“This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! The dark thought, the shame, the malice. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
You’ve probably experienced these in your practice—the long goodbyes, the tests of boundaries, the truth bombs, and the potential crises—all emerging in the final minutes of the session.
These “therapy doorknob confessions” are last-minute, major disclosures we could have spent the entire session talking about. The term offers dark humor while acknowledging the lived paradox of our work. The confessions can throw us into the grip of intractable conflict. Examining the story underneath confessions can help us begin to understand why they happen in the first place.
The Basics of Therapy Doorknob Confessions
When I first heard “doorknob confession” I began to wonder why clients wait until the end of a session to share big news. As I examined the stories underneath therapy doorknob confessions, I noticed Jungian-based themes emerging.
The confession is a knee-jerk emotional reaction. Your office, your client’s relationship with you, the power differential between you, a recent experience, or even a recent dream could have stirred up tension. So much so that the client’s hopes and expectations for that day may be crumbling. Their emotions are chaotic and overwhelm their ability to cope—resulting in the unexpected disclosure.
Therapy doorknob confessions could be considered the modern-day equivalent of Freudian slips. Tension builds up to such a degree that the client becomes overwhelmed, and the result is a slip of the tongue—saying something that at first seems random or out of character. The hidden truth of these slips, or confessions, could be rooted in unmet needs that are emerging through transference or countertransference.
Why Do Therapy Doorknob Confessions Happen?
The last-minute confessions can reflect fears or resistance playing out in the therapeutic relationship. The client’s attachment style may become clearer upon saying goodbye. Maybe the client is experiencing abandonment anxiety or fears about ending the session if they feel safe with us. The need for security can be a powerful motive.
Telling truths at the last minute might feel safer. By saying something last minute, a client doesn’t have to wait to see if you’ll emotionally attune and respond to them in a way that feels safe. The client can put their confession out there—then avoid, control, or limit any distressing interaction that might follow because their session is over.
The client may also be testing you for a cure. As therapists, we’re skilled professionals, but we don’t dole out cures. The curative fantasy of therapy as ‘the fix’ or path toward easy answers is disappearing. Sometimes, I admit to my clients that I wish there was an easy fix to what ails them. But I also tell them that even if I don’t have a “cure,” I have the expertise to guide them. Then, we can figure things out together.
The Impact of Therapy Doorknob Confessions on Therapists
Sometimes when clients make doorknob confessions, we can experience some countertransference. The client may be revealing their shadow part—or may be revealing information that illuminates some of the therapist’s own unresolved issues. Like many therapists, I’ve sometimes left sessions feeling triggered. When that happens, I take a moment before my next session to sit and examine what’s really bothering me.
Last-minute, high-impact confessions also can pose a threat to the control you imagine you have over a session. Even with efforts like prioritizing your topics, structuring your time, and carefully choosing language to signal the start and end of each session, 45 minutes can easily stretch into 60.
Then you’re behind schedule and possibly chiding yourself for not having better boundaries. When clients drop a therapy doorknob confession on you at the end of a session that needs some attention, it’s a stark reminder that for all the effort we put into providing structure and safe refuge, we actually have less control than we think.
The disclosure could also activate your desire to protect and care for your client. Sometimes, the confessions are simply authentic or funny. But other times, the comments are negative or flagrantly concerning. The caregiver archetype may be part of the reason many of us become therapists.
We all want to prevent harm to others, protect them from danger, and minimize risk to another fellow human. Therapists are obligated to assess safety and act if needed, but the tremendous privilege and responsibility of our work can lead us astray at times. We have to be careful in these situations, because over-responsibility can manifest into martyrdom if we don’t assert healthy boundaries.
Some confessions are simply shocking. If the confession has shock value, it could trigger a dropping of the “counselor persona.” This can be a sign of imbalance in the therapeutic relationship. When this happens, nonjudgmental curiosity can help us regain balance together. Besides, we’re humans fulfilling a helping role—not pretending the role defines our entire existence.
Doorknob confessions are the reality of the moment. Clients confide the information in search of healing. Doing so is an unburdening, which ideally restores balance, creates learning opportunities, and endorses self-compassion. We can encourage our clients by trusting their inner healers and looking for the messages, poor timing and all. By understanding what happens for each of us in the moment, we can attempt to understand as well as enhance our attunement, shared values, and mutual respect.
Honoring and Embracing the Moment
Jung stated that conflict is necessary for growth, so the inner tug-of-war therapists often feel does serve a purpose—even if it feels exhausting some days. Owning the discomfort and discussing it collaboratively can fortify us as we share the universal experience of being human and flawed.
Therapy is a profession of uncertainty. Uncertainty is the stardust and the ashes of our work. Building quality relationships will involve conflict and discomfort. By examining doorknob confessions with “Why does it emerge for you in this way?” rather than “How do I control or avoid it?” we pivot toward freedom. We can boldly step into our own higher self to “realize the joy, wisdom, humor, love, and opportunities lying in wait for us with this (doorknob) evolution.”