Self-disclosure: Important aspects psychologists, therapists and counsellors should keep in mind when disclosing personal information.What should a psychologist, counsellor or therapist be aware of when self-disclosing during therapy? The purpose of this paper is to examine empirical research regarding self-disclosure; specifically how it relates to what a psychologist, counsellor or therapist should be aware of when working with clients and applying self-disclosure as part of the therapy strategy. This paper will deliberate findings and recommendations of several peer-reviewed articles and will unpack themes appropriate to self-disclosure. The scope of this paper will be limited to the findings and recommendations of the identified articles published between 1997 and 2012. The themes discussed in this paper include unpacking the meaning of self-disclosure, ethical issues to consider when making use of self-disclosure in therapy, the role of self-disclosure in cognitive-behaviour therapy, self-disclosure of sexual orientation, gay clients, Functions of therapeutic self-disclosure and types of Therapist Self-Disclosures. The intent of this paper is to serve as an introductory exploration of the dynamics of self-disclosure and what it means for psychologists, counsellor or therapist and how this might possibly impact the therapy sessions and the outcome of therapy for the client. It is important to keep in mind that the academic and professional importance of self-disclosure stretches far beyond the limitations of this short paper and the few themes discussed here is non-exhaustive, neither detailed, but limited to the scope and intent of this paper. IntroductionNilsson (as cited in Hess et al., 1997) describes self-disclosure as an intrapersonal (own emphasis) action in which a psychologist reveals information about his or her personal life outside of counselling and an interpersonal action in which a psychologist reveals feelings about the client’s problems or the counselling relationship. Intrapersonal is further divided in terms of intrapersonal past; the psychologist reveals information about his or her own past history, and intrapersonal present; the psychologist reveals information about his or her present personal experiences. Revealing information in this manner is more than professional expertise. Self-disclosure can be feelings, attitudes, opinions, fantasies, experiences, or history. It can also be verbal or non-verbal, conscious or unconscious and can be broken down into three categories: deliberate, unavoidable, and accidental. Self-disclosure can be seen as an interaction in which the psychologist discloses personal information about him or herself or reveal personal reactions to the client as they arise during a session or consultation. Self-disclosure transpires when the psychologist is deliberately more open and genuine with the client. There is usually a difference between information that psychologists disclose about themselves as a person and information they reveal about their understandings of and with the client in the session as it happens (Hess et al., 1997, p. 275).A number of studies regarding self-disclosure were done during the 1970s and 1980s and the authors of these studies explained helpful disclosures occur when (a) clients communicate significant private matters, (b) when the intention of self-disclosure is to normalise or reassure the clients, and (c) when self-disclosure consists of personal, non-immediate information about the psychologist. These self-disclosures resulted in positive consequences for clients that included insights or new perspectives from which to make changes. This in return can then result in an improved or more balanced therapeutic relationship between the client and the psychologist, giving the client reassurance and encouragement (Hess et al., 1997, p. 274).The use of self-disclosure is problematic for psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapists and psychologists, and they often sternly limit their self-disclosure out of fear for possibly weakening transference. These psychologists are concerned with the vulnerable dynamics of boundary transgression and possible ethical concerns. Some ethicists want to preserve the professional boundaries between the psychologist and client and do not see self-disclosure as a part of the psychologist’s role and responsibilities. According to Kaslow et al. (as cited in Hess et al., 1997, p. 275) humanistic, cognitive-behavioural, feminist, existential, and eclectic orientations incorporate self-disclosure into their therapy strategies and sessions. They view therapist self-disclosure as a means of demystifying the psychotherapy process and regard self-disclosure as a means to connect with the client and establish rapport. Ethical issuesThe ethicality of a specific self-disclosure is expected to depend on the content of the disclosure, the psychologist’s rationale for the disclosure, the personality traits of the client to whom the disclosure is made, and the specific conditions surrounding the disclosure. The ethical guideline states that clients should be fully informed of noteworthy information concerning the treatment procedure before they consent to participate in the treatment. It is important for the psychologist to disclose any personal information that might impact the client’s treatment decisions, and to withhold such information would be unethical (Peterson 2002). Clients legally have a right to know information such as the psychologist’s personal and political values, biases, class background, and sexual orientation before deciding whether a particular psychologist is best suited to help them. If a psychologist takes a consequentialist approach to ethical decision making, the judgment about whether to self-disclose in any particular situation is based on the evaluation