Monday, June 24, 2024

What Is a Doorknob Confession, and Do Therapists Hate Them?

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Picture this: your therapy session is winding down. You’re making the usual “end of appointment” small talk, when suddenly, you hear yourself saying, “Oh, by the way . . .” and you mention that one last thing — maybe something that’s been on your mind for the entire hour but that you’ve been too afraid to utter aloud, or maybe something that just now popped into your head. Either way, it’s way too big a topic to unpack in the minute that’s left in your session. There’s a name for this all-too-common experience: the doorknob confession. And your therapist has mixed feelings about it.

You can thank TikTok for shining light on the phenomenon that is doorknob confessions, which can take place in any medical setting, not just your therapist’s office. Many of the videos that live under the hashtag #doorknobconfession are created by therapists who’ve been on the receiving end of a doorknob confession. In one popular TikTok, creator @therapywithsandi writes, “When my client drops a truth bomb on me and I glance at the clock to confirm that it is, in fact, a doorknob confession with 2 minutes to go in the session.” In the comments, the creator responds to someone saying that they’ve done this in the past with, “Totally get it!! I’m guilty of it myself.”

In another popular (but darkly comedic) TikTok, creator @bringmekayla uses a sound clip from “Smokin Out the Window” by Silk Sonic to depict the phenomenon from a client’s perspective. First, she roleplays as her therapist telling her that their session is over and ushering her out the door. Kayla chooses that moment to say (now lip-syncing), “Not to be dramatic, but I want to die,” only to have her therapist react with exasperation. The comments are full of people who cop to coming out with their heaviest confessions or revelations on their way out of their therapists’ offices.

We asked people who work in the mental health field what doorknob confessions are, whether they disrupt our progress in therapy, why we make them, whether therapists really hate them — and what we can do to stop.

What Is a Doorknob Confession?

“Doorknob confessions reference when clients decide to open and reveal deep information about themselves right towards the end of a session,” says Angela Banks, LPCC, a therapist and the owner of The Clarity Couch, a private practice in Cleveland. They’re called doorknob confessions because clients are dropping a major bit of news practically with their hands on the doorknob, ready to let themselves out of the room.

Any news can be a doorknob confession, but it’s typically understood that the information that’s being dropped at that moment is major — something that you probably should have brought up earlier, when there was enough time to actually talk about it. Instead, it comes out of your mouth moments before you’re supposed to be exiting.

Why Do People Make Doorknob Confessions?

There are several reasons doorknob confessions happen, but for the most part, it’s not about wanting to make a therapist work overtime.

One potential reason is that the client doesn’t gain clarity about what’s bothering them until the talk therapy session is close to being over. This makes sense, seeing as the goal of talk therapy is to identify patterns and connections by talking through your thoughts and experiences, Banks says. Sometimes it can take 40 minutes of talking to reach your lightbulb moment; in a 50- to 55-minute session, that means you may bring up something heavy when there really isn’t enough time to fully dig into it.

“Perhaps the client needed to clear their head before having enough insight to express their concern,” Banks points out. We can’t always control when our emotional breakthrough happens.

Another reason a client may wait until a session is over to share their feelings is that it might have taken time for them to feel comfortable sharing.

“[It] could be that the therapist has created such an environment [over the course of a session] where they feel trustworthy to talk about that issue,” says Cherlette McCullough, a marriage and family therapist for women and couples. “Possibly they knew when they came to the session this is something that they wanted to talk about, but they wanted to feel the therapist out.”

But sometimes, clients simply struggle to get to the meat and potatoes of their session. In the comments of the @therapywithsandi video, one person notes, “I’m like 4/5 sessions in and I’m still struggling to move past just breezily talking [about] my week.”

Finally, some doorknob confessions happen when a person really doesn’t want to talk about an issue they’re bringing up. They might have spent the session trying to work up the courage to bring it up and only manage to force it out when they realize they’re running out of time.

Are Doorknob Confessions a Bad Thing?

Although doorknob confessions are a comedic trend on TikTok, Banks says they’re quite common — and that she’d rather clients share at the last minute versus not sharing at all.

“Doorknob confessions are a normal part of the therapeutic process, and we know that the more we work with clients, the more comfortable and open they become,” she explains.

That said, the doorknob confession can pose some problems, Banks says. She notes that it can create discomfort for therapists, as they don’t want to have to leave their clients hanging after they’ve shared something important, but they can’t always spontaneously add more time to a session.

“Therapists are there to help their patients work through their problems, but we are also humans,” she explains. “A doorknob confession can cause a therapist to feel uncomfortable because it can feel like the therapist is losing control of the session. Or it creates anxiety that we will have to end the session when a client really wants to work through things.”

McCullough also doesn’t feel doorknob confessions are bad or annoying. While she would prefer clients share at the beginning of the session, she acknowledges the confession and earmarks it for future sessions.

“I’ll just say, ‘That is interesting you are talking about that. Would you be willing to talk about this at your next appointment?’ Or ‘Do you mind journaling about this?’ So at our next appointment, we can talk in detail,” she says.

How Can You Avoid Making a Doorknob Confession?

Clients don’t always know what they want to discuss at the beginning of a session, and in fact, sometimes the most fruitful sessions happen when you go in without a set plan. But thinking about anything major you want to bring up before your therapy meeting can be helpful.

If you know something’s bothering you, make a goal of bringing it up at the start of the session so you have more time to explore the feelings.

Sandi Christiansen, LCP, a licensed professional counselor and the creator behind the @therapywithsandi TikTok account, commented with some of her own tips on her parody video about doorknob confessions. One recommendation she gave is to tell your therapist you have this habit of making doorknob confessions and ask for help: “Just say how the heck do I stop summarizing my week and start really talking!!??”

But if you do make a doorknob confession, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, try to acknowledge to your therapist that you’re about to bring up something heavy and you know you may not have time to dig into it, but you’d love to come back to it the next time you meet — early in the session. And rest easy knowing that you’re not alone in the phenomenon. A quick scroll of TikTok can tell you that.

Elizabeth Ayoola writes about topics such as parenting, personal development, and social inequality. She’s the author of “The Naked Butterfly.”

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