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Posted 03/08/2021 in Category 1

Therapist self-disclosure - Implications for sport psychology?

Therapist self-disclosure - Implications for sport psychology?

A psychologist working with an athlete often tells the athlete about their personal experiences in life. Sometimes this disclosure is about thoughts, feelings, or some information about oneself. But what should we disclose about ourselves when we work with children and adolescents in sport? One point to remember here is that we can disclose some information about ourselves verbally through what we say but what about things that are said non-verbally through dress, body language and actions. It’s sensible at this stage to realise that much of what an athlete gleans from the sport psychologist can be verbal and non-verbal.

What is the value of disclosing some information about ourselves? Does this disclosure help the athlete help herself or himself? Most psychologists working with clients disclose information to their clients. Researchers have classified different self-disclosure categories which fall into personal feelings, information or opinions. Different psychologists disclose different amounts of information based on their culture, personality, and gender. We will train many psychologists to disclose less or more about themselves based on a training modality (e.g., CBT, psychoanalysis). In sport settings, for example, we might arrive at a golf course and in that consultation process, the clients see our car, our clothes and general demeanour before the consultation process begins. Verbal self-disclosure might mean we intend to model, normalise, foster reciprocity and encourage a therapeutic alliance. In sport, we cannot help some disclosure about ourselves, so it’s best to explore the meaning of this experience for the psychologist and the athlete. Maybe we do not realise what we disclose and how often we disclose as sport psychologists. Sport psychologists talk about self-disclosure with their supervisor during supervision sessions and telling other people something about ourselves is a part of our everyday lives. This disclosure seems like a warm, understanding and helpful way to open up to another person such as a supervisor. But what if one’s supervisor does not explore self-disclosure? One might assume that self-disclosure is inherently bad, and we ought to avoid it. 

We need to recognise what is healthy and helpful about self-disclosure. We need to understand its benefits for a healthy therapeutic alliance and also when self-disclosure does not fit our therapeutic work. A good supervisor begins the discussion about self-disclosure in therapeutic work. Supervisors can teach, normalise, and engender transparency by sharing their therapeutic disclosure and mistakes. The sport psychologist, therefore, can learn through supervision what fits for her practice and therapeutic orientation. 

In regard to working specifically with children how we work with child and adolescent athletes will determine much of the value gained in the work we do. We need to work in ways that allow children and young athletes to feel respected and understood in the therapeutic encounter on a weekly basis. We can disclose in ways that communicate a warmth, understanding, and normalised experience whatever might happen to, and for, them. Sport is unique in society and serves to integrate, educate and engender a belonging that is often missing in our lives. 


Johnsen C, Ding HT. Therapist self-disclosure: Let's tackle the elephant in the room. Clinical Child Psychology Psychiatry. 2021 Feb 11:1359104521994178. doi: 10.1177/1359104521994178.

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