My inaugural blog post was called Personal Disclosures. And in my post Tale of Two Rookie Moms, I wrote about my therapy work with a stay-home mom who was struggling emotionally. I told her how hard maternity leave was for me, and how I felt so much more myself, so much more balanced, so much more capable as a mother, by going back to work. My client seemed grateful that I’d been so self-revealing. It seemed to free her to consider all her options, and choose her own path.
That’s what personal disclosures by a therapist are supposed to do for clients. But I’ve always shied away from inserting my own experiences in the therapy session. Nowadays, that’s much harder to do.
There’s a continuum for therapists in terms of personal disclosure. Some talk about their own lives freely and some keep the focus exclusively on the clients’ experiences. Most therapists fall somewhere in between.
I’ve always been on the low disclosure side of the continuum. But pregnancy changed that. Clients had questions about how far along I was, or if I knew the sex of the baby, or how I was feeling. And I never felt like doing what we were advised in school: “What would it mean to you if I was 14 weeks along? What would it mean to you if I had morning sickness?”
Then, since having a baby, I feel so much more urge to disclose. Sometimes, with my mom clients, I practically have to bite my tongue to avoid saying, “Me, too!” I find that I want to be understood just like they do. Only that’s not the job.
I suppose you could argue that a well-timed “Me, too!” would be to the clients’ benefit. They might feel understood, less alone, less crazy. Normalizing could be a good reason to share. But it runs the risk of changing the relationship and turning us into friends, a bigger risk since I generally really like my clients. It’s hard not to like people who are so voluntarily vulnerable week after week.
After all, it’s individual (or maybe couples or family) therapy, not a support group. Once you get too informal, it’s hard to go back. Once you share, clients might expect you to share more, and feel offended or hurt if you try to reassert the professional boundary, if you act too “therapist-y.” It’s a fine line.
I value my clients, and the connections I have with them. I like that those connections exist on a different plane than the rest of my relationships. And, honestly, I like being perceived as a very together person, which seems to be the default perception clients hold of their therapists (until it’s proven otherwise.) So this blog is a risk.
I haven’t told any clients about it. I’m half-hoping that they don’t discover it, for fear of it changing how they view me in a way that would be detrimental to our work. What if I ask certain questions and they think, “That’s not what you said in your blog!” or “You don’t do that with your husband!” or “Have you joined a moms’ group yet?”
This blog is another balancing act in my life. I’m balancing my personal struggles with my professional acumen. It’s a very human and imperfect endeavor. But do we really want our therapists to be fully human? One of these days, after a client does a choice bit of googling, I might find out.
Therapy session photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 4 Dec 2012