Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Self-disclosure - How much is the right amount?

It used to be that clinicians were taught to keep a "professional distance", and to share as little about themselves as possible. Eventually, people realized that it was incredibly difficult to develop rapport and trust if you were closed off. Part of being genuine (see my post on genuine relationships) is sharing part of yourself with the person you are working with. This leads to the question - what do you share and how much?

There is no easy answer to that question, as everybody has a different comfort level with self-disclosure. As a clinician, I have usually only discovered where to draw the line after I have stepped over it. Some people are comfortable including their clients in their personal lives, and even inviting them over to their houses. I have always wanted to keep my work and home life separate.

Although it is a personal choice, here are a few things to consider:
  • Are you sharing information for your benefit or your client's? It's OK to share a situation you have experienced that is similar to what your client is going through, if your reason is that you want to help him or her learn from your experiences. It is not OK to vent because it makes you feel better.
  • Laughing at yourself can be a great rapport builder. If I spill coffee on myself on my way to see a client, I always have a good laugh at my own expense when I tell my client what happened. These experiences help you to appear genuine and approachable.
  • If you disclose contact information, expect your client to use it. This gets a little more tricky now that there is social media to consider. If you become facebook friends, be prepared to receive messages and chat. Sometimes it can be difficult to stop working with a client when you have had a close relationship. Sharing contact information can seem like an easier way of breaking that tie. Just be prepared for your client to contact you.
  • If you close yourself off from your client, your client will know, and will respond likewise.
Every person has to decide for him- or herself the amount of self-disclosure that will work best. Unfortunately, this is often something that is learned only through experience, and experiencing what makes you feel uncomfortable. However, keeping in mind what will most benefit your client, while causing you the least discomfort can be a helpful guideline to follow.

What are your thoughts on self-disclosure?


  1. Your three considerations are distinct and eminently practical. The online exposure is especially tricky from this ol' therapists point-of-view. I exchanged postal mail with a few patients for years, long ago. In a former time (century) even sharing a phone number did not invite stalking or identity theft.

    Brave new world, eh?


  2. Hi Linda,

    I'm working in the mental health arena as a new-grad OT, and this post you've written here really resonates with me... lately I have been reflecting on the importance of developing relationships, and the benefit of a certain amount of self disclosure... it certainly seems to benefit my time with people when I share a little of myself with them too :).

    I'm enjoying your blog and will keep on eye on it/explore further as I go!

    Thanks for taking teh time to blog!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...