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There are several important reasons why the clinician may want to use self-disclosure in the course of clinical work with clients. There are also situations in which self-disclosure is clearly contraindicated.

In this section, we will spend some time looking at both of these important issues. We will begin with a look at some of the important benefits of self-disclosure.

Benefits of Self-disclosure

There has been a substantial amount of research to indicate that self-disclosure has the ability to enhance the therapeutic relationship and engender client disclosure (10). It may be helpful here to go into some more detail about how this works.

To begin with, under the right circumstance self-disclosure can help decrease client anxiety. This occurs because clinician self-disclosure may help normalize the client’s feelings, give them perspective, and allow them to realize that others have had similar experiences.

Secondly, several studies have found that self-disclosure can further the therapeutic relationship by increasing client trust and by encouraging personal disclosure by the client. The reciprocal nature of disclosure in a relationship is well-documented in the literature (1; 3).

Thirdly, many clients enter therapy without good models for how to engage in personal discussions about important issues and problems. Clinician self-disclosure can provide the client with these alternative role models, as well as models of alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

Fourthly, a well-timed, relevant self-disclosure not only displays empathy, but also is a clear indicator for the client that the clinician has both heard and understood (10).

The choice to use self-disclosure should be purposefully aligned with an understanding of these benefits, and carefully evaluated to make sure that the benefits outweigh any potential risks associated with self-disclosure. These risks are related to the contraindications for using this kind of intervention.

Contraindications for Self-disclosure

There are a number of circumstances that contraindicate the use of self-disclosure. Some of these emanate from the 1) clinician’s assessment of the client, while others emanate from 2) the clinician’s assessment of his/her own feelings.

Careful attention should be paid to the existence of these two circumstances when determining if self-disclosure is appropriate. We will look at these contraindications in the brief section that follows.

Contraindications for Self-Disclosure based on Client Issues

Self-disclosure should not be used with the following:

Clients who have problems with boundaries or reality testing and tend to idealize the clinician. These clients are likely to distort the meaning of the disclosure.

Clients who are seeking inappropriate closeness.

Clients who tend to focus on other’s needs rather than their own.

Clients who are very self-absorbed or narcissistic and would experience the disclosure as an annoyance.

Clients who make demands for personal information meant to disrupt or resist the therapy.

Clients who are trying to avoid or distance themselves from their own emotional feelings.

Clients who are severely mentally ill, or who present with serious substance abuse problems.


Contraindications for Self-Disclosure based on Clinician Issues

Self-disclosure should be used with caution when clinicians:

Feel coerced by the client to disclose.

Feel emotionally vulnerable.

Are concerned that the client may misuse the information or share it with others.

Have intense positive or negative feelings about the client.

Disagree strongly with the client’s point of view.

Believe the disclosure will burden the client.