On Self-Disclosure and why I choose it, as a therapist

index

I feel compelled to write about an issue that was raised in a recent supervision session of mine – the highly contentious counselling issue of ‘self-disclosure’ (in other words – giving the client any of our own personal information) It is an issue of great debate amongst counsellors and psychotherapists, and raises some very strong opinions –mostly negative. After all, original Freudian psychotherapy required the therapist to provide a blank canvas and space for the client to fill with the workings of their unconscious mind. For many years, clients lay down on a couch facing away from the therapist to facilitate this process, whist the therapist said little or nothing throughout the session, but took copious quantities of notes – giving us our therapy stereotype that we all know and (maybe) love, or (sometimes) fear.

I didn’t realise I felt quite as passionately I do about the subject until quite recently, when I started to realise that I was self disclosing reasonably frequently. So with trepidation I cautiously mentioned it to my supervisor, knowing that it was something I had to revisit and explore. I was right to be nervous, as my therapist met my confession  – yes, that was how it felt – with a look of concerned shock and the response that she would never recommend this usually.

2

Here is where one of my character flaws kicked in before I could control it (yes, I own this), and my rebellious streak took over. Seeing her response, I couldn’t stop myself from pushing the envelope, and (maybe exaggerating some) I blurted out “Oh yes, I self-disclose all the time these days!”

Did I say that just to see the look on her face, and make her eyes widen? Did I want to play the disobedient child in order to test her ‘mothering’ skills (she is a relatively new supervisor to me – so it is possible) Am I so used to being provocative, and posing alternative ways of thinking, that I wanted to show her how competent I actually am? Or did I simply want to be completely congruent and own the fact that I am wholly myself in the therapy room – the exact same person as I am whilst out and about in the world?

Of course, she questioned me further on my statement (after all – what kind of therapist or supervisor wouldn’t?) and I found both all of the above, whilst going along on a train of thought that I hadn’t expected, and that my younger therapist self would have been quite surprised to hear. It took me back to my training;

 

One of my clearest memories of my first counselling placement as a trainee was of the final session I had with my very first long-term client. As you can imagine, this being my first proper job in the field, I was very keen to get things right, and wanted to make sure I did everything properly every step of the way, to the point where my self-awareness was often painful, and often extremely rigorous and perhaps heavy-handed at times. Although I had explicitly mentioned to him (whilst preparing for our ending) that the organisation I worked for did not allow us to accept any gifts, he had brought me one anyway. It was a lump of cheese –  and an extremely nice one too. I was surprised – taken aback, even, and I told him so.

 Why had he brought me a gift when I had clearly told him that he mustn’t, and how on earth did he know that I was such a lover of cheeses? He laughed, and told me that our therapy sessions hadn’t just been about me getting to know him – it had been just as important for him to get to know me, so that he could trust me properly.

He said that he had noticed my eyes widening every time he mentioned cheese in a recipe (he was a real food-lover, and had often discussed what he planned to cook that weekend) and that it had felt important to him knowing that I shared his enthusiasm for this. He explained that he knew that I was not supposed to give too much away about myself, but that he also sensed that I was a bit of a maverick, and that I would probably not mind him breaking the rules on this one harmless instance. That too was an important quality for him to find in a therapist, as he wanted therapy to be a place where he could find his own way in his life from now on, and not be encouraged to necessarily tow the line and keep the status quo.

What had I learned from this experience?

Firstly, that I have clearly got an extremely expressive face (!) and that I am not always aware of what it is doing. (You can take the girl out of drama training but you can’t take the drama training out of the girl, it seems)

Secondly, sometimes things come out sideways for a reason, and that may be because the client finds it important to know certain things about their therapist. Sure, it is most definitely THEIR space, and the disclosure should be kept to a minimum, but it is often important for the client to know they are working with a human being. Even if that human being is a bit (ok, a LOT) of a cheese fan.

Thirdly, when information isn’t given, sometimes the client will fantasize about their therapist, and make up stuff. Ok, so on this occasion my client was right. But, more importantly – there was relevance to his imaginings. He had needed me to be this non conformist for a really good reason, and thank goodness we got a chance to discuss it – albeit in his final session. I would have liked to have spent more time with it, but these things sometimes go like this.

 

I had learned all right. This experience had stayed with me, and (thankfully) helped me to ease up on myself a little. I stopped feeling quite so self-conscious, and a more natural ‘Katrina-type’ counselling style evolved, and continues to do so to this day.

In fact, when I look back on the period between now and then, there have been many, many, factors  and opinions that have contributed towards my therapeutic style, and my way of being with my clients. Discussion, work and experience  with many other therapists: colleagues, trainers, organisations,  clients and supervisors have all helped me to have confidence and belief in myself and both my skills and intuition. They have helped me to understand that I am the tool to be used in the process of change, and that I should trust how effective I am in it, in that moment. Usually if it feels right, there is a reason.

images

Which brings me right back to being present, and the here and now in my own private practice. ME working in the way that feels most right for me and the client. My client, who has chosen me from a vast selection of other private therapists in the area, and who is paying quite a lot of money to make use of ME. So what do I give them, for their money? What else? ME. The real me. Sure, the fifty minutes paid for is their time, and is completely about them, but I do make it clear to them that I am ME in the room with them. I  intermittently choose to share little snippets of information about myself that allow my clients to know I am really human, that I have lived a life that provides me with a broad frame of reference, and if I feel that snippet helps them I am happy to give it.  I do feel that I am working with them for them.  I always have empathy for them. I feel other feelings with them, sure – sometimes for them, about them, always for the benefit of THEIR process. I work humanistically, primarily. This means I am a human being working from the present moment using feelings to understand experience.

