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Up Close and Personal: How Much Should a Therapist Share With Clients?

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There is quite a debate in the field of counseling right now about how personal to be with your clients. Should you share your own story? Should we share nothing about ourselves? If we do decide to share, when is it too much? It is ever too much?

To be honest, I am having a similar internal debate with myself right now. Should my husband and I share our story with the entire Internet (scary thought) and (if we do) how much should we share? What are the possible benefits? What negatives could this lead to?

I have a general rule of thumb for this in the psychotherapy room, and some clinicians will disagree with me. That’s okay. We can still be friends. I share just a tiny bit about myself initially to build rapport. It typically consists of a few demographic details, like I am married with two kids. Much beyond that, I first ask myself this question.

How will this benefit my client?

If what I am about to share of my own personal story does not help my client, then I have no business going there. There are some vicarious benefits to being a therapist, but having all your emotional needs met by clients should not be one of them. They are paying for a service and therapists should not be using up their time for themselves.

One reason that the therapeutic relationship can be draining at times is that it is a one-way street. In other relationships, there is a constant back and forth of meeting needs.

When a client cannot get a word in during a session, it is a big red flag that the therapist does not know what they are doing. I would suggest you find a new therapist who wants to listen to your story.

So, this brings me back to my original thoughts about how much should we share about ourselves on our blog. As a wife and a mother, I am very protective of our family’s privacy. At the same time, I do feel that sharing our story could help others.

Right now, I am interested in what you think. How much is too much to share on the Internet, both personally and professionally?  To counselors, what do you share with clients?  Please leave a comment below.

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About Courtney Stivers, PhD (25 Articles)
Courtney Stivers, PhD, LMFT, LPC is a subject matter expert in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her professional experience includes residential adolescent addiction, school-based therapy, community mental health, teaching, research, public speaking, professional consultation, missionary fieldwork, youth ministry, and administrative positions in a juvenile drug court, marriage and family therapy clinic, and a residential treatment center. She has a passion for teaching family systems theory and professional issues.

11 Comments on Up Close and Personal: How Much Should a Therapist Share With Clients?

  1. Ujwal Sangawar // September 26, 2016 at 3:54 am // Reply

    thank you for the post…it did cleared few of my concerns..

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  2. Great post. i have a question i am studying for my MFT exam. and http://www.amandarowanlcsw.com/exam-coaching/ is who was refered to me, does anyone know about TDC?

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  3. Shalama Jackson // July 23, 2015 at 8:14 pm // Reply

    I think it really depends. I loved my therapist that I saw for years. While a majority of the things we talked about were about me, she would share some parts of her personal life with me. It helped build our relationship and rapport. I think as a therapist, you have to gauge it on a client to client basis because what might work for one patient may not work for another. Some people, like me, need more than a cut and dry deal where it was all about me. And if therapist is comfortable enough then it can open so many more doors to help treating a patient.

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    • Yes, I think you are right. It is hard to have an absolute black and white rule in these situations. In the end, there is always going to be a certain amount of relying on out own clinical judgement. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences as a client on the couch.

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  4. great post! i am an MFT working as a school counselor. i have found that answering questions with questions (the why do you want to know? route) doesn’t feel good to me as a clinician nor does it sit well with my adolescents. many of them have basic questions for me (do you have kids, have you worked in a school like this before? etc) that i will answer truthfully. more often than not, just answering that one question will satiate any curiosity. if the questioning continues i will ask about their need to know and from there decide to answer or not. that being said, i did have an instance the other day where a kid was asking me if i had ever tried pot and i found myself lie for the first time. knowing this individual, i did not want to get into a back and forth questioning nightmare. i just said ‘nah. its not really my thing…but why do you bring this up?”. i reflected later in the day how i would have addressed this differently and im not sure…….

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    • Yes, and have worked through a medicaid funded company at several rural schools in the past. I remember once being very tempted to lie to a family I was working with. I reported them to DHS based on what their son told me, as I am legally mandated. I did not want to tell them, but did any way. I explained that I was forced to do so even if what information I had was not true. They actually ended up being okay with it and received some additional economic resources that they desperately needed. I do not think you really lied, we just need to be creative with our stories as to not hurt our clients. 🙂

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  5. I have no personal Twitter or Facebook account. Google + circles allow me to control who sees my profile. In person I take it case by case. I often tell addicts/alcoholics that I am not in recovery myself, partly to take a one down position.

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    • Yes, I think it is good to be upfront with clients who have addiction issues that you are not in recovery from an addiction. It is easy for clients to assume that you are if you do any addiction work and then feel hurt later on. Thanks for posting!

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  6. Yes, I agree. It can be very normalizing to clients if we have problems, too. My husband and I are both therapists, so we get the “you must have a perfect marriage” comment from people. I usually just laugh and tell them we argue just like everyone else.

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  7. Especially regarding relationships, clients want to know, “Do you and your significant other ever experience (insert communication difficulty)” and I’ll respond, “of course!” But I don’t dwell on it or go into exact details of the last time I was defensive or snappy. I would also never share details about my sex life with clients.

    Liked by 2 people

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