Uncomfortable with Therapist’s Level of Self-Disclosure

 I’ve been seeing a psychotherapist for six months now after coming to recognize recurrent problems in how I relate to the partners in a series of law firms for which I have worked. Now I have questions about my relationship with my therapist. At times I wonder whose therapy it is, since I’ve learned more than I need to know about his life and problems. I find myself trying to solve his problems, and, later on, feel angry.

This is a tough one. Your observations about your interactions with your therapist may mirror, to some extent anyway, patterns of relating to others in general. Your feelings of anger in this case, however, may also indicate a problem with your therapist.
Years ago, the traditional therapist was silent and non-directive, disclosing as little as possible about himself (using masculine gender here since your therapist is a man). Many therapists still work that way, and we occasionally hear complaints about that. Approaches that have gained prominence more recently involve increased therapist activity, and often more openness. This more active style may help set a more collaborative tone and permit a therapeutic relationship that is recognized for what it is – a relationship. It should always be clear, however, who is the client and who is the therapist. For example, a therapist statement like, “Yes, I, too, have sometimes felt competitive with coworkers,” may validate a client’s feelings. Some therapists also purposefully use their reactions in the session as a tool to help clients understand their impact on others. Clinicians differ as to what kinds of disclosure are appropriate. But in almost any case, a clinician’s need to elaborate on his problems (irrelevant to the client) should be reserved for his therapist.

You might initially address your discomfort with the therapist himself; generally a trained clinician will not take offense, but will explore the problem with you. Since the situation is so complicated, it is also often worthwhile to get a second opinion, or consultation. Generally, the consultant will talk with and give feedback to both therapist and client. At LCL, we sometimes provide this kind of consultation and in other instances make referrals to other professionals for that purpose. In some cases, a change of therapist may be indicated. In others, the process of working through the impasse may itself become the most beneficial part of the therapy.

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