Posted in For Nurses, Therapy

The Art of Self-Disclosure in Therapy

Do you sometimes wonder how much personal information to share with a client? Or whether to disclose any information at all?

The truth of the matter is that we are always disclosing things about ourselves all the time in the way we dress, talk and respond to things that are being shared with us, as well as in how we decorate our offices and more.

To help you navigate the tricky waves of communication, this post will be providing you with some of the key take-aways from Janine Roberts, Ed.D.’s talk about “Therapist Self-Disclosure” at the Psychotherapy Symposium 2013.

Below is an infographic that summarizes Roberts’ key guidelines about self-disclosure for mental health professionals.


Some good questions for consideration:

What did you learn in the family that you grew up in and/or your family of origin    about private/public boundaries and disclosing information about yourself and/or your family?
How was what you learned influenced by your social identities and/or familial social identities such as gender, class, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, culture etc.?
How does what you learned about privacy and sharing inform your thinking and ideas   around transparency [sharing of information about your conceptual models, ways of    working, values & beliefs and life experience] in your work with clients?

Research has shown that up to 30% of the variability in therapy outcomes is dependent upon the quality and nature of therapeutic relationship, not the specific model or method employed. In Roberts’ emphasis of the importance of the therapeutic alliance, she stresses the value of therapists’ skillful disclosures.

She states that research has shown that clients consistently rate therapists’ skillful disclosures as useful and provided examples of when she has asked clients who’ve been in therapy what was most helpful about their treatment, they typically describe the times when their therapists have shared something about their own personal struggles.

While skillful self-disclosures are of great value, they may also backfire by making clients feel that they need to take care of the therapist or that the therapist isn’t there for them.

To illustrate, Roberts shared a colleague’s case example in which her colleague was working with a woman who had been sexually abused by her father. The client, after a year of treatment, was still blaming herself for the abuse and experiencing difficulties in intimacy with her husband and unable to tell him what her father had done.

After consultation with her supervisor, the therapist disclosed to the client that she had been sexually abused by her father and this was part of the reason she chose to be a therapist. She also shared the part of her journey in which she mastered her shame and guilt.

How did this impact the therapy treatment? On the one hand, this disclosure helped the client let go of some of her feelings and share more with her husband. On the other hand, it made the client feel protective of the therapist and worried about saying things that would be hard for her to hear or give her flashbacks.

From then on, the therapist worked with the client to reassure her that she didn’t need to take care of her and she made an extra effort to monitor her own affect and to check in frequently with her client in this regard.

This case example demonstrates that even when you have thought through a particular situation, consulted with a colleague/supervisor on the matter, be emotionally prepared and share your personal information in the “optimal” manner, the disclosure may still have unintended effects and require thereafter special handling. 

In sum, the art of self-disclosure in therapy is much more than thinking through and/or applying Roberts’ guidelines [listed in the above infographic] but in subsequently monitoring and being attuned to your client following the disclosure so as to ensure that your client reap only benefits and not harm from the self-disclosure.

What are your thoughts about self-disclosure? Do you have an example of some information that you have shared which you felt that was helpful [or not]? 

Roberts, J. (2013). “Therapist Self-Disclosure.” Psychotherapy Networker Symposium 2013.
Roberts, J. (2005). Transparency and self-disclosure in family therapy: Dangers and possibilities. Family Process.


Mother, Pediatric Nurse and a Trail Blazer for Positive Change.

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