The matter of self-disclosure in the professional therapeutic setting is one that can be daunting to understand. Foremost, disclosure in therapy is most identified as originating from the client. Many of us picture a somewhat small, dimly lit office where the client is lying down with their eyes closed telling their personal secrets. In many instances, however, this is not so.
Therapy has become so diverse that a generalization such as this can be very far from the reality a client faces when they enter the therapeutic setting. So aside from not really knowing what to expect regarding the physical environment, clients are also leery about the process of therapy.
It is helpful for clients to understand that therapists have also undergone similar thought processes, such as the internal debate regarding how much of themselves they are to share.
Therapists teeter between disclosing too much and not enough about themselves to clients. As a therapist, where do you draw the line? As a client, what are your expectations?
In general, self-disclosure should be used at the discretion of therapists with the intention of promoting wellness while avoiding harm at all costs (i.e. primum non nocere). Self-disclosure is a natural (or promoted…or even integral) part of several models of individual and group therapy, thus for therapists practicing such models it is necessary in many cases.
Other models of therapy do not require therapist’s self-disclosure, and may even work more effectively if such disclosure is avoided. So for therapists, the answer is to understand your model, and work within that frame…be comfortable and be authentic.
Hint: As a client, if you have the opportunity to research and select a therapist, you should consider what you perceive to be your presenting problem and evaluate the approaches of the potential therapists.
Not all therapists are created equally and some therapeutic models have been evidenced to work well with specific issues. You also want to consider qualifications, credentials and reputation, but this will be covered more extensively in another blog.
As a client, you should expect therapists to be forthcoming with their particular intentions regarding the progression of the therapeutic experience, which may or may not include their intentions regarding self-disclosure. At any case, therapists’ disclosure should be in keeping with the intent of the therapeutic experience as outlined during the process of informed consent.
The process of therapist self-disclosure is unique to each therapist, and clients who may have had previous experiences must understand that their own expectations can make their experience more or less productive. If, as a client, you were forced to change therapists (e.g. because you relocated), you may be jaded. If you discontinued seeing a therapist in search of a better experience, you may be disheartened by having to start over again (i.e. the administrative processes and the initial “introduction” sessions).
If you are completely new to therapy then your understanding of the uniqueness of therapists will prove helpful. You are making an important decision in your life, and, in that regard, being informed is a process which you can directly influence…being informed is also something you should expect during the course of therapy.
In other words, be informed going in and be even more informed coming out.