Let’s begin with a straightforward truth: Many people have a natural curiosity about their therapists. Who is this person with whom I’m sharing my most vulnerable self? Generally, patients know very little about their therapists’ outside lives, though sometimes therapists make intentional disclosures in the therapy room. For instance, depending on the circumstance, I might answer a question about whether I’m a parent, or even offer that information unsolicited if I feel it’s clinically relevant for a particular patient in a particular context.
But often patients want to know more, so they search for information online. I’m guessing that your therapist’s Facebook photos didn’t magically appear on your screen—you had to search for them. And that’s important, because your desire to know more about him will become part of the larger conversation you want to have about the Grindr profile, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Of course, you didn’t go searching for the Grindr profile—that was purely accidental. Unintended encounters between therapists and patients happen out in the world, too. I’ve run into patients everywhere from the checkout line at Target to bookstores and restaurants to Lakers games. What patients may not realize is that these unexpected encounters, as innocuous as they may seem, can be uncomfortable for the therapist as well. We aren’t used to being seen by our patients when we’re with our family or significant other—or, as happened to me, while wearing a bikini at the beach and, another time, in the dressing-room area of the bra section at a department store. In these cases, I generally ask in the next session what the experience was like for the patient. Some therapists wait for the patient to bring it up, but I’ve found that often not mentioning it makes it bigger, an elephant in the room, and acknowledging the encounter can feel like a relief—for both of us.
In your situation, though, your therapist isn’t aware of the encounter (and therefore won’t bring it up), and also it’s qualitatively different from the usual out-in-the-world encounter. You didn’t just see your therapist buying paper towels at Target, or even wearing a Speedo at the beach. You ran into him on Grindr and got a glimpse into his sexual psyche.
That’s a deeper level of disclosure and, yes, it’s awkward, and would be even if he weren’t your therapist. If that profile were your dentist’s or your boss’s, or if you were in college and it belonged to your professor, you’d probably still feel uncomfortable having seen it—maybe even so uncomfortable that you’d avoid this person as much as possible, switching to another dentist, for example.
That may seem like bad news, but in fact it’s the opposite. Since this is your therapist and not your dentist or your boss, you have the opportunity to address it in a way you probably wouldn’t with other people. In fact, the best therapy often happens when things get uncomfortable, because the discomfort can surface important material that may have been buried (as I have written about before). You might open this conversation by walking into your next session, plopping down on the couch, and saying something like: “So, this very awkward thing happened and I feel like we should talk about it.”