As a person centred counsellor with experience in peer support work, I believe that the best therapeutic experience is delivered when there is a strong working relationship between the client and the therapist. In my own experience of accessing counselling and mental health services I have often struggled with the "therapeutic blank slate" - when the person I was working with was entirely neutral and non-disclosive. For me, that was a barrier to engaging with the work.
How can I build a therapeutic relationship with someone who isn't giving me anything on which to build a therapeutic relationship? How can I trust someone who doesn't trust me? I often found my therapists to be evasive - which was frustrating! - or worse, a blank wall which felt like an exercise in controlling me through use of a power dynamic.
There are, of course, risks in the other direction. If a therapist discloses something personal about themselves, this may contribute to a client building up an idea that the relationship is not professionally boundaried. Similarly there is the risk that a therapist might not keep full focus on the client in what is their session.
When can self-disclosure be helpful?
For me there is no clear answer of when Therapist Self Disclosure (TSD) is helpful, simply because each client has their own needs and the working relationship between a client and I changes and grows as we continue to work together. That said, there are a few instances where I think it might be useful to disclose to a client:
In my next post I'll be looking at some of the ways in which therapist self disclosure can be unhelpful, but I hope this has given a sense of how self disclosure can be used in the therapy room.