Why will my therapist not say more about themselves?
Andres Carrion | July 2023
Self-disclosure is the process of therapists revealing parts of themselves in therapy to clients. It can take many forms and can be as subtle as a therapist sharing emotions they are feeling in the here and now (e.g., “It makes me feel sad hearing you talk about yourself in that way”) or it can be as explicit as a therapist sharing personal facts about themselves (e.g., disclosure of identities, romantic partnerships, trauma, divorces, and more). Self-disclosure is a personal decision and is based on each therapist’s style, comfort, ethical philosophy, and relationship with the client. For instance, some therapists might feel more comfortable sharing information with clients they have strong rapport with or have worked with for a long period of time. Despite this variability, most therapists tend to fall on the conservative end of the self-disclosure spectrum.
Is self-disclosure a negative thing?
Self-disclosure is a complicated topic. Even within more conservative therapists, there is disagreement on whether it is best to share some information versus none at all. One of the biggest reasons is due to boundaries. When therapists share more information about themselves it can violate the client’s boundaries. Self-disclosure can take the focus away from the client’s issues as it may lead to more questions about the therapist or decenter the client’s problems and struggles. It can also blur the purpose of therapy and the relationship between the client and therapist: at the end of the day, the therapeutic relationship is a special but professional relationship and will not look like others we might have. Further, self-disclosure can violate the comfort of the clients as well. For example, some clients might prefer that the therapist not disclose information and might feel the therapist is not paying enough attention to them.
Therapists might choose to self-disclose because they might feel that it is beneficial to the therapeutic relationship or the client directly. For some therapists, self-disclosure is a way to relate to or build rapport with clients, and it can be a way to show empathy or community with what the client is sharing. However, many therapists see self-disclosure as problematic because it also violates the therapist’s personal boundaries. Therapists who self-disclose might find it difficult to “turn off” their therapy mode. This can lead to burn out and resentment of their profession.
What if I want to know more about my therapist?
You and your therapist will have a relationship like no other. This is someone you see routinely and with whom you are extremely vulnerable. You may find yourself curious to know more about this person. This might be because you are comparing your relationship with your therapist to other relationships you have. Typically, we are not vulnerable with people we know nothing about, so it is only natural for you to become curious about who they are outside of therapy. If you are finding yourself curious about your therapist, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Ask yourself why you want to know this. Will knowing this information help you or deepen your relationship with your therapist? Conversely, could knowing this information change your perception of your therapist in a negative way?
- You can always ask if you are very curious. However, your therapist has boundaries and may decline to answer.
- Your therapist’s decision to self-disclose or not has nothing to do with you or closeness of your relationship. Self-disclosure is a personal decision and a direct reflection of your therapist’s boundaries and personal limits.
- Any information freely shared or withheld by the therapist is done with the therapeutic relationship in mind. Therapists want to help their clients and by doing so, they prioritize the safety of the relationship between them and their clients.
What if I do not want to know as much about my therapist?
If a therapist’s style involves self-disclosure (no matter how small or insignificant), it can be jarring or even frustrating for many clients. If you are finding yourself in this situation, it can be helpful to provide your therapist with this feedback. Keep in mind that therapists want to help you and are typically receptive to feedback. Plus, this is a way to both manage conflict and communicate boundaries. If this does not work, it could be because your therapist’s style or approach does not mesh with your needs. This is okay! It is perfectly fine and normal to seek different approaches that suit your needs.
- Self-disclosure is complex and there is not an agreed upon level of appropriate self-disclosure from therapists (or clients).
- Regardless of whether therapists share or withhold personal information, it is always done to benefit the client and therapeutic relationship.
- You and your therapist both have your own boundaries and expectations which impact the level of self-disclosure each party is comfortable with.
- If you really want to know something about your therapist, you could always ask. But, your therapist may decline answering. This is okay!
- You can also ask your therapist to stop disclosing if you are not comfortable with it.
- Self-disclosure is a boundary, and boundaries in therapy (or elsewhere) should be communicated and respected.
While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.