In order for a counsellor to remain focused on the client, self-disclosure during a session is not encouraged. Self-disclosure is sharing information with your client that they would not know about you. It is generally felt that self-disclosure of a counsellor may get in the way of the client’s journey. The counsellor’s past and issues, if disclosed to a client, may ruin the trust between the counsellor and the client or it may influence the client in their decision making.
Counsellors do disclose aspects of themselves simply by their presence. Clients can pick up on a counsellor’s values, attitudes or their culture by the way a counsellor dresses, objects or paintings in a counsellors room or even by the way the counsellor advertises themselves. Many counsellors choose to be therapist by an experience they have had in their life and will then decide to offer an inclusive service based on this experience. For example, a counsellor who has experienced eating disorder will focus his or her own private practice on client’s experiencing an eating disorder.
To self-disclose or not?
I am undecided about self-disclose of the counsellor. Clients know I’ve experienced a bereavement but generally my hidden emotional scars remain unknown to my clients and it will remain that way. These tough times (yes, counsellors do have them too!) have been dealt with and I have learnt my own coping strategies. Occasionally client’s work may trigger memories but I am able to stay focused with the client and if those triggers bother me or linger after a counselling session, I will take them to my counselling supervisor.
Why a client asks?
A couple of times clients have asked me direct questions about my experiences. At the back of my mind, is what is behind my motivation for disclosing and if I answer the question will it prevent me from understanding the clients feelings or stop the client from exploring their own beliefs? As I see many bereaved clients, a common question is ‘have you experienced bereavement?’ This raises the question whether a client feels that no-one will understand them unless their counsellor has been through a similar experience. I feel sharing my experience of bereavement will not help the client explore their own feelings or help them find their true inner self. But on the other hand if it is used in a safe and comfortable manner it could help increase the relationship between myself and the client.
As a rule, I don’t answer questions about myself. However, at the moment there is something I c’annot hide from my clients. I have a visible skin condition called psoriasis. It comes and goes but at the moment my psoriasis is prominent on my face. Self-disclosure is unavoidable. I cannot hide it (and refuse to) and the majority of clients do not ask about it. A few clients with skin conditions have asked about my psoriasis, often in concern as it can look painful (and usually is), but more to ask how have I coped to live with it. In these situations I have to ensure that my psoriasis does not remove the client’s focus on themselves and that any previous issues with my psoriasis never involves my client.
Those who do not have psoriasis or skin issues may ask about my psoriasis as a distraction to their own issues. I therefore have to be careful to ensure we stay focused on the client issues or that the client does not create a dependency on me. A couple of occasions my psoriasis has helped reassure my clients and it has deepened my clients work with their own self-esteem issues. This has shown me that if used appropriately self-disclosure may be beneficial to the client. This has led me to think about whether self-disclosure if used appropriately could help clients providing as it is not seen as advice or ruin the imbalance of the counselling relationship.