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Therapist Self-Disclosure Decreases Stigma of Therapy


One of the primary reasons people neglect to seek treatment for their mental health problems is because they are concerned about the external and internal stigmas associated with mental illness. Public stigma is the external belief that one is defective if they receive therapy for their problems, while self-stigma is the perception that an individual has of his or herself as a result of struggling with a mental health issue. In a recent study led by Nathaniel G. Wade of the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University, researchers examined how therapist self-disclosure affected stigma. “The goal of this investigation was to explore stigma before and after an initial session of group counseling and to examine aspects of the counseling process (e.g., session quality, working alliance, counselor self-disclosure) that may predict changes in stigma,” said Wade. Most therapists already self-disclose and share their moral beliefs, fears and hopes with their clients. “Some of the main reasons therapists may choose to self-disclose are to make themselves more accessible to clients, to develop the working alliance, and to build greater trust in the therapeutic relationship.” Wade added, “In other words, clients are likely to feel less self-stigma when working with a group counselor that they trust and view positively as, in such situations, the threat to one’s self-esteem and confidence is less likely.”

Wade invited 263 students from Iowa State to participate in one group therapy session with a therapist who self-disclosed. He found that the students experienced an increase in self-esteem and a reduction in self-stigma after the session. “Greater change in self-stigma was associated with greater perceptions of working alliance– bond and session depth.” Wade said, “Group therapists, in particular, may want to focus on establishing a strong positive bond with clients in early sessions before group climate has time to develop. Group counselors who meet individually with clients for an orientation to group counseling might find this an opportune time to consciously attend to the bond.” He added, “Given the proximal role self-stigma plays in increasing one’s intent to seek counseling and the mediating role it plays between public stigma and intentions to seek help, these findings are of special value to practitioners who wish to increase treatment adherence and decrease dropout rates through targeted measures.”

Wade, Nathaniel G., Brian C. Post, Marilyn A. Cornish, David L. Vogel, and Jeritt R. Tucker. “Predictors of the Change in Self-stigma following a Single Session of Group Counseling.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 58.2 (2011): 170-82. Print.

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  • nate November 24th, 2011 at 2:45 PM #1

    I have found that many times in my life, someone may not feel like they have anything in common with you.

    But once you make that disclosure that you understand how they feel because maybe you have been at that same place in your life too at some point in tie, then it feels like you have something that you can talk about and that the two of you can relate to together.

    Maybe the therapist should not feel like they have to open up about all of their personal experiences, sometimes just giving a client even a small bit of information can be valuable to forging a relationship that will help them to recover. And to recognize that you understand where they are coming from.

  • ian November 25th, 2011 at 12:11 AM #2

    it’s always comforting to know you r not the only one who has fears and problems.and when it comes from a therapist who is usually seen as an expert I cannot describe how good and comforting it would seem to the client..this is actually a good thing, disclosure.

  • meagan November 25th, 2011 at 11:46 AM #3

    I always feel better when I know that I am not the only one. Sonetimes these things make you feel kind of lonely, and quite frankly maybe even a little weird. But if your therapist discloses that she has been through it too, then maybe some of that weirdness can go away. You know that it is something that is manageable.

  • Ethan November 26th, 2011 at 7:55 AM #4

    Think about this:
    Don’t you want a counselor who is stable and normal, and actually NOT like you?
    That’s what I want.
    Someone clear headed and rational and who can let me become the same.
    I don’t want to sit down and talk to smoebody else with issues.
    I have enough of those on my own.

  • Bev November 27th, 2011 at 6:34 AM #5

    Why is there still such a stigma about therapy? This is something that may people need to get them through either a rough patch in life or maybe to overcome something biological that they have no control over. Yeah I think it’s great that a therapist might disclose to a patient, but I don’t think that has to necessarily happen for a good working relationship to be developed. A good therapist will be able to work with what they have without giving away so much about themselves.

  • Selena November 27th, 2011 at 11:57 PM #6

    It would definitely help to have someone speak out about themselves than act as someone perfect and make you feel like you are the only one with a problem and that you are different! I would prefer such a counselor any day compared to someone who would treat me like a ‘subject’!

  • Bronwyn November 28th, 2011 at 5:21 AM #7

    I don’t want to know these things about my therapist.

    If they think that it will help me, then great.

    Otherwise they can keep all of that to themselves and let me talk.

  • Ace November 28th, 2011 at 4:15 PM #8

    Couldn’t this be seen as crossing that professional line, like if they are disclosing too much information?

  • Zachary N. December 6th, 2011 at 5:36 PM #9

    What I came here to say is whoever is spreading these negative ideas of stigma or even thinking them needs a reality check. There is only stigma if you allow it to exist in your personal or societal frame of reference. Everyone needs help at one juncture or another at least once in their lives. You might as well say that getting sick is a sign of weakness.

  • Ava Butler December 6th, 2011 at 5:57 PM #10

    It is smart that therapists can spill what they think and share openly with clients. It reminds you that they’re just as human as you are and that a few of them have their own issues to deal with. They take the weight of every person that walks in through their door and amazingly don’t end up depressed themselves.

  • Giovanni Peters December 6th, 2011 at 6:00 PM #11

    @Ava Butler: Trust me, they do wind up depressed sometimes. I attended a psychologist when I was still living in Ontario. I later heard that he’d apparently listened to one depressing life story too many and he needed to take some time off to get it all off his chest and to regroup. Eventually he went into therapy for himself.I think it’s nice to see at least one practice what they preach.

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