My Incredibly Insightful Comments on Self-Disclosure in Therapy from Counseling Today Magazine

Here’s a photo of me talking too much.


Now imagine that I finally realize I’m talking too much, and to control myself, I place my hand over my mouth


Along with 10 other professionals, I was asked to write 300 words on using self-disclosure in counseling. All the comments were published this morning in the Counseling Today magazine.

I liked all the commentaries. You can read them here:

But I was especially happy to see that three of the 11 selected professionals were linked to the University of Montana. Kim Parrow (doc student) and Sidney Shaw (former doc student) both provided their insights for the article. How cool is that?

Speaking of cool, and I know this isn’t appropriate, but I really liked my own commentary. I liked it partly because it sounds pretty smart and partly because I do a nice job of making fun of myself. And so here’s my short comment about self-disclosure in counseling:

My first thought about self-disclosure is that it’s a multidimensional, multipurpose and creative counselor response (or technique) that includes a fascinating dialectic. On one hand, self-disclosure should be intentional. If counselors aren’t aware that they’re using self-disclosure and why they’re using it, then they’re probably just chatting. On the other hand, self-disclosure should be a spontaneous interpersonal act.

Self-disclosure is an act that involves revealing oneself. As Carl Rogers would likely say, if your words aren’t honest and authentic, then your words aren’t therapeutic. From my perspective — which is mostly person-centered — the purest (but not only) purpose of self-disclosure is to deepen interpersonal connection. As multicultural experts have noted, self-disclosure can facilitate trust more effectively than a blank slate, because transparency helps clients know who you are and where you stand. What’s less often discussed is that it’s impossible to not self-disclose; we’re constantly disclosing who we are through our clothing, mannerisms, informed consent form, office accoutrements and questions.

I remember working with a 19-year-old white, cisgender, heterosexual male. He told me he was diagnosed as having reactive attachment disorder. After listening for 15 minutes, I was convinced that there was no possible way he could meet the diagnostic criteria for reactive attachment disorder. First, I used an Adlerian-inspired question/disclosure: “What if it turned out you didn’t really have reactive attachment disorder?”

You might not consider a question as self-disclosure, but every question you ask doesn’t simply inquire, it simultaneously reveals your interests.

Later, I disclosed directly, using immediacy: “As I sit and listen to all your positive relationships, it makes me think you don’t have reactive attachment disorder.” Despite my interpersonally clever use of an educational intervention embedded in a self-disclosure, my client didn’t budge, countering with, “That doesn’t make any sense, because I’m diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder.”

At that point, I wanted to use self-disclosure to share with him all the ways in which I was a smarter and better health care professional than whoever had originally misdiagnosed him. Fortunately, I experienced a flash of self-awareness. Instead of using disclosure to enhance my credibility, I spontaneously disclosed, “I’ve been talking way too much. I’m just going to put my hand over my mouth and listen to you for a while.”

As I put my hand over my mouth, my client smiled. The rest of the session was — in both our opinions — a rousing success.


8 thoughts on “My Incredibly Insightful Comments on Self-Disclosure in Therapy from Counseling Today Magazine”

  1. I have never seen cisgender used in mental health medical records. Maybe times have changed? I read your post about new words. I consider cisgender to be such a word and refuse to use it.

    1. Hello Daily Renewal.

      Thanks for sharing your comments. I agree that cisgender is an awkward word. It hasn’t gotten onto my banished word list because I try to use it out of respect for people who value it. But I’m glad to know I’m not the only person out there who is selective about word choice!

      All my best,

      John SF

      1. I understand. There’s still so much to learn about gender experiences. It seems premature to solidly identify all experiences into two categories. I once rejected that there were more than 2, but after reading articles written by individuals self- described as gender queers, I feel like cisgender doesn’t truly describe them. I’ve always considered my conscience as intersex but I never questioned my gender identity as anything other than corresponding to my biological sex. Also, I’m concerned about cisgender being used as a derogatory term as I do not think that is fair at all. Thanks for your response. I apologize for any awkwardness in typing…I am not accustomed to the tiny response window with keyboard yet. I so much prefer my laptop!

  2. “if your words aren’t honest and authentic, then your words aren’t therapeutic.” I think these lines beautifully capture all that is there to it. Patients can relate more to a therapist who is honest and confident about himself or herself. Without that, there is no use for therapy.

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