When it came time to tell a former boss that I’d be going to a weekly therapy appointment, I agonized over the wording in my message. I was working at a buttoned-up office where no one discussed feelings, but everyone watched each other. I did not want any raised eyebrows over my long lunch breaks on Tuesdays.
Ultimately, after deleting and rewriting sentences, I decided to say via Slack message that I had a “regularly recurring doctor’s appointment.” I emphasized that I would make sure to be extra available on the mornings I went to my appointment. My boss simply wrote back “OK,” and I quickly moved back to the safer ground of deadlines and deliverables.
It was an anticlimactic discussion. We never discussed my going to therapy out loud or in specific terms, and it did turn out, in fact, to be OK.
For an increasing number of millennials in the workplace, disclosing that you’re in therapy is becoming a more open topic of conversation. The next generation of workers is growing up with singers like Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato and athletes like Kevin Love openly discussing going to therapy for their mental health.
Watch: Ariana Grande wants to tour closer to home because of her mental health. Story continues after video.
“Some clients will say, ‘Both my boss and I are out on Thursday mornings. We both have therapy.’ Usually, that’s a good situation,” said Elizabeth Cohen, a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist. “I believe there should be no stigma about mental health.”
But at work, there is often still a stigma attached to therapy. Talking with your friends about going can be far easier than talking about it with the manager who decides your raises and promotions. And the vulnerability you create when you share that you do therapy can be used against you.
Bringing up your therapy appointments to your employer requires anticipating your boss’ reaction and having a plan prepared.
Recognize that going to therapy during the workday is good for you and your employer
Before you can convince your boss you should go to therapy, you must first convince yourself. You should recognize that your decision to go to therapy during the week is a benefit to your personal and professional life, not a decision to be ashamed of.
Some hourly employees whose physical presence is required, like cashiers, do not have the option to leave during the workday for therapy. But Cohen said she has heard from people who are simply not willing to do it because of work. “They’re not valuing themselves,” said Cohen. “Maybe they’ll never have therapy and they’re the ones who need it because they’re so stressed about work.”
If you are feeling guilt or shame about your own work because you participate in therapy, you should process those feelings first. “Really understand your own reaction around therapy and process that with your therapist before having this conversation,” said Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker and executive coach. That way, you are not driven by fear to do this conversation, she said.
It helps to see your therapy appointments as a long-term investment for your future. “Not only are you investing in your mental and emotional wellbeing, which just overall will make it easier to think more clearly and perform better, it also forces you to be more productive in the time that you have. And I think people overlook that,” Wilding said.
You don’t necessarily have to disclose what you are going to therapy for
Assess the culture of your workplace and your personal comfort level before mentioning the appointments to your boss. “You absolutely do not owe anyone the entirety of your life story,” said Tanisha Ranger, a Nevada-based licensed clinical psychologist.
“It’s really up to the individual to assess what they are comfortable disclosing to their boss,” Wilding said.
The reality is that some of us have bad bosses and may not feel like we can bring our full selves to work. “If you are not so comfortable with your boss, I think you can also leave it as vague to say that you have to take time out of the office for a personal, medical matter,” Wilding said.
You’re allowed to keep mental illness private from your employer, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. But if you do want to get accommodations for your condition, it help to provide them with some information.
When you ask for time off to go to therapy, your employer may ask you to get a letter from your health care provider and have them generally describe your condition, so that they can see what accommodations are reasonable. They don’t need to know details about what you are talking about in therapy, though. You can describe your condition generally — it doesn’t have to be any more specific than “anxiety disorder,” for instance.
It can be reassuring to know that your employer cannot legally share this confidential information, even with your co-workers.
Go in with a plan
Wilding suggests going into the conversation with a solution in place of how you will cover the time you are away. “Make it a specific, explicit request around how often you will be out, what times that might be, and how will you manage your workload, or how will you make sure work is going to get done around that,” she said.
When you have a plan in place, it helps take care of any questions your boss may have. “You look proactive and your boss understands that you’re handling it. And it makes it a lot easier for them to say, ‘Yes, that sounds good. I can see that you’ve covered everything,’” Wilding said.
Don’t just show up and say, “I need to take time off,” said Ranger. You want to let your employer know how the work they’re paying you for will get done.
“Have a plan like here’s the issue, here’s what I need, here’s what I’m going to offer,” she said.
Use HR if your boss is not receptive
If you have tested the waters and believe your boss would not be receptive to therapy appointments, you can also go to human resources as another option.
“For the most part, you can trust HR,” said Ranger, who said she usually advises her clients to go to human resources first and ask for related paperwork.
“Let them know you have a medical concern that requires you to have doctor’s appointments but you don’t necessarily want to broadcast that,” Ranger said.
Having your request accepted in writing can help when you don’t know workplace dynamics. “Even actually if you do trust your supervisor or your boss, just make sure you have that paperwork on hand,” said Ranger. “I especially advise this when you’re new to a workplace where you’re just like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know what these people are like, I don’t know what they’re going to do. What I do know is that there’s not going to be a break in my treatment so I’m just going to go ahead and do that paperwork upfront.’”
Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, read this guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you’re worried about.
Taking care of your mental health is critical — but there’s still a stigma about seeking therapy to manage your own wellbeing. In our series, “This Could Help,” we’ll explore how to get started with therapy and fit it in to your life and your budget. We’ll answer the questions you’ve been wondering, and show you the ways therapy can benefit you and the people you love. Whether you’re struggling or just want to make sure you’re on the right track, support is available, and it really can help.
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