You have learned in your master’s program that appropriate self-disclosure can provide therapeutic benefit. But, how do you know what to disclose and when?
First let me say that “less is more.” As a new therapist, I’m sure you are eager to practice your new skills! And, whereas it is true that self-disclosure can build the therapeutic alliance, and maybe even inspire clients, it may not be as powerful as you think. In retrospect, I have never had a client tell me that it was my brilliant self-disclosure that prompted change. In addition, it could be dangerous.
But that doesn’t mean that self-disclosure, when used judiciously, isn’t beneficial.
First of all, ask yourself why you are self-disclosing. “To help the client” is not sufficient. Instead, ask yourself:
- At this moment, what is the best intervention? (It may not be self-disclosure.)
- What are my own feelings about what I am disclosing? (Perhaps you haven’t yet worked through your own problem and are about to use the client as your therapist.)
- Have I crossed the line from empathy into sympathy? (Am I allowing my own intense feelings about their problem cloud my judgement?)
- Am I crossing the line from professional to friend? (Am I being too familiar with my client?)
In addition to these questions, there are other factors to consider.
Self-disclosure is generally inappropriate for:
- Clients who are “people pleasers.” These types of clients will pull focus from themselves because they want you to like them. You will often get follow-up questions from these types of clients, turning a therapeutic conversation into an inappropriate one.
- Clients who are avoiding their own issue. This type client will welcome the chance to talk about something other than their own issue, thus slowing therapeutic progress.
- A client who is very upset. If you choose to talk about yourself rather than attend to a client’s intense feelings, you could be viewed as insensitive.
- Clients who manipulate. Sometimes clients take pieces of information and use them in order to defend themselves, which is another thing that slows therapeutic progress.
In sum, every single thing you say to the client (other than “Good morning,” of course) should have some therapeutic purpose. Use this as your guide for deciding whether to self-disclose.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,
Dr. Barbara LoFrisco