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Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Self-disclosure

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by turtleturtle, Nov 18, 2009.

  1. turtleturtle

    turtleturtle 2+ Year Member

    Nov 11, 2009
    I recently found this forum and have spent the last few weeks reading through the vast number of threads. The large amount of information has been very helpful to me.

    I want to apply for a PsyD next year. I am not in a rush but soon will start attending some open houses in my area just to check it out. Currently, I am in a program to get certified as a substance abuse counselor and for the next year am going to focus on that certification, internship, and finding different clinical experiences to make sure this is really what I want to do before I go forward with PsyD.

    The question is this— I am a recovering alcoholic which is why my heart and soul but also brain is in this field. In the realm of substance abuse counselors I would say more than half are recovering and whether legal or not it is common that job interviewers ask about your "status." Often it is seen as a pro that you are in recovery. I know I am one of these people that likes to blurt out my life story. I know I have to learn to edit. So in terms of around admission people and faculty how much do I disclose? Do I disclose that I am in recovery or do I just express my great interest in substance abuse and say I have had personal experience with it? Or do I keep it purely on the professional and academic level and talk stats?
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  3. erg923

    erg923 Regional Clinical Officer, Cenpatico National 10+ Year Member

    Apr 6, 2007
    Louisville, KY
    I would not mention it in your personal statement and application essays, thats for sure. If you go a to a psy.d program with quite a bit of research and you become close with your mentor/major advisor (as many in ph.d programs do), then you may eventually feel the need to share that info with them. I think this is appopriate, but would not recommend disclosing to anyone beyond that while in grad school.

    If people ask, you can simply say its a topic you are passionate about for many reasons, including personal ones. Thats all. I see no reason why it is anyone else's business and I see know potential benefit to the disclosure.
  4. Markp

    Markp Clinical Psychologist 7+ Year Member

    Nov 19, 2007
    Don't do it.... keep it to yourself unless cornered on it. Don't lie, but I would keep this to yourself until after you are in a program, and even then, I would be careful about your disclosures.

  5. psychmama

    psychmama 5+ Year Member

    Aug 14, 2008
    NYC Area
    I agree with the others saying disclosure is risky.

    FWIW, someone in my program did disclose that he was in substance recovery, and it was never a problem for him. But I have a feeling other programs might see it differently. I've worked with several MICA counselors and I'm aware they are often in recovery and are very candid about it. Psychology is different -- the model of training and the work we tend to do with patients is not as direct in some ways.
  6. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty Faculty Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    Oct 6, 2006
    The Beach
    I've seen this with social workers....but rarely if ever with a psychologist.
  7. Neuropsych2be

    Neuropsych2be 7+ Year Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    East coast
    One of the most important concepts in clinical practice is boundaries. Most people in our field get into trouble when appropriate boundaries are breached. Too much self-disclosure might suggest that a person has poor boundaries. Clinical faculty will look askance at this kind of disclosure in the admissions process. So if I were you I would not discuss this. Don't lie if asked directly but you have no reason to discuss this and it is none of their business. Whenever I feel a need to self disclose in a professional setting I think long and hard and inevitably decide to keep my mouth shut :) I usually ask myself why I feel the need to self-disclose and I usually find that the need is based on unhealthy desires. I also ask myself if I would be comfortable with that information being printed on the front cover of the New York Times. If I feel the slightest hesitation with regard to that scenario, then I keep my mouth shut. This has served me well. Your faculty are not your friends, therapists, or confidante's and no they won't "understand" your history simply because they are psychologists and have experience as therapists. Approach the admission process as you would a job interview with a Fortune 100 company and you will do fine.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  8. Ollie123

    Ollie123 10+ Year Member

    Feb 19, 2007
    Agree with the above about the admission process.

    One additional point though for once you are actually accepted somewhere. Sometimes it can be very difficult to work with clients who have similar problems. I'm by no stretch of the imagination a psychoanalyst, but counter-transference issues aren't modality-specific. Even hardcore CBTers seem to shy away from using the word because of its roots, but still are attentive to therapeutic relationship issues. The issues can take many forms but one major concern is to fall into the trap of "Advice-giving" rather than therapy.

