The effects that counselor self-disclosure can have on group members and the appropriateness of when to use self disclosure will be explained in this paper. The author will discuss the ethical dilemmas that may arise when counselors divulge too much information, as well as a discussion of what the client’s perceptions may be of such disclosure and the positive and negative effects that this may have on therapy. Therapist Self-Disclosure 3 The Pro’s and Cons of Self-Disclosure and Other Boundary Issues
In mental health practice, a commonly held view is that therapist self-disclosure should be discouraged and its dangers closely monitored (Rose 1980). Group psychotherapists may, just like other members in the group, openly share their thoughts and feelings in a judicious and responsible manner, respond to others authentically, and acknowledge or refute motives and feelings attributed to them. In other words, therapists, too, can reveal their feelings, the reasons for some of their behaviors, acknowledge the blind spots, and demonstrate respect for the feedback group members offer them.
Counselor self-disclosure is a way of sharing ones experiences with the clients and can have both positive and negative results (Cross & Papadopoulos 2001). There is something about the personal experience that assists counselors to being especially attentive to the needs of the recovering client. On the other hand, counselors bringing personal experience with them are likely to raise personal boundary issues. In order to remain ethical, the first question the therapist must ask is why am I self-disclosing?
If it is to serve the needs of the counselor in any way, or to create an instant client-counselor bond without trying anything else, then it is probably unethical. One of the ethical principals is to do everything for the good of the client. If a therapist is disclosing for the good of the client, it then may be ethical, but some questions still remain. If done correctly, self- Therapist Self-disclosure 4 disclosure can be very useful and helpful for the client (Donigian1987).
If a counselor at a substance abuse treatment facility does chooses to disclose to clients in group, about their past problems with substance abuse, the counselor must keep in mind that chemical dependency is looked at as a life long disease and the client might view the counselor as a risky source of help (Wosket 1999). If a counselor is viewed as an unreliable source of help, the treatment may not be very helpful. Another disadvantage to revealing personal experience is it may cause the client to focus on the therapist’s issues and not their own issues.
Having the client become interested in the therapist’s issues can lead to dual relationship problems (Hopps & Pinderhughes 1999). There are many ethical ways for a counselor to self-disclose. When done appropriately and for the good of the client, self-disclosure can build trust and give helpful information toward recovery. It can be comforting for the client and make the recovery process less stressful. Highly disclosing therapists believed that an attitude of honesty and equality between the therapist and the client was conveyed by therapist self-disclosure.
Less disclosing therapists believed that the realness of the therapy was related to empathy, warmth, and attentiveness but not to self-disclosure (Jourard 1971). Several types of treatment provide opportunities for therapeutic self-disclosure. Self-disclosure and mutual support contribute to the effectiveness of peer models, such as 12-step programs and self-help groups. Therapist Self-disclosure 5 Many of these models have entered the therapeutic mainstream and include clinician-facilitated self-help groups.
Such treatments often focus on specific behaviors or life experiences, such as addiction, bereavement, parenting, divorce, trauma, or physical illness. The therapist may disclose past experiences as part of the ethic of sharing. Such disclosure alleviates the patient’s shame and embarrassment, provides positive modeling, normalizes the patient’s experience, and provides hope (Wosket 1999). However, when a therapist discloses their experiences to the client fully,
then the mystery that the therapist once was to the client decreases, and the person the client once thought the therapist to be changes enormously with some obvious consequences. The client may learn the extent to which the therapist and client are similar and to what extent they differ in thoughts, hopes, and the past. The client may learn of the therapists needs, enabling the client to decide to help or to ensure that the therapists needs not be met. The client learns the extent to which a therapist’s morals and ethical standards deviate from their own leaving them vulnerable (Hopps ; Pinderhughes 1999).
Although burdening the client with the therapists thoughts, expressions and feelings would not be helpful, the therapists should be aware of their own feelings and then decide rather it needs to be expressed or is even appropriate to express (Wosket 1999). Listening is really the key to group facilitating. Listening should not mean simply waiting for a turn to talk or trying to think about what to Therapist Self-Disclosure 6 say next. Do not jump in to direct the conversation or change the focus from what the group member is saying.
