When You Feel Shame In Counseling: What to DO | Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

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In my monthly article for Good Therapy I focus on a difficult topic: shame. I’ve written about shame before, but this is specifically, talking about feelings of shame IN counseling. This is about the times your therapist does something—a facial expression, a shift in their seat, a comment—that whether intentional or not (PS Hopefully, NEVER intentional) brings up some defensiveness in you, and by defensiveness, yes, I mean shame.

Shame in counseling. Do you address it? Do you let the therapist know how you feel?

I think you should.

Know Thyself

A good portion of counseling is about you learning more about yourself, and that includes your feelings. Many, many guys I work with are sitting with me because a past or present partner has said they need to see more emotions from them. Some guys get it, some don’t understand what that means, but all are sitting there, trying to figure out what they missed along the way.

One weird way this comes up is when the therapist does something that brings up a feeling. Maybe it’s happy, maybe it’s angry (yes, it’s ok to get angry at your therapist as long as you talk to them about it!), but many men struggle with more vulnerable feelings and if you can trust your therapist enough to let them know when you’re feeling anxious in counseling, sad in counseling, shame in counseling (you get the picture), it’s going to go a long way to your feeling better.

Shame in Counseling: Why Talk About It When it Sucks Enough to Just Feel It?

Most of us have spent a good portion of our lives running away from shame.

I mean, for good reason. It sucks. Shame makes you feel like you’re worthless and irredeemable as a person. It’s different from guilt which can point out to you which actions are wrong—shame seeps into your sense of self-worth.

Exploring—not in the first session because you need to build up some trust—these very uncomfortable feelings of shame in counseling sessions can go very far in helping you feel better and more comfortable with yourself.

Think about it: what if this is the thing that’s been holding you back?

If you’d like to read more, please take a look at Trust in Therapy: Examining & Addressing Feelings of Shame at Good Therapy. I welcome any thoughts, questions, or comments.


Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.

Ready to talk about what’s holding you back, contact me for a free phone consultation.