Therapy is one of the commonest treatments for mental health problems, and one I have personally found very helpful. But it’s also deeply personal. And for many of us, our daydreaming is our biggest secret. The thought of talking about it can be terrifying. So how do you tell your therapist you’re a maladaptive daydreamer?
In this article, I use “therapy” to mean sitting down in a confidential space to talk one-to-one with a mental health professional about the issues that are most important to you. This differs from more structured therapies such as CBT or DBT, as I discussed here.
Why it’s important for your therapist to know about your daydreaming
The end goal of therapy is to improve your mental wellbeing. Your therapist should help you discover what’s not working in your life and how you can change it. It’s a very individual process. Your circumstances are not like anyone else’s. What’s right for someone else won’t necessarily be right for you. For your therapist to help you effectively, they need to see and understand you. Daydreaming is a huge part of your life. If you hide that from your therapist, they’re not helping you, they’re helping a non-daydreaming version of you. Your therapist can’t give you good advice if you’re keeping secrets from them.
What if my therapist doesn’t know what maladaptive daydreaming is?
That’s a reasonable concern. Maladaptive daydreaming is not in the DSM, and many mental health professionals don’t know about it. But even if you found a therapist who understands maladaptive daydreaming, you’d still need to explain how your daydreaming affects you. A good therapist should be curious to learn more, and shouldn’t dismiss your problems just because you’re struggling with a condition they’re unfamiliar with.
At the beginning of the therapeutic relationship, you can use the same strategies you would with any doctor. Find an article online that describes maladaptive daydreaming in a way that resonates with you. Download the MDS-16 from the ICMDR website and score yourself on it. Send both documents to your therapist with a brief note explaining that you struggle with maladaptive daydreaming and you’d like help managing it. That way, your therapist has a chance to read up on it before your first session. And in your first session, it will be much easier to start the conversation if your therapist already knows what you want to talk about.
What if I’m already in therapy?
What if you’ve been in therapy for a while, possibly for another issue, and you now want to talk about your daydreaming? That’s the situation I was in, and I think there are a couple of ways you can handle it.
If you specifically want help managing your daydreaming, it’s probably best to use the strategy outlined above. Send your therapist some information about maladaptive daydreaming with a note explaining that you’d like to talk about it in your next session. That’s a lot less scary than trying to bring it up out of the blue when the therapist is sitting in front of you.
But if you’re mainly in therapy for another problem, such as anxiety or depression, you might feel you don’t need a whole conversation about your daydreaming. In that case, you can mention it without making a big deal of it. You might say something like: “When I start to feel anxious, I mentally check out. I imagine an alternate reality where everything’s OK. But it’s an escape really, and it’s not good for me. So can we look at healthier ways to cope?” Or “I have a group of imaginary friends. When I need some support, or just someone to give me a hug, I imagine they’re there with me. It makes me feel better temporarily, but it’s not the same as having someone real.”
You don’t need to launch into a full description of your paracosm or how long you spend there. You can casually let your therapist know it exists, and then they’ll ask whatever questions they feel are relevant. You’re not hiding your daydreaming, but you’re not making it the focus of the session if it doesn’t need to be.
But my therapist will think I’m crazy!
Probably not. I’m sure they’ve heard worse. But what your therapist thinks doesn’t matter. They are literally paid not to judge you. And everything you say to them is confidential. If your therapist says or does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, judged or invalidated, they’re not doing their job properly.
Will I have to say what I daydream about?
Not if you don’t want to. In therapy, you set the agenda. If you’re not comfortable talking about the content of your daydreams, say so. Your therapist should respect that. In most cases, the content isn’t relevant. It’s the effect your daydreaming is having on you that’s the problem. You can work on that without going into detail about the content.
Maladaptive daydreaming almost never exists in isolation. Most maladaptive daydreamers have one or more other mental health conditions. The beautiful thing about therapy is that your therapist can take that into account, and help you come up with solutions that are precisely tailored to your specific circumstances. I’ve benefitted a lot from therapy. If it’s available to you, I’d strongly encourage you to give it a try. Please don’t let any shame or embarrassment you feel about your daydreaming hold you back.