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By Dave Kerpen
The other day, my 15 year old Charlotte walked in on a video appointment I had with my therapist.
She later asked me, “Who was that you were meeting with, Dad?”
I lied to her. I told her it was a meeting with a client.
Well, I guess that wasn’t a total lie – in addition to being my therapist, she is a client of my company UMA.
But the reality is, I didn’t say, “Charlotte, I was meeting with my therapist.”
Why not? I’m the same person that took a selfie with my therapist and wrote about it for INC. I’d like to think I’m amongst the people leading the charge to destigmatize therapy and mental illness.
If it had been a meeting with a nutritionist, or doctor, or physical trainer, or even executive coach, I’m 100% positive that I would have told her who I had been meeting with.
And yet, I didn’t tell her I was meeting with my therapist.
Maybe I’m not quite ready to claim to be amongst the people leading the charge to destigmatize therapy.
The reality is, as with any stigma, our assumptions and hangups run deep.
I didn’t want my daughter to worry about me. I guess I didn’t want to feel exposed, or feel like I had to explain why I’m in therapyI didn’t want to deal with these things so I lied to my own daughter.
But I certainly could have said, “I was meeting with my therapist, Charlotte.”
And when she inevitably followed up with, “Why? What’s wrong?”
I could have then easily and honestly said, “Nothing has to be wrong to meet with a therapist, Charlotte. I’m working on getting better at dealing with my thoughts and emotions, just like we both work on our teeth when we go to the dentist or work on our bodies when we go to the doctor.”
Here are 3 reasons why it makes sense to tell our children when we’re in therapy:
1) Model That It’s OK to See a Therapist
Research shows that the biggest barrier to going to see a therapist is the the stigma and thinking it’s not ok – that we need to “be strong” and deal with our challenges on our own. Modeling to our children that it’s ok to see a therapist when we’re feeling sad, or angry, or anxious, will set the example so that when they’re feeling sad or angry or anxious, whether it’s at age 15 or 25 or 35, they’ll be less likely to hesitate to get help from a therapist. Who knows, you might even save a life of your child or one of their friends one day.
2) Help Increase Their Empathy and Vulnerability
The best way to teach your children the positive values of empathy, authenticity and vulnerability is to demonstrate these values yourself. Our vulnerability in showing that we need help goes a long way towards our children learning that it’s ok to be vulnerable.
3) Honesty is Always the Best Policy
I have to admit, that after lying to my daughter, even about something so seemingly innocuous as who I was meeting with, I felt lousy. It’s rarely worth it to lie to anyone, especially your children, because of the obvious feelings thereafter, not to mention the logistical challenges of keeping up with a lie. Honesty really is the best policy, and kids have an amazing way of being more ok with the truth than we may think.
By the way, I went back and told Charlotte the truth. Here’s how that conversation went:
“Hey, hon, I wanted to let you know my meeting earlier was actually with my therapist. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the whole truth earlier. Anyway, everything’s ok, I’m simply working on getting more in touch with my feelings and getting even healthier than I am today.”
Then she went right back to her music and her Snapchat and her texting friends, like other 15 year olds.
But I certainly felt a little better.
Now it’s YOUR turn. What do you think of the idea of talking to your kids about therapy? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below!