My experience in grad school around therapist self disclosure basically was that we shouldn’t do it. Or if we did to be very careful and keep vigilant about who the client is and potential fallout that could come from it. At the same time there were discussions about the powerful nature of working with the relationship between client and therapist as it presents in the here and now. The message I left with was, “Ok this is dangerous, and it could be potentially the most healing relationship this person could experience thus far in their life.” Wow, that’s heavy! So how and why should we do this?
What I have experienced and continue to experience is the profound, and I’m not using that word lightly, healing that can take place through here and now disclosure by the therapist. This is not about sitting around in normal consciousness and chatting about our favorite flavors of ice cream. It’s about dropping into the realm of dissociated parts, developmental trauma, and systemic beliefs, together, as a way to reintegrate the shattered parts of self many clients come in with.
The key word, and point of this relational work, is “together.” As therapist and client we venture into these places together, and this together can only happen if the therapist is willing to exit the role of observer and become participant. We use our own experience in the present moment of the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise for us in the relational field with our client. This is self-disclosure in one of its most pure forms, and one of the most impactful forms.
The art of therapy is to walk the line of knowing what disclosure is the greatest benefit to the relationship. This takes a lot of mindfulness, introspection, and skill, oh and a willingness to totally mess up! To be human, to say the wrong thing then say, “Shit, I need to repair this with you.” Because what the client does not need is a perfect therapist. Perfect people do not exist. But what do exist are people who are willing to connect, mess up, and then repair. Allowing you and your client to experience that together is healing for both parties. And it might be the first relationship in their lives where that connection, break, and repair cycle happens. This is one way people heal from developmental trauma.
We all need this, therapist and client alike. We all need to have these journeys into the scary places with someone else, as I said above, not as observers but as participants. And one note about those of you who are thinking about getting overwhelmed by journeying with your client: I have experienced far less overwhelm when I consciously enter into this material together as co-travelers. Without this consciousness and the ability to name what’s happening in the present moment we are, both client and therapist, asleep and replaying dynamics that have been happening for decades. So take a risk and name your excitement, jealousy, fear, confusion, tears, tenderness as you are impacted by the human sitting across from you and see what happens next!
Karolina Walsh Psychotherapy
Providing psychotherapy, counseling, and support for grief, addictions, trauma, PTSD, relationship issues, and GLBTQIA.
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg