Time does not heal you, you heal you.
Time does not heal you, you heal you.
Self-Disclosure in counselling is when a therapist reveals personal information about themselves. It can be deliberate or unintentional, verbal or non verbal.
Verbally, a therapist can talk about an experience they have had or are having. It could be mentioning something about their lives like being married, having children or it could be about an experience they have had as a child or their own healing journey for example. This type of disclosure is called Extra-Session Disclosure as the topics relate to life events and experiences that occurred outside of the session. Often following a question or out of therapist choice.
Another form of deliberate disclosure which is usually therapist initiated, relates to the counsellors feelings of the client and the therapeutic progress itself. This is called Intra-Session Disclosure. For example. A therapist may say something like 'I notice you've been very quiet during our last few session and i'm wondering if i've done anything to facilitate this?'.
As well as verbal disclosures there are many objects or things that reveal personal information about a therapist non-verbally. Intentionally or un-intentionally, therapists reveal information about themselves. For example, the counselling space could have family photos or a trophy won for a hobby. They could receive a compliment and state that they love a certain colour.
As my approach is one that derives from more humanistic psychological theories my opinion on this subject is based on my
feelings as a person, a women, a counsellor, a friend, a mother, a daughter, a wife, simply put a human being. This sense of
being at one with the client and meeting them where they are at are important factors in creating a safe and connected space, enhancing the work being done in and out of the session. I believe that self-disclosure if done right can be beneficial to the overall therapeutic process. All that being said, let's look at what should occur prior to self-discloser being
introduced into the session before going into the topic further.
Basic empathy requires a person to understand and recognise what the other person is feeling. Having awareness of the emotions of another person as if 'being in their shoes'. Not to be confused with feeling sorry or pity. If your busy thinking, 'poor them, their so unfortunate' this is sympathy.
Moving further, advanced empathy takes things up a notch and requires a deeper more intuitive level of understanding.
An attunement to clients feelings not yet verbalized. The ability to be with another person and convey what you notice from their body language or from what you have connected between the lines of their verbal and often non-verbal cues.
As therapists, we should have done the work necessary so we can ensure that any disclosure is of benefit to the client and the counselling process. Our own self-awareness and ethical exploration of disclosure should be carried out.
Here are 3 things to ask yourself as a client and a counsellor.
Questions for Counsellors
1) Are my experiences similar to my clients and what feelings are coming up for me?
Any unresolved feelings or unfinished business coming up for you during session can impede the counselling process and may lead to countertransference.
2) Is what i'm going to say of benefit to my client and how?
Consider the impact of your disclosure. Depending on your approach, you may view self-disclosure as unnecessary or counter-productive. It's important to know where you stand so that when faced with a question from a client that calls for disclosure you know how to react so that the answer is authentic and will illicit understanding and not offence or confusion.
3) Is this something the client does regularly?
What is the underlying need behind your clients questions? It could be the need to feel normal, validated, inspiration that their current status can change. If this is the case, maybe something is missing and more validation, normalization or paraphrasing is needed to name a few. Or is it a way for your client to stall, avoid talking about themselves or could there be transference in motion?
What to do
-Seek help from your supervisor
-Revisit study materials and watch training videos
-Discuss with your peers in group sessions/forums
This is something we will go through at some point. Being aware of it is the most important thing. As therapists, the aim should be to continue to learn and improve ourselves as we go along to better serve clients and ourselves.
Questions to ask yourself as a client
1) Does your therapist remind you of someone close past or present?
Whilst this can be the case. The thing to be aware of is your emotional connection to the person in question. Was/is the relationship a healthy one? Is there any resentment, anger, mistrust that was experienced with them.
Unknowingly, you could be transferring unresolved feelings towards the counsellor which may stall your progress. If you feel this may be the case bring it up to your counsellor (if they haven't already :-) )
2) Do you find yourself wanting to be in your counsellors presence all the time?
This could be good thing, as the counsellor must be having a positive impact. If you feel that the time spent is helping you reach your goals then the connection to your therapist is strong and productive. Your counsellor could be the first and only person who listens, understands and really gets you. This intimacy can be so strong that it mimics a romantic relationship. Couple things here a) it is a real relationship. It's a real therapeutic one however. It's likely you have great admiration and gratitude for the person helping you through your healing journey. b) Sometimes feelings go beyond friendship, become romantic and even make appearances in your fantasies. This is normal and not as uncommon as you may think. Discuss this with your counsellor, they should be able to explore without judgement and discuss the reality of the situation.
3) Why is it important for me to know about my counsellor outside of their profession?
It's not uncommon to become curious about your counsellor. Some are more forthcoming then others, as are interactions outside of the therapy world. If you are asking simply out of curiosity and just that, understand that different therapists have different sharing styles. Self-disclosure may not me something that your counsellor believes is productive.
So what now...?
- Understand that the feeling of closeness is inevitable on the road to healing. People can get close fast especially in an environment that facilitates openness, empathy and unconditional positive regard. Intimacy is something we as human beings crave. Understanding what intimacy is and our relationship to it should be a point of exploration. A good therapist should understand and be able to help you with getting your needs met outside of sessions. Try not to judge yourself for having feelings.
- Review the forms you received at the beginning of your session regarding the therapeutic process. Remind yourself what therapy is and what it isn't. This can help you to get back to a place of knowing that therapy is about guidance, support and education.
-Be open to discuss this with your therapist and try not to take any non-disclosure personal. If this is impeding your connection and you feel that the therapy isn't quite working for you then maybe its time to move on. After discussing this with your therapist if you are still not satisfied with the therapy in general you are within your rights to find the counsellor thats the right fit for you. This doesn't necessarily mean 'easy' but allows for work to continue.
Therapy is a two way street. It's a therapeutic relationship that is only as healthy as the sum of two parts. Both parties have responsibilities to themselves and each other. I write this with the intention that both client and counsellor alike can sit on the same page as it were and see themselves first as human beings before anything else. Asking ourselves important questions acts as a check in. It highlights areas of improvement and exploration and reminds us of what were doing right.
As long as our disclosure is focused and relevant to the client, is kept to a minimum and delivered from a place of education and not from an unloading perspective. Self-Disclosure can be a helpful way to show validation, reduce any power imbalance and build rapport and trust.
Credits for Images Used - www.pixabay.com
Inspiration from http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/careers/blog/self-disclosure-in-counselling
Counsellor, Facilitator and Writer - My aim here is to provide articles which provoke thought into our inner spaces. Our many 'Selves' should be celebrated, nurtured and most of all understood. Who we are when we are by ourselves and with others is paramount to our very existence and evolution. Connect.Support and Heal with KD Self-Ease.