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.
- 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)
- Is what I say really going to keep my clients focused on themselves or distract them to my story?
- 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.
- How often do I do it?