DSC8883 - SECTION 8: SELF-DISCLOSURE AS A GROUP LEADER
The overarching principles for group leader self-disclosure are similar to those for disclosure in individual therapy: the information should be therapeutic for the group and clearly related to what is going on in the group.
The difference is that group members, at some point, will generally expect some disclosure from the group facilitator. The group leader who does not disclose or discloses too much can expect less than satisfactory results.
When group leaders are too closed about themselves, group members are likely to see them as distant and insincere. On the other hand, if a leader discloses too much, group members become resentful and question the leader’s expertise.
When group leaders serve as role models for appropriate and genuine disclosures, group members follow that example. Leader self-disclosure should engender group member disclosure, rather than turning the focus on the leader.
The researcher Jourard (4) maintains that the group facilitator “is the leader in the therapeutic dance and that clients follow the leader."
GUIDELINES FOR LEADER SELF-DISCLOSURE
As this section presents guidelines for disclosure in group facilitation, it is logical to begin by pointing out that most of the information previously presented has application to disclosure in group facilitation.
Primary, of course is that the disclosure should be in the best interest of the group (not the facilitator), and germane to what is currently occurring in the group. The information previously presented regarding content, timing, intensity, and obtaining feedback also applies.
Before assuming group leadership, however, it is important to give some thought to how much personal information you are comfortable sharing in this type of setting. Nevertheless, do not set hard and fast rules for yourself.
Since it is impossible to predict your reaction to everything that will happen as the group sessions proceed, remain flexible and open. When disclosing, be honest and genuine, but not indiscriminately open. Leaders do not have to say all that they think and feel, nor is it wise to do so.
It is also very important that you do not submit to group pressure to share more than that which with you are comfortable. If you think a group member’s query asks for too much information, use the skills previously detailed: turning the question around or ignoring the question and moving on.
It would also be appropriate to respond to this sort of pressure by stating, "As the group leader I am likely to learn more about your problems than you will learn about mine. Our purpose here is to focus on group members and that’s what I would like to continue to do."
Group leaders are cautioned not to disclose any unexamined personal information or experiences likely to produce a strong emotional reaction. For the same reason, it is considered best not to disclose problems with which you have current involvement.
The act of disclosing present problems increases the risk that the group will shift the focus to the leader. Furthermore, group members have expectations about the leader’s competency and would react negatively to disclosures by the leader that might indicate mental instability or a lack of expertise.
In order to maintain appropriate boundaries and improve professional behavior there are a number of questions you can ask yourself to evaluate your use of disclosure as an intervention:
Why am I disclosing certain material?
Am I modeling disclosure behavior for the group?
Am I trying to manipulate group members to see me as “one of them?"
Whom will I help by sharing certain information?
How will it help?
Am I disclosing to explore my own problems?
If you do identify problems you wish to explore, consider finding a group of your own or discussing the problem with a supervisor, professional, or friend. Keep in mind that it is unethical, not to mention counter-productive, for a group leader to use group time for his/her own needs.
Because it can be more difficult to maintain a sense of objectivity in highly charged group situations, it may be especially helpful to ask for and be open to honest feedback from group members about your self-disclosures.
If the feedback is negative, if you hear your own voice more than that of group members, or if you sense you are disclosing for your own benefit, your ethical responsibilities within your professional would push you to seek consultation.
When a group is run by two or more co-leaders, there are some special complications in the use of self-disclosure. To plan and prepare for these complications, co-leaders should thoroughly discuss self-disclosure and their individual approaches to its use, along with other issues of co-leadership, long before the group meets for its first session.
If one leader freely discloses personal information and the other does not, the group may see one leader as genuine and the other as disingenuous. Co-leaders need to work this out privately between themselves and set mutually agreeable guidelines for self-disclosure.
In 1981 Herman Borenzweig of the UCLA School of Social Work conducted a study of the quality and quantity of clinician self-disclosure. A respondent in that study expressed their sense of self-disclosure as a group facilitator by writing:
"I’m not a blank screen;
If I’m to be a mirror for [the group],
They’re entitled to see my cracks."