Des Moines, Iowa
As I read your letter, I pictured you and your partner, casually typing your beloved therapist’s name into Facebook, getting carried away by curiosity, clicking on link after link like rats pushing a lever for pellets, and then—boom!—your jaws dropping as you stare at a photo of her smiling with her homophobic father. I pictured it all too well because several years ago, I, too, Googled my therapist.
In my case, I didn’t discover anything upsetting, but I did find information about my therapist’s family that, while unremarkable in any other context, left me wishing I could un-know it. As innocuous as it seemed, my newfound knowledge haunted me and clouded our sessions. I worried, for instance, that talking about my close relationship with my aging father would make my therapist feel bad because, according to Google, his father had died suddenly at a young age. It wasn’t that I stopped talking about my father in therapy, but I began editing myself, careful not to rub it in with an especially moving anecdote. As a therapist, I know that patients Google me, too, not because they necessarily tell me, but because eventually—inevitably—they slip up. (An offhand: “Well, you know what it’s like to deal with a fifth grader”—despite my never having mentioned my son or his age.)
Most of us wonder who our therapists are outside of the therapy room, usually because we like them so much. Sometimes, of course, people Google their therapists if something feels off—to see if their credentials check out, or if other patients have posted similar concerns. More often, though, our curiosity is a reflection of how important our therapist has become to us, and in some cases, it’s a way to feel connected to the therapist between sessions. The problem is, of course, that we want therapy to be a space where we feel free to talk about absolutely anything. And no matter what we discover—a bombshell like yours, or something more mundane—the fallout of a Google binge becomes a secret that takes that freedom away.
Carl Jung called secrets “psychic poison” for good reason. When I finally confessed my Google-stalking to my therapist, all the air returned to the room. My verbal shackles were removed, and we talked about what was behind my desire to type his name into my search engine. But more important, the way I handled the situation before fessing up taught me something interesting about how I handle discomfort—something far more interesting than anything I learned about my therapist online.
And I think the same might prove true for you.
What people do in therapy is pretty much what they do in their outside lives. In other words, if a patient tends to feel dissatisfied with people in her life, it’s likely that she’ll eventually feel dissatisfied with me. If she tries to please people, she’ll probably try to please me too. And if she avoids people when she feels hurt by them, I’ll be on the lookout for signs that I’ve said something that may have hurt her, too (she cancels her next session, or clams up, or comes late).