Sometimes I get asked “Do you cry in session with your clients” and “Is crying good for you?” In this post I answer these questions and more.
Sometimes I get asked “Do you cry in session? Do you cry with clients?”
The answer is “Yes, of course I do”. I am one of those people where there’s a direct connection from my emotions to my tear ducts. I think I’m a highly sensitive person. I cry easily.
How Sensitive of a Person Am I?
I remember one time when I was in elementary school, we watched a movie about a girl and her horse, and she loved the horse. And when the horse died, I sobbed so much that the teacher asked me if I was okay.
And that scene in I Am Legend when the dog dies, I ugly cried, snot and all, in the theater. I pretty much hate books and movies with animals because they always die, and that makes me sob. Like, whose idea is it to make kids read Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller and all the other books where the dog dies?
I’m so good at crying that I even got an award for it at work once. We were having a special naming ceremony, and my boss honored me with the name “Weeping Heart Seeker.”
To Cry or Not to Cry?
I had good parents. My dad told me I had a tender heart, and it sounds like praise coming from him, instead of shame.
But crying in public is kind of embarrassing. In common culture it’s seen as a weakness, and it makes people uncomfortable.
So I taught myself to not cry in front of people.
As a child you can learn to force yourself not to cry out of shame. You know, it’s not cool to cry at school or in front of friends, so as a kid I taught myself to hold it in.
But forcing yourself to not cry comes at a cost. You have to do something to suppress that emotion, to stifle that feeling. I mean, on a basic level, trying to not cry when I feel sad gives me a headache. It makes your face all tight. It’s like you have to clench.
I’ve found that letting the tears flow gently and without struggling makes crying not that big of a deal. It’s not exhausting; it’s just an outward expression of empathy.
I mean, people talk about crying using words like “I broke down.” Or they apologize: “I’m so sorry for crying.” But I see my ability to feel as a gift and one of my strengths, and crying is one way I express that strength. And when I drop the struggle against it, I’m actually much more resilient and mentally strong in the long run.
I have emotions all the time, but they don’t generally drag me down; I bounce back very quickly. Even that video where I cry and talk about my friend dying, right after I filmed that video, the tears stopped, I took some deep breaths, and I felt clear and light again.
Of course, the emotions come and go in waves, but they’re so much lighter when you let them pass through you instead of suppressing and burying them deep inside.
So suppressing crying comes with an emotional cost. There’s a few ways to trick yourself into not crying: trying not to care, letting yourself go numb, trying not to think about the thing that is sad, or getting angry instead — you’ll see this commonly with boys who’ve been shamed for crying; they’ll get mad and storm off and isolate instead of crying.
But in the long run, if you build walls around your own emotions, if you suppress them, then you lessen your ability to care, to connect, to feel happiness and joy with your clients’ successes, and this leads to burnout and depression. So for me, I’ve made a conscious decision to allow myself to cry with my clients because it’s better than the alternative — numbing to them.
How Does a Tearful Therapist Affect Therapy?
I think there’s a misperception that there’s the healers and the sick, the people who have it all together and the people who are messed up. But we’re all in progress. It’s not like I have all the answers and I’m perfect and that’s how I got to be a therapist; it’s that I’ve studied and practiced and found some ways to guide people through their own journey. But I’m far from immune to emotions.
And I think it would be hypocritical of me to tell my clients, “It’s okay to cry. It’s ok to feel,” if I didn’t allow myself that same privilege. So in some ways I hope that I can create a space where it’s really okay to be vulnerable and emotional in order to healthily process emotions.
So I allow myself to cry in session because it’s authentic, it’s a sign of strength not weakness, and also because I personally believe that uncomfortable emotions aren’t bad — they all serve a function.
In other videos I’ve talked a bunch about the sympathetic and parasympathetic states of the nervous system. Sympathetic means a couple of things: it’s a word for the activated state of the nervous system, the fight/flight/freeze response, but it’s also a word for connection, for sympathy.
If I yawn, I can make you yawn. That’s because we’re wired to mirror each other. Ever since we were babies we were wired to mirror each other’s emotions, and this is a huge source of connection. Tears are an outward sign of inner pain. Why do we need an outward sign? Why does sadness make our tear ducts open? So that we can communicate and connect and support each other.
So if my client is telling me about his wife divorcing him or the loss of their child or the pain of depression, sometimes I cry with them.
I wonder if it sometimes freaks them out a little. Like they think “Oh no, even my therapist can’t handle how awful my situation is.” But I try to be frank and just tell them that this is one way I process through my emotions instead of stuffing them and going numb and burning out.
Now that being said, one of my good friends who’s also a therapist is just not a crier. She doesn’t cry easily. It’s just not her thing. And I’m not saying that if your therapist doesn’t cry with you that means they don’t care, I’m not saying that. They might care deeply but their tear ducts just don’t fire off like mine do. So to each their own. Everyone processes emotions in their own way.
So there you go. Do I cry in session with my clients? Yes, I do.
What do you think about crying? Does it help you? Do you let yourself do it? Would you like it or not if your therapist cried with you?
Tell me about it in the comments.