    Not saying that would be your situation, but its something to be aware of yourself, and also something that might require some extra attention. Especially early on, I do not think it would be unreasonable to disclose this to a clinical supervisor. Again, assuming you have a supervisor you trust, explain it to them carefully, etc. I don't claim this to be the "right" thing to do, and depending on your individual situation it may not even be a concern. However, at the very least it is something you may want to keep your eye on, and it might be good to find at least one other person you can comfortably discuss any such issues with.
  9. psychmama

    psychmama 5+ Year Member

    Aug 14, 2008
    NYC Area
    Ollie, this is great advice for anyone entering the field. Thanks for mentioning it.
  10. turtleturtle

    turtleturtle 2+ Year Member

    Nov 11, 2009
    Thanks everyone for your replies. I think you are all right on about the admissions process. I will keep my mouth shut.

    However, something else was raised and this makes me wonder about school itself. In some of the classes that I have now, in my substance abuse counseling classes (which albeit are definitely different both by level and focus), there is a benefit and almost an encouragement to disclose in classes. In one class about group therapy technique, we, the class members had to model a group for the length of the class. We were not playing roles but ourselves. Granted, it wasn't like a spill your guts type of thing, and it was awkward because the boundaries were murky, I mean these were my classmates and suddenly it was like now what? I imagine there are classes and trainings like this in clinical programs. In fact, I downloaded one program's (don't remember which) pdf guide and one of its points was that a certain amount of disclosure was going to happen in the classroom and to be ready for that. And the issue of supervision is brought up a lot around me currently and is only going to get more important as I actually get into real world situations. Yes, countertransference is something that happens even if you want to call it something else, and it is important to be frank about your feelings with your supervisor and with yourself in order to do your job. I guess the profession entails so many issues with feelings that while boundaries are extremely important, I think it is much easier to see as cut and dry between therapist patient. It seems much trickier between students. I can't imagine not sharing who I am with my peers and in certain contexts I don't think it is unhealthy but can contribute to learning (and I wouldn't mind me being a recovering person being on the cover of the nytimes).

    All that being said, I am probably just a little naive and may end up getting myself into trouble or end up in school and be like oh, that is what they were talking about. Maybe I do need to learn better boundaries in the classroom. At least I have a lot of time to learn :)
  11. KillerDiller

    KillerDiller 7+ Year Member

    Mar 14, 2007
    Whether or not you will encounter this depends on what type of program you attend. I didn't even know that some programs did this until I heard other students at my practicum site discussing it. My impression is that the more psychodynamically inclined schools are more likely to have classes structured in this manner. I attend a program that focuses heavily on CBT and the new wave behavior therapies. The group therapy format would be incongruous with the way our courses are structured and students seeking this would have to go outside of the department in order to find it.

    Don't get me wrong, we have a close-knit group of students, but extremely personal stuff simply doesn't come out in the classroom setting.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2009
  12. psychmama

    psychmama 5+ Year Member

    Aug 14, 2008
    NYC Area
    As Killer said, the amount of self-disclosure varies tremendously within clinical programs. I lean psychodynamic, so I've become comfortable with process groups and a focus on countertransference.

    That said, no matter what your theoretical orientation, part of clinical training is learning to negotiate personal and professional boundaries. For myself, this process has been one of trial and error. I've learned to think twice before disclosing too much to classmates. Paradoxically, I've also learned to trust my instincts and not second-guess myself as much when I do decide to "share" something more personal about myself. I guess I've just figured this out as I've gone along in my training. I suspect that's how everyone does it. I'm still learning the ropes though.:)
  13. neuropsyance

    neuropsyance 2+ Year Member

    Oct 8, 2009
    I'd try to keep everything professional and not mention it. Odds are letting everyone know the fact that you're a recovering alcoholic won't help you in any real way. In my opinion all it can do is hurt you.

    Besides, what drives you personally doesn't have to be their business. It should drive you because it is important to you, not because other people may find it inspiring.

  14. QueueCumber

    QueueCumber Garden Variety

    Sep 24, 2009
    Farmer McGregor's Garden
    Like many questions in life, the answer is "it depends." If you can pull off a real good reason for disclosing it, then I would. This field is about self-realization, but at the same time, if you are going to disclose it, you do need to write well enough and reason well enough to use your personal history to make you a stronger candidate rather than a weaker one.

    Most people have friends and family who are in recovery, including interviewers and admissions people. IMO, it really depends on how well you can use your history as proof of your dedication and motivation. It is also useful if you can think of the unique assets it provides you so that you can describe them if you do decide to disclose.

    A brain without a heart is barely human and makes a poor computer...

    Ask yourself this, "Do I want to be in a program that doesn't want the real me there?" ;)

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