Today I wanted to address a question I hear a lot: “should I bring ______________ to the next session?”. Sometimes it’s hard to determine who belongs in therapy with you. There’s an old saying that’s half-joking and half-serious: “I’m in therapy to learn to deal with the people who should be in therapy”. There’s a lot of research that suggests therapy is most effective when our support system is involved because they can learn how better to support us.  Let’s look at bringing in support to therapy.

Who to bring?

But not everyone close to us in our lives is a support. Sometimes bringing someone who’s been abusive or hurtful can make therapy feel unsafe. Bringing in someone who doesn’t see their role in relationship issues can be incredibly frustrating. So let’s talk about some good times to bring someone in:

  • You’re more comfortable when they’re around but they push you to be your best. A caveat: if you let this person do all the talking for you, we’ll need to talk about that.
  • If there is conflict in the relationship that you want to work on and the other person is invested and wants to come as well.
  • They’re a major part of your stress and you want some support in confronting them.
  • They’re trying to support you in your mental health but maybe don’t have a great grasp on how to help and want some education.

Talk to your therapist first

It’s always a good idea to talk to your therapist before inviting someone to your session so that they can help you see potential benefits and consequences. If someone in your life has a long history of being abusive and belittling you, confronting them in therapy is not likely to be helpful. Additionally, every therapist has different experiences and views about when bringing someone else in may be helpful and when it might be more harmful. Above all, we believe in not doing any harm.

How is that relationship

Because relationships are such a big piece of the quality of our lives, they can be important to talk about in therapy and having more than one person’s perspective can be invaluable. So often the truth of a situation lies between two different understandings of it.  There are, however, some very clear reasons that your therapist may not want you to bring someone into your session. If they’ve abused it, it’s incredibly rare that your therapist will think it’s a good idea to bring them into your therapy session.

Additionally, there are some other reasons that your therapist will likely not want someone in session with you. If the person consistently makes the issue about them and their feelings, it will be tricky to navigate how to serve you as the identified client while also allowing them to air their issues freely. That being said, it can be helpful for you to practice hearing feedback with someone to give you cues to cope with the complaints your friend or loves one is making.

Are they too involved?

Another common reason that someone may not belong in your session is that they don’t take your concerns seriously and use the session to “rat you out” for your symptoms or behaviors in a way that feels a whole lot more like blame than accountability. If they shame you and aren’t willing to be called out (gently but consistently) for it, it’s going to be hard to teach them how to be a strong support.  Having a conversation on boundaries may help.

I also frequently see minors whose parents are unsure when to come back with their kiddo and when to give their kiddo space. I always recommend that that be a decision made between the three of us (client, parent, and therapist) as some kiddos are more comfortable with their parent and others have an easier time opening up when their not worried about how their parent might feel about what they hear. Always feel free to ask the therapist and the kiddo what they think about how often you should sit in or participate.

The main point is not to be afraid to explore with your therapist who your supports are and if there are places we can improve our connections to those supports.

In summary, it should really go on a case-by-case basis and should be a decision that you and your therapist make together.  Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services to discuss your options.  Take care, friends. Be well and have a good week!

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.