I've had a recent spare of new clients complaining to me recently about past therapists, psychologists, counselllors and their preference to talk about themselves. There was the psychologist who liked to spend the session talking about the trials and tribulations of his weekend angling trip, the counsellor who thought that discussing work place issues gave her carte blanche to talk about her own frustrations. This information was given to me early on just in case I might be feeling the same need to unburden myself and to stop me in my tracks.
Self-disclosure, the divulging of personal information about the self, presents a considerable ethical dilemma in therapy, a situation made more difficult by the internet search engines and social networking sites. Not all self-disclosure is intentional. Several clients have told me they've Googled me. I immediately went home and Googled myself. Not too much to worry about there... a few sleep-inducing research papers and not much else. I restricted access to my Facebook page, not that I have ever really bothered about using it. Sometimes self-disclosure is unavoidable. When I was out sick for a while, clients knew that about me, and I had to be extremely careful in dealing with questions about it when I returned to work.
But what about intentional self-disclosure? Used sparingly and judiciously, intentional self-disclosure can be therapeutic, can help to build the therapeutic alliance. It's a double-edged sword, however, and careless or excessive use of disclosure can make make the client uncomfortable, burdened and transfer the focus away from client to therapist.
Similarly, how you deal with requests for self-disclosure from the client is critical. When a personal question is refused with a flat: "no", it may be destructive to the therapeutic relationship. For example, in an environment where trust is key, people might feel there's a lack of reciprocal trust. Maintaining good boundaries at all time is essential but softening that refusal by explaining how the sharing of personal information would change the nature of the therapeutic relationship and exploring the interest further can be useful.
Client side, therapist side - what's been your experience with self-disclosure? What's helpful? What's not?