Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Somebody pointed something out to me yesterday.
A recovered woman studying for her PHD in clinical psychology, she was afraid to reveal that she had once had an eating disorder for fear that it would discredit her in her field.
How odd this was to me, as I have always felt it obvious to say that I had had an eating disorder. Having been in treatment in a place run by recovered therapists, it seems almost beneficial to my professional career that I had suffered at some point. I know theory about self disclosure lays spans a large continuum of beliefs.

What is yours?
For those of you IN therapy, how much do you want to know about your therapists?
For those of you that are therapists, what are you comfortable revealing to your clients?
And also, how does becoming a therapist change what you want to know about your own therapist?


Bri said...

I agree with you in that what we as therapists/counsellors have been through in our own lives can inform us in our work with others. I know I got into this field because of stuff I had been through. I wanted to be able to assist people to become empowered the way I had been helped. I like to know my counsellor is human, that they have frailties and face challenges. I like to know a little bit of personal info about them but not a huge amount. For instance I once had a counsellor who I knew was married, had a young son, had issues (not sure what though) with her mother, was into alternative ideas about spirituality etc and knowing those things (which all came out in conversation during our sessions) helped me feel that she understood me in a deeper way. I didnt want her to pour her heart out to me and I didnt want to know the intimate details but I wanted to know enough to feel connected to her.

TwistedBarbie said...

Thanks for the comment Bri!
I agree with you that it is difficult to be connected to another human being without a shred of knowing as to who they are.
What exactly do you do?

Anonymous said...

I am not a therapist, but I plan to become a licensed mental health counselor (working on grad school apps right now). I don't plan on working exclusively with eating disordered clients, but I am sure I will come across individuals who struggle with them.

I have been told that it is inappropriate to disclose personal problems to clients (even if they are past), because it changes the focus from the client to the therapist. For example, say I disclosed my eating disordered past to my client. Then, a few months later, I get a bad case of food poisoning and show up to the client's appointment looking drained and visibly thinner. I explain to the client that I have been ill and ask him/her to excuse my ill appearance. The client will probably wonder -- was she really just sick? Has she relapsed? Etc. Then, the client's focus will not be on their own well-being, but that of the therapist.

But then it comes to my natural instincts. I have always been a person who relates to others by opening up about myself. I am a big believer in give and take in terms of self-disclosure. I love a good vent session with friends where everyone gets a word in! If there were no potential ethical issues at hand, I definitely would lean towards disclosing my past, because I truly feel that it helps a client to see that adversity can be overcome. I also think that it gives more weight to a therapist's words -- I have been to therapists who never revealed an iota of information about themselves, and to me it just felt -- fake. Clinical. Cold. I wanted to know if they had struggled with anything -- because it would make me much more likely to trust them (and their suggestions, and challenges, and messages of hope).

Wow, this is quite a ramble. I guess it is something that I think about pretty frequently.

I'm pretty much undecided -- but I know that those kind of guidelines vary by practice/organization/facility, etc. Right now, I'm in recovery, but not enough for my eating disorder and other problems to be completely considered part of "my past." I don't plan to deal with clients who have similar issues until I'm solid in recovery. Right now, I work in "direct care," with a population whose primary issues are ones I have never dealt with. That's what feels best to me. :)

& Sorry for the anonymous ID, I traveled over here from WBB. I bookmarked your blog a looong time ago and just got around to reading some. I don't actually have a blogger blog.


Bri said...

Hi L

I think it all comes back to what is in the best interest of the client. Is it in the best interest of the client to know their therapist has had an ED? Well generally I would say no. But then if the client is saying that they don't think anyone could recover from an ED or that they don't think anyone who has had an ED could become a professional person etc, then it might be in their interest to be told that yes, it is possible and that you know this from personal experience. I think there is the possibility of revealing too much but that at the same time there is the risk of revealing nothing and seeming like a non person. It also depends on the type of therapy you are delivering. For example it wouldnt be appropriate to reveal person info in the case of Freudian or Jungian analysis as it doesnt match up with the way that therapy is carried out.

Twisted Barbie: I take my cues from the client and work with my own intuition. I err on the side of caution but if I think it is in the best interest of the client to know something about me (within reason of course) then I will tell them, ie if I think it would help them to know I suffered from post natal depression, then I would tell them. But it is a very individual thing and has to be weighed up very carefully.

TwistedBarbie said...

L - Yes, the theory of yesteryear does state that... And many people still hold it close to their practice..
I have found, however, that specifically with ED work, much of the newer work being done throws that rule out the window... or hangs it out in the breeze a bit. Given Eating Disorders are oft thought of as healed with relationship, sometimes a little self disclosure goes a long way. I DO believe there is a limit to what is helpful for the therepeautic relationship and the clients recovery, but I think a little bit can often help a lot. With regard to your example of food poisoning, it would be a great therepeautic tool to talk about the clients fears of relying on the relationship and trust.

Bri - I think it is best to wait for the client to mention it or ask, then to explore with them what it might be like to know, or what it would mean if the therapist had or hadnt had one.

I just feel there is so much work that can be done surrounding little bits of disclosure and have found it to be the most intimate way to work for the clients benefit. Of course, though, there is deffinitely a limit, which is probably closer to nothing than it is to everything.

One of my FAVORITE academic eating disorder peices is of the use of the thin therapists body and countertransference as a therepeautic tool, but that is for another post!

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