of the potential results of that self-disclosure for the client. Even if a psychologist or therapist takes into account the content of a disclosure, the reasons for making the disclosure, the traits of the person to whom the disclosure is directed, and any special circumstances surrounding the disclosure, the psychologist or therapist may still have difficulty predicting the consequences of divulging personal information (Peterson 2002, p. 24).The 1992 version of the American Psychological Association offers several ethical principles and guidelines that apply to the issue of therapist self-disclosure. Ethical Standard 1.19 is one of the APA guidelines most closely associated with the debate surrounding self-disclosure. The guideline recommends that psychologists should not exploit persons over whom they have a guiding responsibility, evaluative, or other authority such as their clients or patients (APA 1992, p. 1602). APA Ethical Principle E covers a comparable pronouncement that highlights the fact that psychologists have influence and power over their clients and must, therefore, evade using that control in a manipulative manner. Though these ethical principles do not refer explicitly to the subject of self-disclosure, concerns about client exploitation often are raised in relation to therapist self-disclosure. It is exploitative and unethical to self-disclose if the therapist is using that self-disclosure to get his or her own needs met by the client. Psychologists should practice nonmaleficence and beneficence. It should be the goal of psychologists to help others. Nonmaleficence and beneficence are the two ethical principles that are most often addressed in relation to self-disclosure because these principles are implicit in the many writings about the clinical usefulness of therapist self-disclosure (Peterson 2002, p. 22). Both Nonmaleficence and beneficence are also two important principles for the Canadian Psychologist Association and should be part of professional conduct for practising Canadian psychologists, therapists and counsellors. Role of self-disclosure in cognitive-behaviour therapyFeminist therapists purposefully self-disclose their opinions and feelings about such emotionally and politically divisive issues as sexual orientation and nonmonogamous relationships so that clients can decide whether the psychologist will provide unprejudiced support if these issues arise. In cognitive-behaviour therapy, where the importance is placed on between-session changes, a rational intervention that accelerates such changes can be freely integrated into treatment. In functional analytic psychotherapy, psychologists are encouraged to self-disclose the personal impact that clients make on them. By responding to the client’s ineffective and effective behaviours within the session, the psychologist or therapist encourages the client’s use of adaptive interpersonal behaviours and rejects behaviours that are problematic. Drives of therapeutic self-disclosure in cognitive-behaviour therapy may contain providing feedback on the interpersonal impact made by the client, enhancing positive expectations and motivation, strengthening the therapeutic bond, normalising the client’s reaction, reducing the client’s fears, and modelling an effective way of functioning (Burckell et al 2003). Self-disclosure of sexual orientation Due to the homophobic culture, to which homosexual individuals are exposed throughout their lives in belonging to a sexual minority, there is the probability of them suffering from the psychological effect of internalised oppression or self-hatred. This manifestation of transforming external hate of homosexuals into self-hate is thus defined as internalised homophobia (Moore & Jenkins 2012, p. 313). A homosexual psychologist or therapist might experience feelings of augmented anxiety and fear of client judgement, particularly when working with assumed heterosexual clients. These fears are mainly founded on the homosexual psychologist’s or therapist’s own assumptions and biases. According to current research about internalised homophobia, the term noticeably arises as a dominant descriptive notion and point of reference within the research literature produced by gay and lesbian researchers on therapist self-disclosure (Moore & Jenkins 2012).Sexual orientation is a potentially concealable status and the decision to disclose generally rests with the psychologist or therapist. It also falls to the psychologist to assess how their client might receive such a disclosure. Fears around the outcome of therapist self-disclosure of their sexual orientation are based on past ‘coming out’ experiences. Psychologists have no control over how their self-disclosure is further employed by their clients. A psychologist choosing to disclose their sexual orientation to a particular client could, as a consequence, be disclosing to their entire neighbourhood, or workplace. The psychologist might experience additional anxiety factors through an identified awareness of the potential impact this may have on their lives, both socially and professionally and include fears such as being negatively evaluated, the fear of experiencing hurt feelings and the fear of losing or damaging a professional or personal relationship (Moore & Jenkins 2012).Gay ClientsDisclosure to gay clients is normally advantageous. Sexual minority clients often seek psychologists or counsellors who are self-identified as gay or lesbian for the reason that of the assumption that they will more effortlessly develop a credible, trusting and safe therapeutic relationship free from rigid heterosexist attitudes and biases, which might be the case with heterosexual psychologists. Evidence suggests that gay and lesbian clients have a preference for gay and lesbian psychologists or therapists to self-disclose their sexual orientation before