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Erika Schmidt, LCSW - therapist self disclosure

Posted by Dinah on February 22, 2004, at 9:17:34

I suppose it's no particular secret that I have had some concerns about the amount of therapist self disclosure that, judging from posts on this board at least, seems to be far more widespread than I had considered probable. And I have quite a few concerns about the impact of those disclosures on clients.

I should first say that I am a huge fan of client disclosure to therapists. I never ever think it's wrong to ask your therapist anything, and I never think it's wrong to want anything from your therapist, and I never think it's wrong to feel whatever you feel towards your therapist. I think it is a *good* thing for a client to disclose their feelings for a therapist, whatever they may be. Whether the client feels dependent or in love or sexually attracted or whatever the case may be. And I've been horrified in the past that therapists can't always seem to handle these disclosures with professionalism and empathy. Or that the therapists sometimes confuse the taboo of sexual relations with clients with thinking that a client shouldn't disclose sexual feelings for a therapist.

But lately my concern has been swinging in the opposite direction. That therapists have been disclosing everything from the fact that they masturbate to thoughts of attractive clients (in general, not client specific) to disclosing that they reciprocate the sexual attraction of a particular client (while acknowledging that the attraction can't be acted on).

In each case, the client can make a credible argument that the disclosure was good in their circumstances. That it increased their comfort with sexuality. That it increased their trust in their therapists by knowing that their therapists answered their questions with honesty. And in each given case, I might conceivably agree. But taken all together, I'm afraid that it conveys an idea that is dangerous. That therapist self disclosure of personal things is a *good* thing. Or that it can be a good thing, and of course we'd each like our own case to be one of those times it *is* a good thing.

First of all, I'm afraid that when therapists realize that they have crossed boundaries by disclosing too much, that the client inevitably pays the price. Either by the establishment of far stricter boundaries or even by the transferring out of the client.

Second, isn't it also trust inspiring to know that your therapist knows what is *his* and what is *yours* and honors both himself and you enough to maintain his privacy and dignity? I think there is something trustworthy about a therapist who can realize that there are things that we may want to know, but that might burden us if we knew. Even if it's not positive they'd burden us, even if we don't think they'd burden us, if it's possible they'd burden us, it's their job to have the strength to refuse to answer.

I'm sorry this is so long, and it really isn't even a question that pertains to me, as my therapist has excellent boundaries. It's just something that has concerned on a Babble wide basis.

So (finally), my question is what you think of therapist self disclosure. Do you think there circumstances when disclosure regarding the therapist's sexuality (especially regarding clients in general or a particular client) is useful or helpful to a client? If there are, is there any way to judge in a particular instance if the therapist self disclosure is harmful or helpful?

My therapist seems to think, though I disagree, that clients bear some responsibility in all of this. Would you agree? And if so, what is our responsibility?

And I suppose to properly evaluate your answer in context, we'd need to know your general orientation. Short term vs. long term therapy? Cognitive behavioral or more psychodynamic or interpersonal? Do you work with transference, or just try to minimize it?

Thank you for volunteering your time to Babble. It is very much appreciated.




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