Today I had a decision to make – my daytime work is filming something that I am a part of that will end up on youtube. I had to decide what top to wear. This got me thinking: self-disclosure is a tricky beast, where it’s generally agreed that some self-disclosure might be ok, if it benefits the client, but other self-disclosure is not ok, where it might not. Although having said that, there will inevitably be times where we self-disclose to benefit a client, when this doesn’t help, or choose not to disclose when it might have helped.
But disclosure is in the ‘life’ disclosures that we do or do not make. And it’s here where I see people often reply with a ‘why would you need to do that?’. Generally this comes from a person in a majority – so I am questioned for example, being open about my sexuality with clients, by a person who is not of a minority sexuality, yet who has no issue wearing a wedding ring. In this instance, it’s assumed that the person asking ‘why’ is straight. They have already been saved the issue of disclosure by virtue of the fact that it’s just assumed by society.
There are other disclosures to be made as well however. All too often these are also based on ‘norms’. I would not be surprised to hear myself told that it is not always appropriate to disclose to my clients that I have a mental ill-health history. However, what I then need to know is if I can wear long sleeves always (as a result of that mental health history I have extensive scarring on my arms). If not, what happens to the person-centred principle of therapist congruence, where my client can see that I am (for example) uncomfortable in the heat, but for some (unknown to them) reason am not wearing short sleeve/rolling my sleeves up? Should I be free to wear short sleeves and no cardigan into my office? If not – why not?
We make other disclosures all of the time, based on our speech, our clothing style, and it would be daft to assume that we do not. But still, there definitely seem to be ‘sanctioned’ disclosures that we should or should not make, based on what society (or counsellors?) as a whole have decided are ok. Whilst I don’t think that our place as therapists is to tell our clients our life stories, I do think we need to be aware of the fact that we self-disclose all of the time, and this isn’t avoidable. Sometimes I think that we should actively embrace this and yes, whilst a conversation might be interesting to have around the client-asked question (why is this important to know?).
As trainees, we get told a lot about what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. I’ve been told that ANY self-disclosure is wrong, and also, that the right amount of self-disclosure for the right reason at the right time is ok. Both by qualified counsellors (the second one by Fred my supervisor. I’ll take his judgement on this issue). I think that what we need to be aware of most is a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to a question, and I also think that we need to have thought through issues such as self-disclosure before we are faced with it, so that we have some idea on what we might do/how we might react. For me it feels akin to a shame reaction: society dictates the norm, and those who operate within it do not have to ‘out’ themselves. For those of us who wish to out ourselves as NOT being part of the norm, suddenly, we must justify our responses: ‘why would you want to tell someone you were a lesbian?’ ‘why would you want to let someone know you used to self-injure?’. It’s not a question for me of ‘want to’; it just is. I can never remove those parts of me and they are present in the room as I am. Do I want to make those explicit at times? Absolutely.
- Let’s Just Be Real. Let’s Be Ourselves (wonderfultips.wordpress.com)
- Between Therapist and Client: The Great Divide (psychologytoday.com)
- Making Decisions about Therapist Self-Disclosure (drkathleenyoung.wordpress.com)
- Boundaries and Clients: Considerations for Clients (drrhondasutton.wordpress.com)
- The flip side of disclosures (mixedbrewblog.wordpress.com)
- Self-Disclosure: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right? Are You an Open or Closed Book? (psycentral.wordpress.com)