Back when I started my degree last January, one of my teachers spoke about what happens when she gets on an airplane and ends up telling her seat partner what she does for a living--either the person has no idea what a counselor does, or the person wants her to solve all of their problems. Either way, this can be a fairly irritating situation for her, and probably most counselors. She told us she finally decided to say something vague, like she works with kids. Other teachers have shared what they do to avoid certain types of self-disclosure in addition to dodging tricky questions, like putting away family pictures before seeing certain clients.
So far, I haven’t really faced many in-person situations dealing with self-disclosure, but an incident not too long ago got me thinking that I’d better concretely figure out some boundaries in what and how much I share, both in my counseling life and in my personal life. See, when I first got my hair cut in Baton Rouge, I had just moved and wasn’t working other than my unpaid internship, so I mentioned that fact when my stylist asked what I did. She was genuinely interested in what I do, so she asked me for my opinion on all sorts of situations. And I really regretted sharing that piece of information, because I really just wanted to chill and not think about counseling when getting my hair cut. I’ve since figured out how to handle these questions, but it was a valuable lesson on self-disclosure.
When I started my own blog in January, I had to think about self-disclosure issues from a new perspective, one not covered by my classes. When you’re a counselor and a blogger, how much do you share so that your readers feel connected but your clients don’t know too much? My husband and I have discussed this repeatedly, and although we both maintain quite a bit of openness about what we share with others both online and in-person, he has coined the following saying to guide us: “The internet is forever.” If we don’t want to see it next week, let alone in ten years, we don’t post it. That has helped me quite a bit as my blog has grown and changed over the past months, but who knows--I may not see repercussions for something I posted online for years.
Luckily for my self-disclosure, my current clients do not access the internet very often and probably wouldn’t think to Google my name. They also have not yet asked any uncomfortable questions during sessions, but I’m sure that day is coming. I’m actively trying to figure out how best to handle those questions without getting totally flustered--and trying to figure out ahead of time which questions will trip me up. In my personal life, I still work full-time in a field outside of counseling, so I have the luxury of choosing whether or not to disclose that I’m finishing a counseling degree. Regardless, I’m still personally and professionally working on that delicate balance of connecting to clients without sharing too much.
Kristen Eckhardt is a counselor-in-training at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, completing her internship this year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Read more about her experiences and her takes on counseling issues at www.feetintwoworlds.wordpress.com.