Self-disclosure is revealing personal information to others. In the context of counseling, the implementation of this principle may significantly assist the client. As mentioned by Evans, Hearn, Uhlemann, and Ivey (2016), it is used to “facilitate clients’ understanding of their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” (p. 187). The technique may help build trustful and open relationships because the disclosure of personal information allows removing psychological barriers in clients and creates the feeling of connectedness to others in them.
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Counseling requires responsiveness and emotional involvement of the interviewer in the process. Without it, the effectiveness of counseling sessions may be inhibited. Self-disclosing can largely benefit and increase the efficiency of interviews as it shows clients that you are listening to them and understand their problems. However, interviewers should know when and how to use the principle of self-disclosure. It should be appropriate and should serve the interests of the client.
It is possible to say that in the reviewed case, the information revealed by a counselor does not entirely suit the situation. When a client discusses her separation with family, she hopes they can reunite. When the interviewer shares the personal experience with her, he/she is not very sensitive to the woman’s emotions. One can find some gross similarities in their experiences – both stories are about divorce and misunderstanding between spouses – but the counselor should not have said, “I am baffled why we ever got married in the first place” because the phrase does not seem to suit the client’s expectations and interests. When self-disclosure is not applied appropriately and does not meet clients’ needs, it can only show interviewers’ incompetence and prevent them from developing trustful relationships with interviewees.
During a session, professionals always attempt to understand their clients. For this reason, they show empathy. At the same time, an emphatic attitude should not lose objectivity. However, self-disclosure is associated with both communication benefits and risks of losing impartiality needed in the profession.
In early psychological therapy, self-disclosure is regarded as unnecessary in case clients understand the nature of sessions. According to Patterson (n.d.), a client usually expects to talk about him/herself and does not expect therapists to share their personal experiences. Clients may become puzzled and embarrassed in case an interviewer talks about him/herself (Patterson, n.d.). However, if a client seems not to understand the nature of counseling, self-disclosure may be used to encourage the conversation.
Nevertheless, self-disclosing should not be too informal because it is anti-therapeutic. At the beginning of the professional relationships, a person may feel anxious and lack trust. The excess openness of an interviewer, in this case, may aggravate the situation. Thus, a counselor may start by sharing factual information first and hide the personal one.
Similar to the counseling process, documentation should contain the relevant and germane information that will help a counselor/therapist to track clients’ therapeutic history. The inclusion of the interviewer’s personal information is, therefore, not necessary in the professional reports. However, a counselor should mention the techniques he/she used, diagnostic impressions, plans, assessments, etc. (Smith, 2003). It is useful to note a few details about the course of the conversation and what effect the implementation of a particular communication tool had on the outcomes. Documentation helps to follow-up the treatment, identify information gaps, and develop strategies to fill them in.
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Mutual understanding is core to effective counseling. In a friendly environment, it is much easier for a client to open him/herself and change. Self-disclosing is thus an important aspect of contemporary counseling and therapy as it helps to develop trustful client-counselor relationships. By reducing the anonymity in own character, an interviewer encourages clients to disclose significant personal experiences and, in this way, facilitates positive outcomes.
Evans, D. R., Hearn, M. T., Uhlemann, M. R., & Ivey, A. E. (2016). Essential Interviewing: A programmed approach to effective communication. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Patterson, C. H. (n.d.). Therapist self-disclosure. Web.
Smith, D. (2003). Ten ways practitioners can avoid frequent ethical pitfalls. Web.