The Skill of Self-Disclosure: What You Need To Know

Self-disclosure can be a very useful skill, but only if employed properly.

Self-disclosure in therapy is when a therapist shares their own personal views or experience with a client with the purpose of improving the client’s emotional or mental state. It should be done solely for the purpose of helping the client, and not to meet the needs of the therapist. For example, if a client is upset over their divorce, the therapist may disclose that they, too, have survived a divorce. The intention would be that the therapist not only has a deeper understanding of the client’s situation, but might be able to offer some insight. Counselors must be very careful when using self-disclosure. Otherwise the session can become more about the counselor than the client, and that does not serve the clients’ needs.

Therapists often disagree on what amount of self-disclosure is appropriate. As with most aspects of counseling, there is no clear-cut “right” or “wrong.” As a therapist, you will need to evaluate for yourself the pros and cons to decide how much of it to integrate into your practice. To aid in that decision, I have created a pro/con list for you:

  1. Pro. Self-disclosure can help to reduce the power differential between you and the client.
  2. Con. The client may become too comfortable with you and begin to view you as a friend instead of a professional helper.
  3. Pro. Self-disclosure can increase trust in the counseling relationship.
  4. Con. Poorly timed or executed self-disclosure can increase distrust. The client may question your motives, or see you as getting too involved.
  5. Pro. The client may feel less alone, knowing the helper has the same issue.
  6. Con. The client may feel that helper is impaired.
  7. Pro. The client may feel more understood, knowing the therapist has similar experience.
  8. Con. The client may feel that the therapist is not listening, that they are more focused on their own issues than those of the client.

If you do decide to self-disclose, here are some suggestions:

  1. Use “I” statements. Make it clear to the client you are referring only to your own personal experience.
  2. Be brief. Say what you need to in the most concise manner possible, limiting the details of your disclosure to what is most likely to benefit the client.
  3. Choose wisely. Consider your client and the effect that your disclosure will have on them. For example, you probably don’t want to self-disclose with client who has dependent personality disorder.

Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

Dr. Barb LoFrisco