Psychology Primer: Ethics/Self-Disclosure

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Psychology Primer
By Clinton M. Williams, BA Psych

Tutorial 1: Theory

Tutorial 2: Application

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The next ethical question I will address in this section is the question of self-disclosure. Simply put, self-disclosure is telling the client things about yourself that may or may not relate to the issues at hand.

To address the co-dependent issue once again, if you are finding yourself “opening up” to the client in an effort to show them that you really do understand where they are coming from you had better be hearing “Red Alert” going off in the back of your mind. The client is the focus, not you.

The Illusion of Intimacy

This is often one of the first signs that a transference/countertransference dynamic has entered your counseling sessions. This two sided sharing creates the illusion of intimacy within the counseling session. Furthermore, the client can often use it against you in efforts to prevaricate, or deflect attention away from their behavior.

It’s like a parent telling their child not to drink while underage, but confessing that they themselves did it and then relating some horror stories to make their point. The only thing the teenager is going to hear most likely is, “Dad did it and he turned out okay”, after which they will most likely throw that observation in their father’s face.

While the father may have the trump card in saying, yeah, but you still better not or you are going to have this and that consequence, and be able to back it up, you as a counselor might not be able to salvage the situation quite so cleanly. Instead your client may prevaricate by questioning your ability or right to judge their behavior based upon what you revealed about your own.

On the flip side, if you reveal, hypothetically, that you were victimized in some way similar to or worse than the client that can be problematic for even more reasons. The first of which has been documented to death in the above paragraphs about objectivity sabotaging behaviors leading to an inappropriate enmeshment between client and counselor. This can sabotage the efforts of other counselors in the future because the client may come to believe that they are not as able to help the client as you were because of your shared experiences. The second consideration is that the client may feel that their concerns or issues are somehow given less weight because they may not have been as bad as the issues you expressed.