Self disclosure – Harmful or Good?

The present paper has provided some considerations for psychotherapists assessing the potential harm or good that may come out of a given piece of self-disclosure. Gleaned from the above discussion, the following questions are intended to guide decision-making about using effective and beneficial self-disclosure in psychotherapeutic practice:

  • a) Is this piece of self-disclosure intended primarily to help the client or to a gratify a personal need (of, for example, validation or support from the client)? If it is the latter case, the therapist may benefit from addressing the issue at hand in supervision, consultation, or personal therapy.
  • b) Does the client need to know this piece of information to make informed consent about his or her treatment?
  • c) Might this disclosure negatively impact the client’s perception of the therapist’s competence and professionalism?
  • d) How much and how often is the therapist disclosing with a particular client?  Might the amount of disclosure be excessive and thus distract from focus on the client?
  • e) What type of self-disclosure is being used? Immediate or non-immediate? What does the research say about this kind of disclosure?
  • f) How does the therapist conceptualize self-disclosure from his or her chosen theoretical orientation? That is, what kind of self-disclosure, if any, is consistent with what he or she believes is the agent of change in psychotherapy?
  • g) Is the decision to disclose informed by the client’s cultural context?
  • h) Is the decision to disclose informed by the client’s developmental age or stage?
  • i) Does the client display personality traits that make it more likely that he or she would be harmed by the therapist’s disclosure?
  • j) Might the therapist’s desire for keeping certain personal information private negatively impact the client? If so, how can the therapist utilize supervision to minimize harm to both the client and her or himself?

By regularly contemplating these questions, a psychotherapist may come to develop his or her capacity to use self-disclosure in an optimally beneficial and ethical manner.+310

Sadighim, S. (2014). The big reveal: Ethical implications of therapist self-disclosure. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 49(4), 22-27.

Sherry Sadighim, M.A.

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