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Therapist / Coach Self-disclosure

In the world of therapy and coaching, practitioner self-disclosure is usually frowned upon. We are generally taught that it is better for the therapist / coach to minimise self-disclosure as it can take attention away from the client and the space is purchased by the client for themselves.

But of late, I have started to think that if undertaken thoughtfully, it can in fact be a very useful tool within the helping relationship.

Therapist / coach self-disclosure should still not take centre-stage. But given that the success or otherwise of the work is very much rooted in the relationship that exists between the client and the practitioner, if the disclosure is undertaken in a way that communicates to the client the message that ‘I am one of your tribe’, that ‘I really understand your difficulties’ (and therefore am better able to help you because of that insider knowledge), it can prove to be a useful and reassuring tool. It can even form the basis of a bonding process between the practitioner and client.

Many clients can be heard to say things like ‘you know all about me, yet I know so little about you.’ Whilst we can counter that with responses such as ‘this is your space’, it does also beggar the heartfelt human response of sharing something about yourself to support them in their curiosity and their process if it helps them to feel more connected with you.

That is the area each practitioner must weigh up for themselves and in relation to each individual client as well as in relation to each specific circumstance. The outcome will not always be the same.  Indeed it should not always be the same.

It is for such reasons, that I have recently reassessed my position on self-disclosure. I do not do a lot of it within individual sessions still. But I have used a little self-disclosure in my marketing as it has not only helped clients to see me more clearly as a therapist / coach and a human being, but also has enabled them to see that I know what I am talking about.  I do work from a relational perspective, and I do believe that relationships – of any kind – ought to be a two-way street. Healthy relationships anyway.

So a prospective client knowing that I have MS no longer feels scary to me. I have had to work through my own issues around sharing this fact with others – the shame that exists around being other, being viewed as less than, around a disability, the care it may induce in clients – but in doing so, I have also demonstrated to anyone thinking of working with me, that I am still on my own developmental journey and that I do not shy away from this hard work. I believe this biographical disclosure demonstrates my humanity and that there is no endpoint to the processing; that this practitioner is not ‘fixed’ or coming from an expert position; that we are all on our own journeys, but I have a lot of knowledge that is perhaps different to someone else’s and can facilitate your (the client’s) growth.

It serves an additional purpose for me in that it prepares my potential clients for the possibility of seeing me walk in an unusual gait, or with the aid of walls and furnishings or even a stick. Whilst not expected, this serves as a preparatory aid in a subtle way. This too is from the perspective of ‘in the best interests of the client’ because I suspect it would be a bigger shock for them to witness any of my symptoms without context than them having a context.

My intention has been from the perspective of ‘in the best interest of clients’ – potential or actual clients – in the hope that this disclosure will fill the reader with confidence to work with me; that it illustrates from the very beginning, a modelling if you will, that they too can work through their issues and come out the other end, feeling stronger, and more resilient: That they too can show more of their truer and fuller Self.  


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