Throughout my clinical experience, I've heard mental health professionals talk about the rapport-building process. They stressed the importance of doing this to gain clients' trust. If I didn't build rapport through empathy, respect, and active listening, clients wouldn't open up. Therapy minus connection with clients equals a dead end. I say this to say rapport is essential.
Equally important is sharing a part of you with the client, and yes, I'm talking about disclosure. Some are comfortable sharing some things with clients, while others won't share their favorite ice cream flavor.
If clients ask about your family or what you did over the weekend, getting the client to focus on themselves is appropriate because therapy is about the client and not the therapist - right? Sure, some clients will find ways to deflect and avoid talking about themselves for one reason or another. Maybe the client is trying to connect with you.
Believe it or not, clients can tell when we are not genuine. The surface-level information we share may be harmless to us, and it might come across as "fake" to them. Connecting with clients on a human level is necessary.
Early on, my understanding of self-disclosure was "bad." and something to avoid. If you choose self-disclosure, let it be information you wouldn't mind putting on the 5 O'clock news. I guess this protects therapists in some ways. Protection from what? maybe from being as vulnerable as our clients. I tried this approach, and I felt cold. I wondered how could I encourage vulnerability from clients and be everything but that?
Three years removed from graduate school and one-year post-licensure experience have taught me it's okay to be genuine - to be yourself. It's okay to connect with a parent's stress about work, raising children, etc. What this communicates is, "Shariff is human just like me." "He gets me." and "I can trust him."
The connection in the therapist-client relationship opens the door for feedback and honest discussions about daily problems and how to solve them. Self-disclosure could help get the client from A to B. It may also be helpful for the clients we consider to be challenging.
The next time there's an opportunity to relate and connect with a client- do it. If you're unsure about self-disclosure, supervision, training, and talking to peers could be helpful, and also trust your "gut." If it feels right and clinically appropriate, go for it. What do you have to lose?
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have concerns about your mental health and substance use.