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Self-Disclosure in Psychotherapy and RecoveryReview - Self-Disclosure in Psychotherapy and Recovery
by Gary G. Forrest
Jason Aronson, 2011
Review by Daria Dibitonto, Ph.D.
Dec 3rd 2013 (Volume 17, Issue 49)

When speaking of self-disclosure in psychotherapy and recovery it seems almost impossible not to feel a sort of discomfort, a mixture of discretion and fear, with a topic rarely called into discussion. The avoidance of therapist self-disclosure is indeed still considered an essential methodological requirement for psychotherapy in many different theoretical orientations and clinical approaches, whereas client self disclosure is an obviously unavoidable element for diagnosis and clinical treatment. But is this asymmetry between disclosing clients and not-disclosing therapists really clinically effective? When is therapist self-disclosure useful for the treatment setting, when does it enhance client's growth and change? And how can a therapist learn to use self-disclosure as a valuable therapeutic tool if it is not, or rarely, tested in clinical practice nor, or rarely, discussed in specialist literature?

That's why the book by Gary G. Forrest represents an essential resource for counselors and psychotherapists: it is the first so informed and comprehensive examination of client and therapist self-disclosure and of their interdependence in therapeutic relationships. The author is a psychotherapist specialized in the treatment of chemically dependent people and in particular of alcoholics, but he doesn't limit its analysis to this type of clients. The first five chapters are indeed an extensive analysis of what is meant with therapist and client self-disclosure, of related researches and experimental data. Forrest examines here the definitional parameters of counselor self-disclosure, presents the different options suggested by the main theoretical approaches to psychotherapy in the clinical use and abuse of self-disclosure and addresses ethical guidelines for therapist self-disclosure. The following three chapters are then more focused on addiction and chemical dependency counseling, but without loosing a wider approach to the issue. Here the most involving and fresh accounts of the book are to be found, with detailed case analysis and also clients and therapists personal experiences, observations and evaluations about self-disclosure in psychotherapy and recovery process.

Forrest reports research evidences attesting since the 1960s that therapist authenticity or genuineness is the most important ingredient in effective psychotherapy relationships, together with accurate empathetic understanding and nonpossessive warmth (Truax and Cardiff 1967; Forrest 1978). Nevertheless current research suggests, and clinicians report, that therapist self-disclosure occurs rather infrequently in therapy (Bridges 2001; Cashwell et al. 2003, Forrest 2002; etc.), or it occurs only in relation to professional background, but usually not about personal experiences and behavior. Forrest stresses the positive impact of therapist self-disclosure in establishing trust and understanding with clients, in modelling appropriate behavior for clients, in normalizing client feelings and experiences and in helping clients managing powerful affects, but he is very honest about the unpredictability of its positive or negative therapeutic effects: in author's experience, well exemplified with a lot of case analysis, sure is only that therapist self-disclosure, like client self-disclosure, can always be "for better or worse" in psychotherapy.

Main source of inspiration for the author has been the work of Sidney M. Jourard, author of The transparent self (1964), one of the earliest researchers and therapists to explore a lot of issues associated with self-disclosure in counseling and psychotherapy, in particular the "hot" one related to countertransference, or therapist love for his patient, banned from psychotherapy since Freud on. Forrest's book can be considered a well-informed personal research expanding Jourard's provoking view on effective therapists, who avoid compulsion to silence, to reflection, to interpretation, to impersonal technique, but instead are striving to know their patient, involve themselves in his situation and employ their powers in the service of his well-being and growth. "In short, they love their patients" (Jourard 1964).

 

© 2013 Daria Dibitonto

 

Daria Dibitonto, Ph.D. in Philosophy, Post-Doc in Moral Philosophy at the Humanities Department of Avogadro University of East-Piedmont (Italy). Her books and main papers are about the theology of hope of Jürgen Moltmann and the theory of desire in the philosophy of Ernst Bloch. From 2006 she also researches in the mental health field from a phenomenological perspective and carries out a philosophical practice in the Mental Health Department of ASL Turin 5 (Public Medical Service of the Turin Province, Italy).


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