Today, I was enjoying a quick bite at Panera, and wrote out my “morning pages”.
For those who don’t know what morning pages are, they are three long hand written pages of writing anything that comes to mind done daily, in the morning, as a way to de-clutter the mind, and go about your day with more clarity and present moment awareness. This tool accompanies the “Artist’s Date”. The tool is one from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’ll put a link below for more information.
Sometimes the pages are just some rambling day residue that allows me to have more space and clarity in the rest of my day. Sometimes a theme emerges, and if I find that I’m particularly connected to it, I might do a bit more investigative work on the subject. Today, a theme emerged. I’ve been trying to write 30 blog posts in 30 days. I know now that it’s going to take me a bit longer to do this if I want the posts to be understood and without a myriad of typos. (There still may be some.) Anyhow. Blogging has been a bit difficult at times for several reasons. But one of the main ones is this:
I’m a psychotherapist.
And ever since the dawn of psychology, therapists have been discussing what to share, when, how much, etc. of their personal life. Comments I’ve gotten from this blog have been to continue to share more personal aspects of myself. And yet, there is a line, even when blogging between sharing primary process “stuff” (emotionally charged, intense, distressing, and/or intimate information) and writing from a place of conscious sharing of information that others may find useful, entertaining, and posts/comments that invite more conversation about a particular topic, etc.. There are many different types and levels of sharing.
Even when discussing a difficult topic on line, a therapist could write “about it”. They might tell a story, reveal a process, a way of thinking about a topic, without risk of “leaking” personal information that clients or potential clients might feel too uncomfortable to learn about. For example, going off about personal problems, or revealing intimate details about their own sexual relationships would not be useful to a client, of course. And naturally, there are strict confidentiality rules and ethics with regard to sharing any identifying client information.
There is a particularly funny episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David when he terminates with his therapist after having seen him in a (pretty, pretty, pretty revealing) thong at the beach. (Too much information for Larry, who clearly didn’t appreciate having seen too much of his therapist’s “social life”.)
We all make the choices about how much to share of ourselves in relationships. Social Media relationships included. There was no “social media” when I went to graduate school. This whole new world was a non-issue back in the early 90’s. Ethics classes, webinars, workshops today address this issue within our profession.
So, my writing tonight revealed a theme “about” therapist self disclosure. And, I started becoming clear about my own thoughts on the subject.
But first, Let’s take a look back in time: Back in the early 1900’s, analysts learned to be “blank slates”. Like a movie screen that patients would project their unconscious material upon. Later, humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers were proponents of sharing thoughts and feelings with patients as a way to foster trust.
Since then, there have been several studies on the topic of self disclosure like a recent one at the University of Memphis. Here, the patients whose therapist was more revealing, had more favorable views of their therapists and generally felt much less distress within session than those who refrained from offering personal info. (A report of this study appears in a recent issue of The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.) Another recent study supported a therapist’s acknowledging and apologizing for their mistakes (duh.) and sharing feedback “about” their own emotional reactions.
So, over the past 20 years or so, I’ve come to a subscribing to a few basic tenets with regard to therapist self disclosure whether it be in session or through social media where your writing or videos are seen through public eyes.
When disclosing personal details, make conscious decisions. Recognize your motives for doing so. Is this information in service to fostering trust, establishing therapeutic rapport? It’s the client’s time…and their dime! (see how I rhymed there?)
Own your own stuff. Recognize when you make a mistake. If you have a trusting relationship you can make mistakes in your verbage. Apologize, and move forward. If your therapeutic relationship continues to suffer from a lack of attunement (a non-verbal analog to verbal clarification and empathy), acknowledge this too. Perhaps this acknowledgment is the very thing that will allow for trust to be established. If not, you can always offer the client another therapist’s name and number; someone who may be a more suitable fit for them. Attunement is so important for people in any relationship because the person feels validated. I always remember this quote I got somewhere, “We all need believable mirrors”. And we do. Even therapists. Do you have to have gone through the same or similar circumstances as your client in order to adequately attune to them? No. Do you have to be able to have the emotional/movement repertoire to empathize and hold the therapeutic container for your work? Yes.
And.. when you don’t know about things like recent studies, protocols, or have specific experience in a certain area, admit it. Talk about what you can offer, know what you can’t. Be open to being moved and learning from your clients and your work. And, be open to being more real. ~Chris
*Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron click here to purchase a copy: Artist’s Way