So this is where my supervision session led me, and where I led my supervisor. I explained to her that I do put myself out there for the purpose of my therapy practice. That I have a regularly updated website, that I use social media regularly, as I feel it is extremely important for me to do so. That I blog about my experiences and disclose on here. That this is how I run my practise, and that it seems to work for me and my clients. She listened, and we agreed it seems that the clients I attract choose me for who I am, and respond to this way of working – in fact, that this is almost certainly why they have been drawn to me in their choosing of their therapist. It can only be, after all – I don’t advertise anywhere else, it’s either online or word of mouth.

Yes, we agreed that maybe it is a little unorthodox in comparison to a traditional way of conducting therapy, but that times are moving on, and that we have to move with them. Modern as the concept seems, I knew that it wasn’t really as new as we thought. When I got home, I found myself revisiting the great Carl Rogers (founder of person centred therapy), and his core conditions, written in 1957 and 1958.

index3

He stated that there are six necessary and sufficient conditions required for therapeutic change:

  1. Therapist–client psychological contact: a relationship between client and therapist must exist, and it must be a relationship in which each person’s perception of the other is important.
  2. Client incongruence: that incongruence exists between the client’s experience and awareness.
  3. Therapist congruence, or genuineness: the therapist is congruent within the therapeutic relationship. The therapist is deeply involved him or herself — they are not “acting”—and they can draw on their own experiences (self-disclosure) to facilitate the relationship.
  4. Therapist unconditional positive regard (UPR): the therapist accepts the client unconditionally, without judgment, disapproval or approval. This facilitates increased self-regard in the client, as they can begin to become aware of experiences in which their view of self-worth was distorted by others.
  5. Therapist empathic understanding: the therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference. Accurate empathy on the part of the therapist helps the client believe the therapist’s unconditional love for them.
  6. Client perception: that the client perceives, to at least a minimal degree, the therapist’s UPR and empathic understanding.

 

Of course, he summed up succinctly, in 6 phrases, what it has taken me 1500 words and a jam-packed hour of supervision (plus processing time afterwards), to say. But I think he says it quite perfectly, so I have repeated it on here for you to read. It’s how I work, and why I choose to self disclose from time to time.

Because I’m me.

images

Advertisements

On how therapy can make things move

Firstly, let me begin by explaining why I haven’t blogged recently. I have moved house, and have been experiencing all of the upheaval and stress and fun and drama and exhaustion that goes with it. That thing that they say about birth, death, weddings divorce and moving house; yes, yes, yes and yes! Never again (although i am quite sure I said that last time, too)

Anyway, the whole moving process has made me consider how I regard the space around me, and the stages I have had to go through to create the space I want and need. It has been stressful, at times chaotic, definitely cathartic and ultimately therapeutic – in many ways, reminiscent of the counselling process. It’s been a period of massive change.

I suppose it began with me having to make the decision to move house (kind of reluctantly, after finally facing the fact that I really needed to), and having gone through the whole dilemma of choice in where to move to, and the crisis of confidence as to whether I could summon enough strength to face the process. I knew it was going to be intense, tiring, stressful, but hopefully – worthwhile Sound a bit like the pre- therapy process? Reaching the decision to seek therapy, facing the choice in the type of therapy and therapist, embracing the idea that change is on the horizon, and wondering if it is going to be painful, if so – how painful? How long will it take? Can I cope? Can those around me cope too? Yep. The questions that I always ask my clients at the beginning; just how uncomfortable are you in your life, for you be ready to face being even more uncomfortable whilst we sort this stuff out? Are you realistic about the distress that it can involve? All felt applicable to this process.

So, aims and anxieties considered, it was time for the hard labour to begin. I had to pack.

index

Piece by piece, I went through every single object in my (and my family’s) home and made decisions on whether or not I should bring these objects with me to my new place. Do I need them? Do I love them? Do I have space for them? Do I want to make space for them? The meat and bones of therapy; let us look at your life, at all the components of it? Do you need them? Do you love or even like them? Do you have space for them and do you want space for them? Are they enriching your existence in some way, or maybe – having once been useful, they are now a hindrance to you?.

I found that that breaking my packing down into rooms, areas, helped me feel that my task was more achievable. Sometimes a whole room was too much for me in one go. Sometimes I needed help. Other rooms seemed much tidier, and more straightforward for me to approach. The days that felt easiest were the days that I let friends and family come and help me, and I felt sure that they were the most enjoyable and productive. Regardless of how quickly or slowly I progressed, as anyone who was in my immediate circle at the time will tell you,  there were times I was emotional and upset, as I went through it all. Looking at objects from the past can trigger a lot of repressed and associated memories and feelings. Sound like the therapeutic journey, again? I think so.

