By: Nicole Cormier
A therapy session with me may look a bit different than you expected. Different than therapy you’ve had before, or than what you thought therapy would be like. While this is true for most therapists, one big difference many of my clients notice is that I share stories about myself. I am a very open person, and I bring that openness into my work with clients.
There are a lot of mixed feelings in my profession about “self-disclosure” by therapists. When I was training at Ryerson, we were warned against it. Self-disclosure, my professors argued, can take away time from clients, center the focus of therapy on the therapist, and disrupt the alliance between therapist and client. When done in an uncontrolled way, self-disclosure can damage important boundaries between therapist and client, and lead to role-reversals where the client becomes the therapist. These are valid concerns.
So why do I do it, then?
For starters, I don’t do it recklessly, or without thought. I hold the cautions I’ve learned close to my heart as I engage in storytelling about myself. I don’t share everything with everyone – I choose carefully what I share, and why. And I carefully gauge how much time I spend sharing, to prevent shifting the focus of the session to me.
I also believe that sharing about myself is a valuable tool for the type of therapy I do – the kind that centers on human connection, empathy, validation, and the ability to grow and discover your value, your strengths, and your voice – together.
Another interesting thing I was taught about sharing personal information is that it leaves the therapist vulnerable; that it can break down the perception of the therapist as “expert,” and can level the playing field between clients and therapists. That started me wondering – was the warning about sharing our stories really to protect our clients? Or was it to protect ourselves – to allow ourselves to remain distant, uninvested – to allow us to judge and pathologize the “other” in the room?
I want to break that perception of the therapist as a powerful, invulnerable expert – because it isn’t true.
None of us are perfect, none of us know everything, and none of us are robots.
We are feeling, flawed humans just like you – and I think there is value in seeing your therapist as someone who has suffered, too. Suffered, struggled, and come out on the other side.
It helps to break the stigma – the idea that we are divided into two uneven camps: the “suffering,” and the “rescuers.” Yet both things – the experience of pain and suffering, and the desire to help, support, teach, and be there for others – are human, and something we are all capable of doing, together.
This does not mean, in any way, that I expect our therapy to be therapy for me. Your time in therapy is for you, and when I share a story about myself, it is always in service of that goal. It is something I do to connect to your experience, to increase your comfort, to offer insight into a problem we’ve both faced – to help you feel less alone, less “abnormal,” or less hopeless about the future.
It is my hope that, in knowing a little about me, we can deepen our discoveries about you.