Recently on Twitter, I have seen discussions around our authenticity as therapists, and the potential impact this may have on our clients. It has also been discussed how this can affect us in the eyes of other professionals and colleagues.
We encourage our clients to stay true to themselves. We explore their past, their history and what makes them who they are. We encourage autonomy and that they make their own decisions, not based on the views of others.
In transactional analysis language, this would be referred to as a ‘please others’ driver. I personally believe in the importance of this, and that we are all different as individuals, we come from different backgrounds, we look different, we dress different, we have different interests, tastes in music, political views, religious beliefs – the list is endless.
However, the view of some is that we should not ‘overshare’ too much about ourselves when we are therapists, as this can affect how our clients view us, feel about us, and subsequently, the therapeutic relationship we have built or are building with them. (Please note I am not talking about self-disclosure here, as that is another matter. I am referring to having personal social media accounts and what we share on those, and how we appear in public.)
I can see the debate from both sides. Recently I ran a poll on Twitter, asking if people would be comfortable with a therapist under the age of 30. I was surprised to see the amount of ‘no’ votes that it received, winning 26% of the vote, even if yes/indifferent did win overall.
I was interested and it left me wondering what it was that people felt uncomfortable with. I also saw a debate on Twitter, discussing whether or not we should discuss our personal experiences with mental health – it surprised me that there was so much aversion to this, as many of us as therapists will have got into the profession through a lived experience background. In fact, during my training, one of the things that made me feel comfortable and supported was being able to openly share my experiences with my colleagues, and not be judged for it.
Clients take all sorts of factors into consideration when choosing a therapist, as it is important that they feel comfortable, trusting and able to work with them effectively.
I can also see how, if we have already formed a therapeutic relationship with a client, if they see something about us on social media which changes their view of us, or impacts how they feel about us, this could have a negative impact. I consider the effect it could have on transference/countertransference also.
This could also have an effect from a professional standpoint, as with any profession, we are always told to consider how we appear to the general public, particularly when we work for a company or organisation as this can have a knock on effect.
However, I also think it is important to consider our identity as therapists and how this is formed. I would say it is almost contradictory to ‘walk on eggshells’ when it comes to our personality.
Honesty and being ‘real’ are traits that I value in others, and value in myself. If I felt like I was hiding something or trying to stifle a part of myself in fear of how I would be viewed, that would feel wrong to me.
Having too much information could be bad, yes, but so could having too little – I believe some clients would want to be able to see how we are and who we are as people to inform their decision. I wonder if the aversion to showing authenticity from some therapists stems from a fear of being ‘seen’ or judged by other therapists. If this is the case, it leads me on to wonder why therapists are being judgemental of others. It feels contradictory to our profession.
How much is too much? I think it is important to consider the context of what we are sharing, what it is, why we are sharing, what potential impact it can have. But it’s still possible to be our authentic selves. It’s how we connect. After all, we are people too, just like our clients.
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Becky Simpson is a psychotherapeutic counsellor from the North East of England. She currently works for a trauma and crisis charity. Becky also has experience across a few settings including the NHS.