When it comes to self-disclosure in our clinical work, it can be critical to weigh very carefully just how and when we use it . . .
. . . especially in cases where a client relays an experience that bumps up against a painful or overwhelming experience, we may have had ourselves.
But according to Ray Rodriguez, LCSW-R there’s a sensorimotor approach that can help guide you, if or when such circumstances arise.
He’ll walk you through it in the video below.
So for instance, I am a person of color. I am a gay therapist. And so I work with a lot of BIPOC clients and also with a lot of gay clients as well, so we have a shared identity. And very often the experiences that clients share with me are experiences that I have had myself. So the first thing that I do with myself is check in: am I in my window? Am I within my capacity? We now understand that if we are in the window of tolerance, we are socially engaged. We are in contact with our thinking, with our feelings and we are able to be more effective in whatever we do. So if I’m not in my window, the first order of business is what do I need to do to come back to the window? It may be hard, but it is a critical next step in the moment in the therapy.
What I find most helpful in those moments is whatever grounding activity I know for myself is to practice it at that moment. I find very helpful putting my feet on the ground and really pressing very gently with my feet. Or I may tap very discreetly also as a way of keeping myself regulated through the session.
If I am not able to bring myself to the window at the moment, I may bring it up to the client and say something like, “I’m finding myself, with what you’re describing, feeling a little here overwhelmed myself, because I see how much this has pained you, and I myself have experienced similar circumstances as you are sharing. So what’s it like for you to hear that from me?” And then it invites a conversation about that shared identity that we have.
Now, what I would also add is that my capacity to do that in the moment comes from myself having done a lot of work outside of therapy to have very honed in grounding skills for myself, or be able to engage with clients in having dialogues about our shared identity, or I’ve had very similar experiences with clients where we have an identity that we don’t share. So it’s critical that we do our homework outside of the therapy setting around ourselves, that we understand at a deeper, more granular level: what are the workings of oppression? And how does oppression and marginalization work? Then we have a language for being able to engage with clients around those conversations as well.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What strategies do you use for determining when and how to self-disclose with a client?