In the practice of psychoanalysis, there is a deep-rooted philosophical conflict about something called self disclosure1. Self disclosure refers to how much information the therapist reveals about themselves to their clients. Some things are impossible to avoid disclosing (e.g., how tall the therapist is or their skin tone) while other aspects are more capable of being influenced (e.g., how the therapist dresses or how the therapist answers inquiries regarding their academic and clinical background). Certain therapy settings (e.g., a private practice setting where the therapist has chosen their own decoration) have more opportunity for disclosure than others (e.g., a community clinic like WILA).
Our new circumstances, however, have given way to a whole host of self-disclosures. Is our therapist working from a home office we have never seen? Does our therapist have a cat that meows behind their office door? Does our therapist look burdened or scared? Are they more scared than we are?
This information has the potential to disrupt something important for us as clients. It might disrupt our use of our imagination to fill in our therapist. It might conflict ideas we had about who our therapist was. It might reveal a difference between who we need our therapist to be for the sake of our own therapeutic treatment and who they actually are.
We might have imagined our therapist to be a neat and single person, but suddenly we can see their home office is full of books and objects and messy children’s artwork. Perhaps this new information helps us feel more comfortable sharing our own “messy artwork.” Alternatively, we might have pictured our therapist to be an active family person with a huge home, but the space from which they conduct our virtual sessions seems small and cold to us. We might not feel so sure that our therapist will understand our tangled family dynamics. In either circumstance, we might simultaneously feel a sense of loss for the way our therapist used to be in our mind. Such experiences are important to notice, and even more important to address in our sessions.
Talking about your reactions to these changes with your therapist can be an especially helpful way to navigate and adjust to the new situation we find ourselves in. The communication might create an even more intimate and safe space for us. We might be surprised as to how our assumptions have thus far guided our own disclosure to our therapists. These changes have the potential to facilitate a whole new direction in our work together.