FLEX Psychology Presents:
Depending on who you talk to, self-disclosure by a therapist is either a giant misstep that risks destroying the therapeutic relationship or a tremendously helpful tool in building trust and demonstrating how the lessons that emerge in treatment can lead to personal growth in success.
Given the strong opinions my peers hold on this matter, it certainly does not seem like creating a blog called Self-Disclosure is one of my brightest idea. I do, however, enjoy being a contrarian once in a while. Which, I suppose, is my first self-disclosure?
Back to the debate. I would challenge both sides to consider that both of these opinions are correct. Like most things, it is all about context.
Personally, I have always found self-disclosure to be helpful to my clients. I am certainly willing to admit that I am a flawed person and I make mistakes. While I also can be blind to the complexities of my own experiences, I like to think that I have a bit of additional insight into what I do, why I do it, and how it impacts myself and others as a result of my career choice and my own journey towards self-awareness and increasingly intentional action. I am also more than willing to challenge my blind spots by seeking the thoughts of others when I feel stuck along the way.
So how does self-disclosure help my clients? Well, it is pretty simple to be honest. I sincerely believe that my clients benefit from the opportunity to hear that they are not alone in facing life’s challenges, that we can all shift our thoughts and behaviours to some degree, and that the tools we demonstrate in session actually do work. The therapeutic alliance surveys I complete with every client do seem to support this conclusion.
So where is the risk? If your intention as a therapist is to be observed as an absolute authority, self-disclosure may not be for you. If you can comfortably accept that your client may see you as a holistic human being, then you may wish to consider treading into the self-disclosure waters a little bit and see how it fits you and your clients.
The key with self-disclosure is to fully understand that its intention is to help your client move forward towards their goals. If you are not disclosing to satisfy that intention or, potentially worse, you do not even know why you are disclosing in the first place, you are probably making a major therapeutic misstep.
I had the opportunity to be a “mock patient” a few times when I was in graduate school. It was an exciting opportunity to see the unique approaches of my peers and to observe some future therapeutic greats in the making. It was also the opportunity to see some serious self-disclosure missteps. The most alarming began with a response to my concerns that began with “You think you have problems?” and ended with a lengthy discussion of how their childhood was worse than my fake backstory. Oh boy. Now that is a self-disclosure that seems only intended to serve the therapists own pathological interests.
So, what kind of self-disclosures will we have here? Well, in my opinion, I had a great childhood, so we will not be seeing a repeat of my mock-patient experience!
Instead, my goal here is to just share some of the helpful lessons and insights I have picked up along my journey that may be helpful to a diverse range of readers. I intend to talk about wellness and continued growth in a manner that could support my former patients, but will leave the more intense therapeutic discussions to the treatment room.
I will also dabble in some more holistic discussions on community mental health and issues that emerge in my advocacy work. Finally, I will at times pull back the curtain a bit on the mind and challenges mental health and wellness providers face every day. My intention there is to help stimulate discussions with my peers and to help all of us grow together as practitioners.
That is indeed a fairly diverse range of subjects and, certainly, these will not all apply to you. However, if you stick around, I can promise something helpful will not be too many posts away. So, let us see what I will disclose next.
Whenever available, Self-Disclosure will include a supplemental reading list for those who would like to dig a little more in to a topic of discussion.
A qualitative analysis of client perceptions of the effects of helpful therapist self-disclosure in long-term therapy (pay wall)
Therapist self‐disclosure: Research‐based suggestions for practitioners (pay wall)
The role of therapist self-disclosure in psychotherapy: A qualitative review (pay wall)
Counselor self-disclosure: Encouragement or impediment to client growth? (free read)
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Michael Decaire is an Ontario-based psychologist and psychotherapist. He writes on topics of wellness, mental health advocacy, and professional practice.
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