therapy itself commences. Therapist’s self-disclosure of their sexual orientation to sexual minority clients is particularly necessary given the lack of gay and lesbian role models in society (Carroll et al., 2011). Clients often research their psychologist before arriving for therapy and sometimes clients choose therapists who are already known to them in the community or known to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual (LGBT) affirmative or LGBT themselves. For LGBT individuals and their families to have a chance of success in counselling, it is important that psychologists challenge assumptions and educate themselves about LGBT experiences, specifically the effects of growing up LGBT in a heteronormative society and to develop an understanding of the diversity of LGBT experiences. Bisexuality, in particular, is often neglected in training, and this seems to negatively impact on the way bisexual clients are treated in therapy. It is important that psychologists are sensitive and aware of the implications and complexities of coming out as LGBT, both for the sake of their clients and for themselves. Psychologists should consider how to negotiate both similarities and differences in sexual identity between themselves and their clients (Evans & Barker 2010).Functions of therapeutic self-disclosure Burckell et al. (2003, p. 559-566) identified possible functions of self-disclosure that transmits therapeutic potentials. Giving response to the interpersonal impact of the client’s behaviour on the therapist may parallel the responses of others in the client’s life. When therapists self-disclose the impact the client makes on them personally, they are providing vital interpersonal feedback on the potentially positive or negative reactions of individuals in the client’s life. A principle of change shared by most therapeutic orientations encompasses the presence of positive expectations and incentives to change. Although cognitive-behaviour therapy relies upon a number of methods to bring about change, the therapeutic relationship nevertheless plays a noteworthy part in the change process. Without a strong therapeutic bond, it is unlikely that the most effective methods could demonstrate to be beneficial. The psychologist needs to be human, and one way to transfer this humanness is through self-disclosure. If the psychologist is able to reveal that he or she has experienced or encountered the same difficulty the client is experiencing, it can probably serve to help reinforce the therapeutic connection. Although a psychologist can surely explain this occurrence to his or her clients with the expectation of changing the way the client thinks about his or her problems, therapeutic self-disclosure may prove to be a more instant and effective interference. The fact that even a psychologist could make mistakes, and forgive him or herself, can be put to good therapeutic use in softening the patient’s own perfectionism and judgment of the self in difficult circumstance or when facing disappointments. When disclosing experiences of dealing with fears, psychologists need to describe their thoughts and feelings in detail, highlighting the problems experienced in coping and the efforts to overcome the fears. An important area where a therapist’s self-disclosure can have a fear-reduction purpose involves clients’ fears of articulating emotion. In such cases, the psychologist’s own emotional articulateness in the setting of the therapeutic dynamic may be useful, signifying that it is safe to take the risk of articulating one’s feelings and weaknesses. Another important function of therapist self-disclosure is to help exhibit behaviours that are new to clients. The use of such modelling is in occasions where the otherwise capable client does not know an effective way of dealing with a problematic life situation.Types of Therapist Self-DisclosuresBurckell et al. (2003) defines seven types of disclosures in therapy. Disclosure of facts can be defined as information such as the psychologist’s qualification and area of expertise. Disclosure of feeling can be a parallel drawn between past feelings of the psychologist compared to current feelings of the client. Disclosure of insight assists in describing a similar situation and the appropriate actions taken due to the situation. With a Disclosure of strategy, the psychologist describes what actions he or she has taken to prepare for what might have happened. In a Disclosure of reassurance/support the psychologist express understanding of an emotion or feeling by comparing it to a similar event from his or her life. Disclosure of challenge is illustrating a situation where the psychologist’s contribution to a past event is described, and lastly, a Disclosures of immediacy is bringing the clients attention to how the psychologist is feeling at that very moment. ConclusionIn conclusion, self-disclosure is a matter of how a psychologist or therapists conduct his or her work and it is also connected with the psychologists believes and theory of practice. It is not as easy as deciding to self-disclose or not. It takes time for a therapist to develop his or her own way of working and being an effective professional. Burckell et al. (2003, p. 532-538) suggest using therapist self-disclosure since it is a helpful intervention, but it should be used occasionally and sensibly. Psychologists should make sure to use appropriate content in therapist self-disclosures and appropriate levels of intimacy and the disclosure should fit the particular client’s needs and preferences. It is important to establish appropriate reasons for self-disclosing and it is imperative for the psychologist to return the focus to the client after the self-disclosure. Self-disclosure should be about issues that the psychologist has resolved, instead of issues (examples) which are unresolved.