I came across the following passage in a journal article. The author of the article quotes from Sheldon Bach, Ph.D., a contemporary psychoanalyst:
“Most importantly, since I am implicitly asking my patients to trust me with their minds, I struggle to attain a position where I can trust them with my own mind and feel that I have nothing to hide from them.”
I like that quotation very much. Psychotherapy, as I understand and practice it, is about the sharing of minds. It is my job to lend my mind to my client’s; in that way the two of us think together about the issues that cause him or her distress and suffering. The process, while being squarely focused on the client and on what he or she needs to promote change, is not one directional though. Our thoughts flow back and forth and relate to one another. Therefore, as Dr. Bach wrote above, I too need to be open to my thoughts and feelings, my mind, being influenced by the dialogue we are creating. I too need to trust my client with my mind.
The process of sharing one’s mind is extremely intimate, both for the client and for the therapist. Trust, which can take some time to build (which is another reason why the process can take some time), is essential. I appreciate Dr. Bach’s perspective: indeed, how can I ask my client to open and share his mind if I am not prepared to do the same?
That brings up the subject of self-disclosure: how much of himself does the therapist reveal? I strive to be open and judicious about how much of myself to share; it’s paramount to me that the therapy be focused on the client, aimed at helping him, and not on me. It is true, however, that neither the client nor I have anything to hide; I often say to a client that I invite him or her to say anything and everything that is on his or her mind. Psychotherapy offers this rare opportunity for someone to speak whatever he or she thinks or feels. There are many times when sharing what is on my mind is a key component to the therapy. While I will decide on what to share, based on my sense of what might be helpful to the client, I also find that maintaining an attitude of openness is essential. This attitude of openness and trust provides the foundation for the work to unfold.
It is true that I am not so prone to discuss with my clients such personal issues as where I am going on vacation or where I live. I understand that there are some therapists who do that. My focus is more on sharing my thoughts, reactions, feelings with my client (again, when it seems that doing so will be helpful). In this process, I believe that my clients get to know me – and how I think – very well. That we get to know one another very well indeed.