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Talking About Your Past: Does It Help?

Effective therapists believe in everyone’s right to privacy – especially their patients’.

They believe it is extremely important to help you understand which parts of your life are relevant and need to be talked about and which areas should remain unexposed. There are some types of therapy though that encourage therapists and patients to make an unhealthy breach of boundaries. These methods are a reflection of the culture at large, where privacy and modesty almost don’t exist.

Sure, our earliest experiences and relationships influence us greatly. They truly are a very important factor that can help us understand why we are the way we are. All too often though, revealing and discussing our family’s dysfunction (and what family isn’t dysfunctional in some way?), has become pervasively acceptable in all kinds of social and even professional situations.

We all need to talk. But, we need to know that talking about our pasts, in and of itself is not a cure.

In many cases it’s helpful to peek at the past–not stare at it. Kind of like glancing in the rear view mirror of a car. If you ignore what’s in front of you and only stare in the rear-view mirror, you are apt to crash.

Exploring the past when it isn’t relevant or necessary, or before one is ready, or exploring the past with someone whose trustworthiness is questionable, can be worse than useless. It can cause emotional pain strong enough to instigate a shut-down of feelings and even a shut-down of reason; then a person’s ability to deal with the present, and possibly the future, has been damaged.

Healthy Venting

Not all helpful talk about the past has to be in a therapy setting. In fact, just talking about past issues with caring and trustworthy companions can be a helpful way to come to understand yourself and your life. But if talking isn’t helping you resolve the issue, then it may be doing more harm than good (or at least isn’t helping at all.) Talking about the negatives in our lives can become habitual if the talk isn’t directed towards understanding why we are going through what we are going through.

Venting, or talking to get things “off my chest,” can be helpful if a trusted listener is around. How do we know it’s healthy and helpful? If we feel better afterwards and feel we’ve gained some insight (even if the insight is: we need to learn more about ourselves.)

Sometimes, healthy venting can take place in a journal, whether a written, audio or video journal, something meant only for your review (or perhaps in therapy with a mental health professional or religious-spiritual mentor.)

The Power of Your Thoughts

Also, and this is an essential point in the path towards emotional healing, whatever you focus your thoughts on becomes how you experience reality. In effect, your thoughts become your reality because your thoughts and feelings which stem from them, define your inner experience of life. If you think draining, negatively-charged thoughts about your past, you will feel more negative about your past, your present, and even your future.

In therapy or counseling or even in personal reflection, we may have to examine our pasts in order to gain insight into our present and future. It’s helpful to spend an equal amount of time on examining what we want to see for ourselves; the positive changes we’d like to make and experience. Bringing our focus back to the positive leads us to tap into the power of healthy thoughts.

And remember: Having a good cry and venting can be healing for some people some of the time. But it’s not a cure. Talking about the past should generally not be an end in and of itself. It should be used to constructively prepare you for a more positive present and future.

Some parts of this post were adapted from Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better and Move On (HCI)


Talking About Your Past: Does It Help?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2018). Talking About Your Past: Does It Help?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Jul 2018
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