Are Therapists More Trustworthy When they Self-Disclose?

Self-disclosure by therapists, a practice that was once frowned upon in psychoanalysis, has become a commonly accepted practice. Therapists who self-disclose believe that they are benefiting their clients by sharing similar problematic situations and offering experienced resolutions. However, the effects of specific types of self-disclosure countertransference (CT) have not been examined until now. “The definition of CT that has been used in most research, and that was employed in the present study, views CT as the therapist’s reactions to the client that are based on the therapist’s emotional conflicts and vulnerabilities,” said Yun-Jy Yeh of the Department of Counselor Education, Counseling Psychology and Rehabilitation Services at Penn State University, and co-author of the study. “In addition to lack of agreement about how to define CT, controversies also exist about its therapeutic virtues.”

The virtues that Yeh chose to examine in this study were perceived trustworthiness, expertise and attractiveness. Additionally, Yeh examined universality, a feeling of commonness that exists between the therapist and client, to determine if disclosing resolved issues, or unresolved issues, would affect that perception. Over 100 college students, with an average age of 20, participated in the study. Yeh found that the students viewed therapists who disclosed resolved matters as more attractive and trustworthy than the therapists who disclosed unresolved issues. But the students felt the same level of commonness with all of them and viewed all of the therapists as equally capable.

Yeh said, “Thus, disclosures of resolved issues were not consistently rated more positively; participants discriminated among the dependent variables and there were specific differential effects as a function of CT disclosure type. In particular, findings suggested the possible benefits of disclosing resolved CT include promoting clients’ perceptions of the therapist as socially attractive, trustworthy, and able to instill hope in clients.” Ye added, “What is suggested, however, is that the disclosure of therapists’ issues, independent of how resolved they are, has similar effects on perceptions of the universality between client and therapist.”

Yeh, Yun-Jy, and Jeffrey A. Hayes. “How Does Disclosing Countertransference Affect Perceptions of the Therapist and the Session?” Psychotherapy 48.4 (2011): 322-29. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • amy


    December 27th, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    I guess this could go both ways. I could see how some therapists in a moment of over sharing may give their patients too much personal information, things that could really come back to bite them in the end. But I know that there will be some clients who would feel more at ease talking with someone that they feel like has been where they are now, and has a good grasp of how they are feeling because they have been there themselves. I guess like anything else there has to be that fine line of knowing when enough is emough and sharing just the right amount to get the patient talking and feeling at ease.

  • m johnson

    m johnson

    December 28th, 2011 at 5:38 AM

    I guess I don’t see it as being more trustworthy per se, but maybe easier for a client to get to know and to feel more comfortable around

  • Ari


    December 28th, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    Without actually reading the research it is difficult to access the practicality of applying these findings. However, the question is approached from a research perspective which can often be at great variance to the applied setting. The basic problem is this: A statistically significant finding might be found if 60% of the variance of the results are explained by the independent variable (in this case, self disclosure.) While that is a wonderful research finding and would inspire more research, it also means that 40% of the variance is unexplained. It also does not give any indication of when self disclosure would be counter-indicated. That is because research, by nature, ignores the single most important criterion for using any therapeutic technique: How is it helpful for this particular client at this particular point in time. In other words, most clients might benefit from therapist self disclosure, but much more needs to be learned about how and when. Till then it will remain as part of the art of therapy.

  • marta


    December 28th, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    sorry- get your own therapist- I am paying you to help me, not for you to unload all of your stuff on me

  • D.W. Roland

    D.W. Roland

    December 29th, 2011 at 4:43 AM

    Well, it’s my opinion that those psychoanalysts were dead wrong. The only part of their names they lived up to was “anal”, as in “they are being really anal about therapists helping patients cope”. It lets you know that your therapist is just as human as you and they can relate to your problems if you share a common issue.

  • Wilson Fryer

    Wilson Fryer

    December 29th, 2011 at 4:48 AM

    If I was deeply stirred by an event or discussion and they were telling me they knew how I felt when they didn’t, I’d be quite upset with them. If my therapist relates his tale of how something similar happened to him, I feel I would be more inclined to open up to him, and possibly get it off my chest more easily.

  • Gayle Juarez

    Gayle Juarez

    December 29th, 2011 at 4:55 AM

    I’m sooner going to trust a therapist who is open with me. I’m paying you money and sharing my deep-rooted problems, so I expect you to act like you’re listening to me. I don’t need a therapist to tell me his own story, but telling me of others who were in similar situations lets me know that I’m not the only one suffering.

  • Stressmom


    December 29th, 2011 at 5:47 AM

    Sorry but I don’t want to hear all about their life events unless it directly relates to things going on in mine. Maybe it could be helpful, maybe not, but how am I really going to know if they are telling the truth anyway or if this is just a story that they have come up with to make it seem like we have more in common than what we actually do.

    Therapy is for me, not for them. That is their job. I guess they all have little tools and tricks that they use when certain cases meet those criteria, but I think I would rather come in and talk and make my own progress.

  • Mary Garner

    Mary Garner

    December 29th, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    Am I the only reader who sees it as ironic that a psychoanalyst doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to therapy? I’m dismayed and I dearly hope they don’t waste their time again telling us what is commonsense. Not knowing something so obvious nor embracing it as soon as they could in their standard practice is laughable.

  • lisa


    December 30th, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    you wouldnt go to a teacher who has doubts about the subject himself,would you?while it’s not possible for any person to have a life without any problems,it sure is possible to have a therapist who is good not only at suggesting but also incorporating the same things and not letting his or her problems reach the client!

  • panda


    February 9th, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    I dont like therapists telling me what theyve been thru, i had one once who went on and on about his life i couldnt get out what i wanted to say and i got very frustrated, i often sat there wondering if it was his therapy session or mine
    I much prefer a silent therapist that listens to me, imo it doesnt make them any less human than me, i prefer the professionolism of being quiet and respectful and letting clients speak even if there is a silence.

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