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Communication and Medicine

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When psychotherapists disclose personal information about themselves to clients

Ivan Leudar / Charles Antaki / Rebecca Barnes
Published Online: 2006-06-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CAM.2006.004


Psychotherapists sometimes disclose personal information to their clients during therapeutic sessions. We report here our analysis of how these ‘therapist self-disclosures’ are done. In a sample of 15 sessions involving four therapists, we find that all therapists use them sparingly and some not at all. When they do, they ‘match’ something in the client's preceding turn. Vehicles for the match can range from comparatively simple agreements to more complicated ‘second stories’, which use analogies from the therapists' own current life. We find that these ‘personal’ disclosures are invariably rather ordinary but are made to bear visibly on the therapeutic business at hand, though not always in obvious ways. The ordinariness of therapist's self-disclosures underpins what seems to be one of their main actions—to ‘normalize’, for a number of disparate local interactional contingencies, the clients' experience. We discuss the practice of using one's own life experiences to bear on one's client's troubles, noting the recurrent features of extreme case formulations and explicit recipient design. We conclude with a brief discussion of the relation between our analyses and those which might be oered by members of the therapeutic community.

Keywords: conversation analysis; psychotherapy; self-disclosure; therapeutic practice; conversation practice

About the article

Ivan Leudar

Ivan Leudar was born in Czechoslovakia, educated at London University, and is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Manchester. One of his current concerns is with how membership categories are produced, maintained, embodied, and contested, and with how they resource individual action and experience. He works in a similar vein on the history of psychiatric and psychological concepts and categories. His book Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity was published by Routledge in 2002.

Charles Antaki

Charles Antaki is Reader in Language and Social Psychology at the Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University. His research interests are in conversation analysis.

Rebecca Barnes

Rebecca Barnes is a Research Fellow in the Institute of Clinical Education at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth. Her interests lie in conversation analysis and its potential for application in the analysis of institutional interactions, particularly the training of healthcare professionals. Her current projects are focused around therapeutic, problem-based learning and clinical reasoning interactions.

1Address for correspondence: Department of Psychology, Manchester University, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK.

Published Online: 2006-06-19

Published in Print: 2006-05-01

Citation Information: Communication & Medicine, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 27–41, ISSN (Online) 1613-3625, ISSN (Print) 1612-1783, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CAM.2006.004.

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