When in Doubt, Sit Quietly: A Qualitative Investigation of Experienced Therapists’ Perceptions of Self-Disclosure

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Abstract

Using consensual qualitative research (CQR), we analyzed 13 interviews of experienced psychotherapists about general intentions for therapist self-disclosure (TSD), experiences with successful TSDs, experiences with unsuccessful TSDs, and instances of unmanifested urges to disclose. For TSD generally (i.e., not about a specific instance), typical intentions were to facilitate exploration and build and maintain the therapeutic relationship. Therapists typically reported becoming more comfortable using TSD over time. In successful TSDs, the typical content was accurate, relevant similarities between therapist and client; typical consequences were positive. In unsuccessful TSDs, the typical antecedent was countertransference reactions; the typical intention was to provide support; typical content involved therapists mistakenly perceiving similarities with clients; and the general consequences were negative. In instances when therapists repressed the urge to disclose, the typical antecedent was countertransference and the content typically seemed relevant to the client’s issues. We conclude that effective use of TSD requires general attunement to the client’s dynamics, attunement to the client’s readiness in the moment, ability to manage countertransference, and ability to use a specific TSD appropriately. Implications for practice, training, and research are discussed.

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