiences, the better able I am to serve and support them in achieving their goals,” added Katz.
Your therapist can provide you tips for coping with trauma in a precise and efficient manner. “A therapist can help you learn to release and sometimes contain emotions,” Kellerman said.
So rest assured, you are free to go into therapy and “unload trauma” as much as you want, because dumping trauma in therapy sessions doesn’t really exist. By sharing your experiences and feelings, you can truly heal and get the treatment you deserve.