The relationship between therapists and their patient should be a professional one, but ultimately every relationship is about what happens between two people, and when one is speaking about intimate, personal matters – as in therapy – the boundaries can get blurred. So, when is it okay for a therapist to self-disclose?
It is never appropriate for a therapist to speak about themselves at length. In therapy, the focus should always be on the patient. As a general rule, it is inappropriate for the therapist to make any therapy session all about themselves. As well as involving complex ethical issues, it is simply unfair for the therapist to spend a lot of time talking about themselves, when the patient is attending therapy specifically to deal with their own problems. Whether the patient is personally paying for therapy, or whether it is covered by private or national insurance, the therapist must honour the fact that the session must be all about the patient and their needs.
On the other hand, as human beings, we all instinctively feel the need to make a connection with others, and a moderate degree of self-disclosure between therapist and client can help to form a bond, which in turn can lead to a greater degree of openness and clarity. Moreover, patients can sometimes feel quite intimated by their therapists, and quite nervous about the process of therapy, and a degree of controlled self-disclosure can remind them that their therapist is a human being with their own needs and challenges, and can help them to feel more at ease.
For example, in working with a woman with post-partum depression, a therapist might say something like, “I remember feeling completely overwhelmed when my own children were small, and with post-partum depression it is so much more difficult.” Or, to someone who is struggling to overcome a bereavement, it would be appropriate to share something along the lines of ,“I found it took me the best part of a year to come to terms with my loss when my mother passed away.” Sometimes a simple comment about a recent holiday or a good book can help to break the ice.
When it comes to therapist self-disclosure, an appropriate degree can be managed when the therapist and the patient alike ask themselves a few questions:
- Does the self-disclosure add to the patient’s comfort and feeling of safety, and does it maintain focus on their needs and wants, rather than the therapist’s?
- Is the self-disclosure appropriate to the topic at hand?
- Does the patient remain at the centre of attention, and the primary focus of therapy?
If the answer to all three questions is ‘yes’ then the disclosure is likely to be appropriate, and the therapist is not overstepping boundaries.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.