Try to figure out what the message is, what the client is really saying and what feelings the client is experiencing right now. Avoid by all means labeling or judging. Understanding includes recognizing or being able to describe the thoughts and feelings of others, not by simply being able to convey ones own. Certain types of self-disclosure may help the client see that the therapist is an accepting person. This helps the client feel free from threat of rejection. The fear of rejection and judgment narrows and restricts behavior.
The more a group member feels accepted the more likely they are to self-disclose and take risks in the exploration process. The more secure people are the more accepting they can be, since self-concepts are less likely to be threatened by anything heard. Accepting others does not mean we condone or agree with them. What is important is to accept and acknowledge the feelings of others. To be Genuine and honest with ones feelings is very important. Feeling one thing and communicating the opposite is not being genuine, therefore not facilitative, and chances are the client will know.
The more genuine the therapist is, the more the other person will trust them. Being non-genuine may turn the client off from counseling in general and from you as a therapist in particular. A good counselor is one who knows the client as they are, understands where the client has been, unconditionally accepts the client for who they have become, invites Therapist Self-Disclosure 7 the client to grow and then supports them on this journey (Myrick 2001). Virtually all of the helping professions speak of the use of self in the helping process.
But the addictions field is the source of the very concept of the wounded healer, the idea that experiencing and overcoming an affliction donates certain powers to understand and heal others similarly afflicted. Providing hope is a crucial dimension of all helping professions and if by offering oneself up as living proof of such hope then the addiction counselor’s may feel a certain responsibility to do so. Historically they have provided the evidence of the potential for long-term recovery through their own personal story or by guiding the client’s exposure to a vibrant community of recovering people.
What the recovering addiction counselor knows that other service professionals do not is the very soul of the addicted, their terrifying fear of insanity, the shame they feel from their actions and guilt over drug-induced sins, their desperate struggle to sustain their personhood, and their ever watchful eye for the slightest trace of condescension, contempt or hostility in the posture, eyes or voice of the professed helper. This alone may bring the therapist a strong desire to express to the client that they do empathize with their journey and that they are not going through this alone(White,2004).
Counselors should recognize the benefits of self-disclosure as well as its dangers. Nevertheless, the choice of whether to self-disclose Therapist Self-Disclosure 8 should be an active decision that is balanced against the risks, and the decision should always be based on the client’s best interests. Take each client’s individual situation into account, including their social, emotional, cognitive and developmental level of functioning (Wosket, V. 1999).
This may include taking into account the meaning the willingness to disclose would have for each client, as well as the content of the disclosure (Goldstein, 1994). The disclosure should be carefully timed, both in terms of its use in any given session, and in terms of the overall therapeutic process. Therapists are cautioned not to use self-disclosure too early in the therapy process, since they would be less likely to be attuned to the client’s responses (Myrick 2001). Skill and sometimes supervision is necessary for making the best choices about self-disclosure (Cross & Papadopoulos 2001).
Finally, therapists should be prepared to notice how their clients respond to this technique, and initiate or participate in a discussion at the time of or at any time afterwards about the effects the self-disclosure had on the client, the therapeutic relationship, and the client’s therapeutic process (Wosket, V. 1999). Therapist Self-Disclosure 9 References Cross, M. C. , ; Papadopoulos, L. (2001). Becoming a Therapist. New York, New York: Taylor and Francis Inc. Donigian, J. (1987). Critical Incidents in Group Therapy. Belmont CA: Wadsworth Inc. Hopps, J. ; Pinderhughes, E. (1999). Group Work with Overwhelmed Clients.
New York, New York: Simon ; Schuster Inc. Jourard, S. M. (1971). The Transparent Self. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc. Jourard, S. M. (1971). Self-Disclosure. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc. Myrick, R. (2001). Caring and Sharing: Becoming a peer facilitator. Retrieved October 3, 2005 from http://eqi. org/index. htm Rose, S. D. (1980). A Casebook in Group Therapy. Englewood Cliffs NJ. Prentice-Hall Inc. White, W. (2004). The Historical Essence of Addiction Counseling. Retrieved October 5, 2005 from http://www. counselormagazine. com/ Wosket, V. (1999). The Therapeutic Use of Self. New York, NY: Routledge Inc.