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What is the Doorknob Phenomenon?

Therapy is a place for us to share the most intimate aspects of our lives with a trained professional so that they can help us process past life events, develop coping skills, and achieve better mental well-being. However, no matter how motivated we are to seek therapy, we may still feel guarded and withhold some information from our therapists until we feel it’s absolutely safe to do so. The doorknob phenomenon refers to a statement that is shared at the last moments of a therapy session, often right before the session is about to end. Such statements usually provide a therapist critical information on their client’s mental well-being, progress of their treatment plan, or oftentimes on a vulnerable sensitive topic, which was not mentioned before but may impact the treatment process significantly. Although it is not the most healthy way of sharing information with a therapist, it is completely normal to make doorknob confessions especially during the initial stages of psychotherapy and most therapists are trained to handle such moments competently.

Why do we make doorknob confessions?

We often feel more comfortable and safer as a session progresses thanks to our therapist’s clinical interventions. Therefore, it is no coincidence that we may finally be able to express a particularly vulnerable concern, thought, memory, or experience towards the end of a session. In such a situation, making a doorknob confession is an expected part of the therapy process and the frequency of these moments will decrease as you attend more and more sessions. On the other hand, some clients may engage with the doorknob phenomenon frequently as a form of avoidance knowing that their session is about to end and they will be able to avoid an uncomfortable exchange with their therapists thanks to not having enough time left to do a deep dive into whatever was shared. 

How can I reduce the impact of a doorknob moment?

If you find yourself engaging in the doorknob phenomenon, acknowledge that whatever was shared was likely important and impactful for you and if you are doing it to avoid talking about certain topics, be ready to continue talking about them in the following sessions and try to give your therapist a fair chance to help you overcome this behavioral pattern. Your therapist may react to a doorknob moment by acknowledging it and, depending on the topic, by either extending the session or taking a note of it to bring it up during the following session(s). However, no matter how impactful a piece of information you shared with them, your therapist will often decide not to extend your session because they will not want you to experience increased anxiety due to running out of time and they will prefer revisiting the doorknob moment during a succeeding session to create a caring environment with enough time to process it more fully. The act of your therapist not extending a session can be off putting, but keep in mind that the conversation is paused with a compassionate and intentional purpose.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.