Ethics and Disclosure
Disclosure is a controversial issue when examining therapeutic boundaries. There are two issues to consider regarding disclosure. The first is counsellor disclosure and confidentiality. The second is counsellor disclosure (ie. how much does a client disclose about their own lives to a client?).
Some counsellors would argue whatever is appropriate (but this is ambiguous). Other counsellors would argue that nothing at all should be disclosed to a client. However, there is a balance.
Firstly, when clients enter into a counselling agreement, they are often assured that their confidentiality (within limits) will be respected. This encourages honesty from the client and provides the security of knowing that their private information will not be disclosed to irrelevant individuals.
However, clients must also be aware that their counsellor could be subpoenaed to give evidence in court (Geldard & Geldard, 2005) — and if the counsellor should choose to withhold information at the hearing, the consequences could be that the counsellor would be held in contempt of court. Client files can also be subpoenaed by the court. In some states of Australia, mandatory reporting is required by counsellors in regard to such issues as child abuse.
For the counsellor, who is hoping to find some guidelines to their own level of disclosure, Corey (2004) advises that the skill is knowing what to disclose, when it is appropriate to disclose and how much to disclose.
Inexperienced counsellors often have a desire to do the right thing by the client and therefore behave strictly according to the code, often losing their unique style in an attempt to uphold professionalism. Hence, Corey (1996) explains that inexperienced counsellors in their desire to be effective, often become passive, listening and reflecting not going with their own insight or intuition. They often therefore miss opportunities to build rapport and can leave the client feeling that their counsellor could not empathise with them.
Corey (1996) explains further that at the other end of the spectrum, counsellors can be so eager to prove their humanness to the client, that they tell clients too much about themselves, taking the focus of therapy off the client and onto themselves.
The key point to remember is that disclosure should encourage the client to deepen their level of self-exploration or enhance the therapeutic relationship.
Excessive counsellor disclosure could mean that the counsellor is satisfying his/her own needs and not the needs of the client. The effect of over disclosure by the counsellor could be damaging to the client. Clients can feel empathy for the counsellor, suffer vicarious transference or simply be shocked that such a thing could happen to the counsellor. On the other hand, clients may feel that their concerns are being trivialised if the counsellor’s experience is similar, but worse, than their own.