Therapist Self-Disclosure to Child Patients

Article excerpt

The primary aim of this study was to investigate therapists' use of self-disclosure with their child patients. A sample of 126 mental health professionals with an average of 20 years of clinical experience completed the Therapist-to-Child Disclosure Inventory (TCDI), a 42-item Likert-type measure created for this study. Therapist self-disclosure was examined using three principle dimensions: the mean frequency of specific disclosures, the degree to which child patients solicit these disclosures, and the extent to which specific self-disclosures are seen as advancing treatment aims for child patients. Results indicate that therapists reveal personal information to their child patients infrequently, that children almost never solicit personal disclosures from their therapists, and that therapists perceive self-disclosure as seldom advancing treatment aims for child therapy. Future studies, the authors suggest, should examine the differences between therapists' use of self-involving disclosures to children and their use of factual self-disclosures.


In the three decades since Jourard's (1971) seminal work on self-disclosure, multiple research and clinical investigations have focused on this phenomenon. Work in the area of therapist self-disclosure has included theoretical debate about the need for therapist neutrality and abstinence (Bridges, 2001; Goldstein, 1994; Maroda, 1999; Psychiatric Services, 2001; Renik, 1999), investigations of the prevalence and types of therapist self-disclosures (Berg-Cross, 1984; Lane, Farber, & Geller, 2001; Matthews, 1988; Robitschek & McCarthy, 1991), clients' perceptions of the disclosing therapist (Hill, Mahalik, & Thompson, 1989; Nilsson, Strassberg, & Bannon, 1979), and the relationship of therapist self-disclosure to therapy outcome (Barrett & Berman, 2001; Knox, Hess, Petersen, & Hill, 1997; McCarthy & Betz, 1978). Still, despite the range of these studies, there is a notable lack of research on therapists' use of self-disclosure with child patients. With a single exception-Leichtentritt and Schechtman's (1998) study of a group therapist's disclosures-all research on therapist self-disclosure has focused on adult samples. With the number of children entering therapy increasing in recent years (Friedman, 2001), it is more important than ever to understand how therapists treat this unique population. Accordingly, the primary aim of the current study was to develop a broad empirical understanding of therapists' use of self-disclosure with their child patients.

Although no published research has directly assessed therapist selfdisclosure to children in individual therapy, the results of several child development studies bear relevance to this issue. For example, Vondracek and Vondracek (1971) found that sixth-grade children revealed more to an adult interviewer who disclosed information than to one who did not, and that the content of the children's disclosures mirrored those of the interviewer's. Similarly, Rotenberg and Mann (1986) investigated elementary school children's perceptions of, and tendencies toward, self-disclosing to others. In their analogue study, kindergarteners, second-, fourth-, and sixth-grade children were shown videotapes of two children (an initiator and a respondent) having conversations of varying levels of intimacy. Dividing the disclosures into high intimacy (i.e., "Sometimes I get really afraid.") and low intimacy (i.e., "My teacher is a woman."), the authors evaluated participants' perceptions of the children. Specifically, participants were asked to rate their liking of the respondent, as well as their desire to befriend him or her. Sixth-grade children reported greater liking and desire for friendship with the respondents who met the initiator's disclosure with one of equivalent intimacy. Kindergarteners, on the other hand, based their liking and desire-for-friendship judgments of respondents on the content (rather than intimacy level) of the disclosure. …


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