Whilst going through this process, I had to keep check on myself. As someone who suffers with a chronic health condition, I had to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it. If I pushed myself too hard, regardless of any urgency or deadlines I felt were looming, I would set myself back further. I had to keep a tighter rein than ever on my self-care routine.  Although my long (sometimes arduous) ‘object review’ sometimes felt liberating and exciting, I had to occasionally stop myself from running too fast, knowing that slow and steady wins the race. I had to explain to those around me that I would have to work in my own time, at my own pace. I had to learn to lay down strict boundaries along the way, in order to keep myself well. It wasn’t always easy, but for the most part, once I explained my situation, most people understood and were compliant to my needs. By keeping people around me informed and sharing my process with them, they helped me to see when I was losing sight of my own wellbeing; something that is easily done. Also sound a bit like therapy?

I have a very dear friend, who has moved house many times, and is a bit of an expert at it. She has been there and gone through so many of the trials and tribulations that moving brings that she is not daunted by it – she is prepared for being unprepared, unafraid of being afraid and fully understands and embraces the idea that things rarely go to plan. She has helpful hints and tips that smooth the way for parts of it that she knows are sometimes riskier. She has label makers and the right knowledge of moving services, that give her the knowledge and tools to guide me when I want and need her to. Despite all this, I knew that at the end of the day, she could not move house for me. I had to do it myself, but she was there to help in whatever way she could. I found myself telling her again and again how much I appreciated her, and how valuable her help was to me, and how she should really start advertising her services as a professional moving assistant, as it is such a useful service to provide, and I knew I couldn’t have done it without her help. Her reply; “It’s always better when you’re not alone”. Just knowing she was there for me helped. She was definitely my ‘therapist’.

images

Now here was the thing that I forgot about, and I am thankful for being reminded of. Once moving day happened – stressful and crazy as that was – and I had the slightly surreal feeling of seeing my little world all packed up in front of me and moved from one place to another, I found myself in my new place. It was an empty shell piled full of boxes. It had nothing familiar or comforting about it. In fact, I found that I didn’t even want to live in it for the first week or so. It was strange, new, smelled different, had different sounds and a different feeling in the air. I was upset – had I made the right decision after all?

I had to start from the beginning all over again. Walls, floors – from the ground up, it was scary and intimidating – another mammoth task ahead of me! I was just unpacking all the stuff I had so carefully considered and questioned, I was completely reframing where they sat. Did this still belong in the living room? Would it be better in the bed room, or maybe tucked away in a cupboard for now? Did I still want to look at it, with this new light, context?

Again – therapy. That feeling, when things change, when WE change, that maybe it was easier before? It was certainly more comfortable. It often is quite uncomfortable for quite a while, as one gets used to a new way of living, a new way of being. It is also uncomfortable for those around you, as they struggle with the changes in you, and the changes in the way they have to adjust to living with the newer grown version of you. Sometimes they adjust with you, sometimes they can’t cope with it. Change is always a struggle. It is never easy. But if it is a growth, as we work for in therapy, it is almost certainly worthwhile and worth suffering through it. Most people would agree that the most valuable things in life generally are.

images

So, slowly, I am getting settled, fixing things up around this place so that they suit me, unpacking my old stuff into the new space, and taking the opportunity to introduce some new things too. Some of them are things I have been considering for a long time, feeling like now is the right time to introduce them. Others are more impulsive. Some have been mistakes and some have been brilliant, and have made my life so much better.  It has been a bit of trial and error, with varying degrees of success. I have learned new skills, and discarded old ways of doing things (note to self; upcycling can be fun and successful, just don’t ever try to rush it and paint over old paint without sanding and priming first! Understand your own limitations – sometimes it pays to get a professional in when it comes to laying floors! Etc…)

All in all, the process has been liberating, exciting, scary, uncomfortable, exhausting and very, very, creative. Therapeutic – even (!) It has taken me to a new place, hopefully a better one. One where I feel happy and comfortable – a space I want to live in.

To me, this mirrors the ultimate aims of therapy. We all have the power to create our own space around us (even if that is not a visible space that we place objects in, and decorate to our choosing) Although we may sometimes feel powerless and daunted, we can and do have a marked impact on the space around us. By looking at ourselves and how we feel and behave in our space, by noticing our processes, and make adjustments to the ways we use the space, we can have more control over the levels of that impact. We can trust our therapist to hold a safe space for us, whilst we chew over and contemplate how we want and need our everyday living space to be.

Therapists can support us whilst we go through this period of change. They can give us objectivity, comfort, ideas, insight – hopefully, a good therapist will see what we need and intuitively provide exactly whatever that is. Our needs might – probably will- change as that process goes on. At times it may feel that progress is fast and powerful, at other times slower and gentler, but it almost inevitable that change will happen. The willingness of our participation in it may vary, but one thing is certain – we never end up in the same place we started.

So here I am in my new space. Maybe I can help you find your new space too?