Judith S. Beck Writes In: Self Disclosure in Cognitive Therapy

I’ve recently been thinking about Self Disclosure in CT. In traditional psychoanalysis, analysts deliberately refrain from revealing anything about themselves. There is no such prohibition in Cognitive Therapy and I find that I do a lot of self-disclosure to patients whom I think will benefit from it. For patients with perfectionistic standards, I might reveal the standard I apply to myself and have taught my children: To try to do a reasonable job a reasonable amount of the time. For patients who believe they are inferior because they have not achieved as much as they or others expect them to, I often talk about my son who has severe learning disabilities and my view that he is neither inferior nor superior to others. For patients who struggle with self-esteem, I usually describe how I give myself credit throughout the day, whenever I complete a task (or part of a task), even if it’s minor and not particularly difficult. Following self-disclosure, I discuss with patients how they believe what I’ve said might apply to them. 

I don’t use self-disclosure with every patient but I do with most. Self-disclosure often gives them a different way of thinking about their problems. And it goes a long way in strengthening our relationship when patients recognize that I am a human being who is willing to share something of herself to help them.  

13 replies
  1. donald roberts
    donald roberts says:

    I would like to find a university that emphasises Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’m interested in marriage and family therapy and substance abuse
    therapy as well.

  2. CT Today
    CT Today says:

    Great, the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (ACT) maintains a list of university graduate programs that have a Cognitive Therapy orientation or component. (ACT is the certifying organization for Cognitive therapists). Here’s a link to their graduate program list. If you select the type of program you’re interested in, you’ll then see descriptions and links to university websites (some of the descriptions specifically mention marriage therapy, substance abuse, etc.).

    Hope that helps!

  3. Kevin Benbow
    Kevin Benbow says:

    I agree with Dr Beck’s sentiment about self disclosure. I think that when clients can see that we, too, are human it promotes universality. Of course, the extreme of the therapist self disclosing to the point of getting their own needs met at the expense of the client is an important pitfall to avoid, but I do find that letting client’s know that I too struggle with physical problems and anxiety related to multiple sclerosis helps them understand that the techniques being shared are effective.

  4. susan
    susan says:

    dear judith
    i really appreciated your comments on self disclosure. i am a psychologist and i have often found appropriate self disclosure makes me seem more human and it normalises a client’s feelings to some extent also. it also can give some positive role modelling when i talk about how i have overcome some adversities in myown personal /professional life. grateful thanks for shedding light on this issue

  5. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Just a bit of my experience:

    I read a series of german books about CBT (from the publisher http://www.palverlag.de) that I found really helpfull. Besides teaching how to sort out things, the books did a great job in guiding through the book. To me it seemed almost like talking to someone: being welcomed at the beginning, taken by the hand though the book and a friendly farewell at the end. Also the authors wrote about themselves a bit which made me feel more “normal”.

  6. Scott
    Scott says:

    Just yesterday, for the first time, my therapist disclosed a personel story that did add to my understanding and confidence in her resolve. I was also surprised to discover her to be human.

  7. Alessana Briczkowski
    Alessana Briczkowski says:

    I would love to find out how I might do a certification with Judy regarding treatment of people struggling to lose weight. Does she conduct a training program for therapists? And how much is the ACT certification program? Thank you.

    I do also use self-disclosure with my clients. I find it strenghtens our relationship, gives them hope, and creates a bond based on shared challenges.

  8. CT Today
    CT Today says:

    Alessana, I forwarded your questions about therapist training for weight loss treatment on to our diet program coordinator (who can be reached at info@beckdietsolution.com).

    As for certification in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, please see their website’s Application Process page for details and costs.

    We’re glad to hear that self-disclosure works with your clients as well!

  9. Andrea Latheron
    Andrea Latheron says:

    I have recently, over the last year decided to further myself and have become very interested in Counselling. so therefore am currently studying towards my level 3 in Counselling Skills.

    At the moment I am completing a paper on CBT, which is a really fasinating subject and I was wondering whether you could advise me as to how you would work to integrate CBT principles into your
    own counselling practice and also the vocabulary specific to CBT work.

    Thanking you
    Andrea LATHERON

  10. CT Today
    CT Today says:

    If you’d like to learn more about integrating CBT into your practice, you may want to consider applying to one of our 5-Day Cognitive Therapy Workshops.

    To find out more about the vocabulary and techniques specific to CBT, we would highly recommend Dr. Judith Beck’s book, “Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond.” To find links to this book and many other CBT-oriented books for the professional, please visit our reading list.

    Good luck to you.

  11. Sarah B
    Sarah B says:

    It’s great to hear self-disclosure promoted. Too often in psychotherapies the therapist is encouraged to remain stone-like and devoid of any emotion – how are we to work in collaboration with our clients if we cannot feel what they feel; how would that be human first and foremost? Self-disclosure can be extremely powerful for a client.


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