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To Disclose or Not To Disclose

A major question in the education and ongoing training for any therapist is the question of how much information they should disclose to their clients. Unsurprisingly, the field is pretty divided about it. While most people would fall somewhere in the middle of the scale—“only disclose if you think it could be helpful to your client”—there are certainly many proponents on either end: those who believe a therapist should never disclose and those who don’t consider it a big deal at all.

So far, in all my discussions about disclosure with colleagues and supervisors, there seems to be a vital element missing, which is the client’s desire for the information. I am rarely (if ever) tempted to provide information that I am not asked for directly. For example, if a client begins the session by telling me what he did during the Eagles parade, I never have the impulse to share what I did during the Eagles parade. I am sure others struggle with this temptation, but for me, that’s never been an issue; I am always content to stick with the client’s story.

However, when a client asks, “Did you go to the parade?” then suddenly I have a decision to make.

Almost every clinician I know has a rule they try to follow when it comes to disclosure—and I’m willing to bet that every single clinician gets his or her rule broken by some unforeseen circumstance. For example, if your rule is to only disclose so-called “harmless” information, it is almost a guarantee that your clients will make you think twice (and three times, and four times over) about what is actually harmless. You may be comfortable with answering the question, “How was your week?”, but what about the question, “Did you go to the parade?” or “Do you live below Washington?” or “Is this your last session?”

My personal rule—the one that is always being tested—is that I am willing to answer any question that has a conversational motive. For example, if I ask a client, “So, how was your week?” and she responds, “It was good. How was yours?”, then I am comfortable responding, “It was fine, thank you.” Other times, clients might want to know if I have seen a certain movie or TV show so that they can describe their thought more quickly. I am usually okay to answer these questions, too.

One thing I never do is shut down my client’s desire to know more about me. In my opinion, this is burying what might become a very important therapeutic component. The desire to know more about the therapist stems from something—it is much better to discover that together, rather than slapping the client on the wrist for asking inappropriate questions. Especially with the way I practice, I do my best to open more and more space for the client’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, so that everything can come to light and be examined. If it becomes obvious that a client has more than a conversational motive behind his or her questions, I am likely to begin the process of understanding what that motive is.

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