Self disclosure is often defined as “sharing information with others which they would not normally discover about us. It involves risk and vulnerability for the person sharing the information”. In other words self disclosure is the process by which we let ourselves be known to others.
What is the significance of self disclosure in counselling? For a client it is the decision to talk to a counsellor about thoughts, feelings and behaviours – both past and present. But should counsellors self disclose to a client as part of the therapeutic relationship? The answer is not a simple ‘yes or no’. Appropriate self disclosure may encourage a client to self disclose in return e.g. the client may feel that the counsellor truly understands them because they have had a similar life experience(s), and therefore feels more comfortable talking about that experience(s).
However, self disclosure can also remove the focus from the client, particularly if the counsellor self discloses too often and in too much detail. It is therefore important that the disclosures reflect the needs of the client, not of the counsellor, and never involves the counsellor’s own issues.
Most humanistic therapies consider counsellor self disclosure to be acceptable, within the boundaries mentioned above, but in psychoanalysis it is not. Psychoanalyists believe self disclosure gets in the way of the client’s journey towards working through their transference.