To Self-disclose, or not to self-disclose, that is the question?
Therapists are not to self-disclose, this tale is perhaps tried but is it true? I recently explored this topic in one of my IG live discussions and came to a wonderful realization that we need to take this conversation further and to greater heights. We need to address this on a macro level to implement a much-needed change in a way that every therapist becomes aware of the power of self-disclosure!
Power in self-disclosure? What? So, in grad school, we are told that disclosure carries a lot of power and can be detrimental to the client. We are discouraged from engaging in disclosure of any kind and even encouraged to be the minimalist therapist. This, in turn, can come off as cold, impersonal, and unapproachable to clients. The austere and stoic personality that we are told to have is said to be in the interest of “professionalism” and to assert ourselves as “experts.” I am not so sure that this is the best approach for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, think of your own experiences in life. Are the people with whom you feel safest and closest to described as cold, unapproachable, stoic, or not personable? I would like to believe it is safe to venture a guess that the people you are closest to and feel safe with are none of those things. If that was how you would describe them, you may probably not want to even know them! Now, let’s apply that to a therapist. A therapist is someone who holds private information, provides containment for trauma and other emotional dysregulation, and is suppose to be someone to confide in for our deepest and/or darkest thoughts and feelings. How would it feel to sit across from a therapist that is cold and seems to not be personable?
Would you want to share things with someone that comes across as cold and unmoving? Wouldn’t that feel like you are talking to a wall? By disseminating the belief that disclosure should not happen in sessions, we may be limiting the potential of therapeutic alliance and rapport building.
This veneer of professionalism or expertise established through non-disclosure often comes at an additional cost. As the experts or professionals, we are seen as “having the answers,” “knowing how to manage any and/or all emotions,” and essentially assumed to be “problem-free.” This implies that as a therapist we must not have any mental health issues and can manage through anything. The fact of the matter is that this isn’t true. By refraining from claiming our own mental health struggles as clinicians, we further perpetuate the stigma held about mental health. What would happen if we encouraged this belief? We would be guilty of taking part in stigmatizing mental health issues and illnesses; allowing a form of shame disguised as non-disclosure to veil our own mental health issues as therapists.
Is this what we aim to do in our work? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be honest about our own mental health issues for a myriad of reasons? What exactly would be the benefits be to self-disclosure? What about the risks that our grad programs warn us about these disclosures?
These are the questions I aim to address in my next article, so come back to read soon!
In the meantime, please take a visit to my Instagram @a_safe_space_therapy to view my IG live discussion in which I talk about how we as therapists can help end the mental health stigma.
and as I mention to everyone I come into contact with in relation to my work in private practice:
You always have a place at A Safe Space- Therapy Services.
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