The Therapist’s Self-Disclosure: A Developing Tradition
Some considerations and reflections
In this brief paper I will examine some aspects of the notion and application of self-
disclosure. It is exciting to consider here the subject of the therapist’s self-disclosure in a
systematic way. Anyone reading the literature on the issue of self-disclosure will be
impressed with the variety of viewpoints that are expressed on this subject. I will not
undertake here a review of the vast literature but limit my comments to a few observations
and thoughts. My hope is to stimulate discussion.
I would like to invite us to interrogate our
assumptions about the use, or otherwise, of self-disclosure, and, in particular, the use of
countertransference disclosure. I hope this will enable us to approach countertransference
self-disclosure in a manner that promotes the therapeutic process.
For some therapists and counsellors self disclosure has come to be equated with a relational
approach to therapy. “There is a common misperception that to work relationally means to
self-disclose relentlessly” (Wachtel, 2008, p. 245). That is, in order to be relational in my
orientation to therapy, as a therapist, I am required to disclose my responses to the client.
However, in my view, a relational orientation to therapy is an attitude and position to take in
relation to ourselves and our clients. It is not something we dip in and out of, a technique we
take off the shelf to use at a given time. In a relational orientation, Wachtel (2008) reminds us
that self-disclosure is not necessarily required, but it is permitted. Theoretically, disclosure of
the self is a contentious issue, and an important area for clinical discussion. This is
particularly true in a relational orientation to psychotherapy.
As therapists, we cannot avoid disclosing ourselves, we are revealing ourselves constantly.
The way we talk with our clients, our accents, our gender, the way we dress, the furnishings
of our consulting rooms are all aspects of ourselves that we disclose. In addition, the
therapists’ interpretations are disclosures, since they demonstrate the existence of a different
and separate mind.
When the therapist sits face-to-face with the client, as opposed to using the couch, disclosure
of the therapist’s subjectivity is an inevitable occurrence. The client will interpret the
therapist’s behaviour and responses to their expressions and behaviour; as does the therapist.
This will be both a conscious and unconscious process.
In addition to the inevitable disclosures, we also need to consider the therapist’s deliberate
self-disclosure. I will limit the discussion here to disclosure of the countertransference. My
goal in exploring the notion of self-disclosure is to invite us to consider, in a thoughtful
manner, when to and when not to disclose, and if we do, to consider how we do it and the
motivation for doing it.