Will a Therapist Tell My Parents About Self-Harm?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I am under 18 and live with my dad and stepmom. I’ve been cutting for almost a year from depression and anxiety and basically not feeling like I want to be here. I HATE the idea of seeing a therapist and “talking about my feelings,” but apparently the school counselor told my dad I needed to see someone outside the school for help. The school counselor doesn’t know about the cutting, but I’ve talked to him a bit because apparently I have “anger issues.”

So now my dad and stepmother are looking up therapists for me to go see. I really don’t want to talk to anyone about my “issues,” but it’s getting hard to cover the marks on my arms and legs and I don’t know how to stop cutting. And also I know they’re just going to keep me in therapy longer if I refuse to talk. But I REALLY don’t want my parents to know about me cutting myself or the suicidal thoughts I sometimes have. Can I get through counseling without my parents finding out about it? How much is the counselor going to tell my parents about what I say in therapy? —Under Rage

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Dear Under Rage,

These are good questions to ask any therapist you see. Find out from them what their policies are regarding confidentiality with people in therapy under 18. Much of what they say will depend on legal and ethical guidelines based on where they live and what kind of license they have. When I work with people under the age of 18, I discuss in great detail with both the young person and the parents what those guidelines are. That allows everyone to have the same understanding and expectation about how the process works. It also allows the young person to decide how much to share with me and to be aware of what my responsibilities to report are.

Most professionals are obligated to report when a person in therapy, regardless of age, is in imminent danger. That danger could be significant risk of suicide or conditions of abuse/neglect. Thoughts of suicide alone, however, do not necessarily trigger a mandated report—it depends on the circumstances. There are many people who have such thoughts but no intention or plan on following through. What is essential, however, is that anyone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide finds sources of support with whom they can talk. A trusted therapist is a great option. There are also national hotlines where you can reach out for support 24/7.

I hear the frustration in your message about all that the adults in your world “apparently” believe to be true for you. Instead, look at what YOU can get out of this experience. You can have a voice and share your truth with someone.

I’ve worked with a number of people who also HATED the idea of talking about their feelings. Usually that stems from a place of fearing they would be judged, a massive discomfort with feeling vulnerable and exposed, and a reluctance to trust someone they don’t know well. All of those feelings are natural. I can share with you that all of those people, in their own time, came to trust me and the process. When you find a therapist you can work with, who allows you to share at your own pace, who offers you a safe place to speak your truth without fear of being judged, counseling can be an amazing experience.

If I can offer you a suggestion, don’t reject therapy completely because it feels like something being “done” to you. I hear the frustration in your message about all that the adults in your world “apparently” believe to be true for you. Instead, look at what YOU can get out of this experience. You can have a voice and share your truth with someone. You can get support for the anger, anxiety, and depression you say you’ve been feeling for a year now. You can have support in finding alternative strategies beyond cutting to cope with the intensity of the feelings you have. You can be seen. You can be heard.

Nobody can make you share what you aren’t willing to share. You are right, though, that refusing to talk or engage will likely limit your choices and your control over your situation. So, how can you engage in ways that work for you? Ask your potential therapist the tough questions about confidentiality and how they manage those issues. Find out if your parents are willing to let you take part in the process of choosing a therapist. Many professionals have directory profiles and websites that can tell you a bit about what they might be like to work with. I’ve had people meet me first before deciding to work with me. Many therapists are very willing to meet to assess fit, as we know a good fit leads to more positive outcomes. You might just find someone you can open up to who can offer relief from what you’ve been feeling.

Best of luck,

Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 11 comments
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  • Jake

    Jake

    January 27th, 2017 at 8:36 AM

    I would have thought that there would have to be some degree of confidentiality?

  • Tina

    Tina

    January 28th, 2017 at 12:17 AM

    No any therapist will tell you (and their suppose too) and its in the signed contract if you are going to harm yourself in some way suicide etc, or someone is to harm you or you feel unsafe etc. As a professional so they don’t lose their license they are suppose to inform law enforcement.

  • Tina

    Tina

    January 28th, 2017 at 12:19 AM

    oh and it don’t matter what age you are under or over 18, its the law so i was told by some friends/family I know that have been the therapy :)

  • Daniel

    Daniel

    February 13th, 2019 at 8:32 AM

    I believe it is different if you are over 18. I told my therapist that I might commit self-harm or suicide while still going to her sessions, and asked her to tell me if there were to be any repercutions over that. She answered that, if it was clear that I was about to commit suicide, she was very much obliged to tell the pertinent authorities, and they would send someone to check me over. So I laughed back at her as a response, and I sweetely smiled and asked her to consider that I probably wouldnt if I hadnt have it clear.

  • Glenn

    Glenn

    January 28th, 2017 at 7:30 AM

    As a parent of a minor child I would definitely want to know if my child was engaging in self harm. They might have a hard time telling me but I would wish that the very process of being in therapy would be what could help to gibe them the courage to share things with me that they may have been hesitant to share with me before that.

  • Daniel

    Daniel

    February 23rd, 2017 at 7:58 AM

    But what if some part of which causes your child pain is related to you? What if one of the reasons he/she suffers is that feeling of being entirely powerless, that no matter how hard you try you cannot accomplish what you want him to do or to achieve, even if you see it as a minor thing or a forgotten comment on some subject. If your child managed to overcome his/her pain and to share it with somebody, wouldnt he/she feel entirely betrayed if he/she somehow (when you looked down at him/her) realised that you knew that he/she considers that you see him/her as a failure? Even if you then told him/her that he/she is wrong, that you dont see him/her as that, would he/she be able to believe it?

    I understand your point of view as a father, but I do not agree with it. I do not find it right.

  • tabatha

    tabatha

    January 28th, 2017 at 4:51 PM

    honey if you are doing something that could hurt you then someone needs to know

  • Evan

    Evan

    January 30th, 2017 at 10:17 AM

    It has to be a scary thing to openly admit to but these are people who all have your best interests at heart and if they tell what the actions are then maybe, just maybe they can help you come up with some solutions to the problems that you are feeling.
    It is a hard thing to be honest about, I totally understand that, but I think that in some ways you have to want some help or you wouldn’t even be bringing it up here.
    Let the people who love you help you get through this, to come up with better ways to channel that pain that you are obviously feeling.

  • ginger

    ginger

    January 31st, 2017 at 10:11 AM

    It has to be scary to think that there will be someone who will divulge your secret but I would pray that this one thing alone would not discourage you from seeking out the help that you need.

  • Kat

    Kat

    July 8th, 2017 at 10:58 AM

    I see the “tell your parents, they want the best for you!!” sphiel everywhere I go. My father and mother reacted angrily and violently to me telling them that I had mild suicidal thoughts I have no intention of acting out. The guilt trip was insane and still continues six months later over the cost of therapy even though we rarely discuss it otherwise and nothing has been done. I have begun self harming with just my hands and fingernails and I keep getting worse. I would not be as bad if they had not found out. YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO TRULY KNOWS WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU. By no means should you tell your parent/guardian about your problem just because a bunch of strangers on the internet told you you should. Take care of yourself, because despite well intentions, sometimes parents don’t.

  • ashley

    ashley

    January 6th, 2019 at 4:56 PM

    i dont want my parents knowing because a lot is going on with them and i dont want them to worry about me

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