Should therapists talk about themselves to clients? Surprising information

How do you feel when your counselor begins to self-disclose during a session? When they do, is it helpful or a lapse in their judgment?

This is a common conversation in counselor training programs. Generally, most models of counseling and therapy discourage counselor-self-disclosure; some models do so more than others. The reasons for discouraging counselor self-disclosure vary from breaking the unconscious projection (analytic) to just confusing clients because we change the subject from client to counselor.

But a recent article in the April 2014 Journal of Counseling Psychology, suggests that self-disclosure might actually help more than we think. Henretty, Currier, Berman, and Levitt completed a meta-analytic review of 53 studies examining counselor self-disclosure versus non disclosure. And “overall” they found that clients have favorable perceptions of disclosing counselors.

Why? It appears that when a client perceives great affinity/similarity with a counselor, they rate that counselor higher. Also, when a counselor reveals something difficult or painful (a vulnerability?), it makes them more human to their clients. Some examples of this negative valence might include, “when you said that, I felt really sad.” Or, “Let’s talk about your anxiety, having suffering with it some years ago, I suspect you…”

Not so fast!

So revealing similarities with clients and being human make clients feel more similar and possibly more understood. This makes sense. Client/Counselor matching seems to correlate with better outcomes. However, before counselors go talking about themselves they ought to consider a few things.

  1. Why am I doing this? Is what I have to say for them or really for me? (Too often, we speak to talk about self)
  2. Is what I say really going to keep my clients focused on themselves or distract them to my story?
  3. Am I sure that what I say will show similarity? The truth is that we *think* we have a similar story but the times we are sure we know what our clients are feeling we are most likely to stop listening and then miss the client.
  4. How often do I do it?


Filed under christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling science, Psychology, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Should therapists talk about themselves to clients? Surprising information

  1. My first counselor told me so much about herself that I knew more intimate details about her than she did about me. At the time I didn’t even know that was a problem; I just thought that’s what counseling was like. I imagine she thought we were connecting, but we weren’t because I felt missed and dismissed. Now that I am a counselor myself, I do practice some self-disclosure, but I ask myself two questions. Is this therapeutic? And, will my client feel met or missed?

    Thanks for the opportunity to revisit this important topic. Love your blog!

  2. Sam

    When a therapist rushes quickly to self disclosure, it never seems like a gift. But some of my most meaningful moments with therapists in the past have been when they share either how they are feeling or stories of their lives.

    We were taught as a general rule that you also shouldn’t ever share a story you haven’t first processed elsewhere.

  3. Pingback: Should Counselors Self-Disclose with Clients? |

  4. Pingback: Biblical Counseling and “Counselor Self-Disclosure”: Should Counselors Share Their Own Stories? |

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