For me, working in one to one relationships I have a tricky balance of how much do I share about myself and my own story. I am not alone either. When I have delivered training on intentional one to one relationship, bereavement and loss and on Self Harm a question I have been asked consistently is: “what is too much information? How much should I share about myself or my story”
Self disclosure is an incredibly useful tool which when used correctly can be powerful, yet when used incorrectly can have negative outcomes.
Self-disclosure is essentially when you show your own personal views or experience with the person you are working with in order to support that person to positively move forward. Within counselling and mentoring I have heard many arguments for and against sharing, with people taking very strong opposing views on what level of self-disclosure is appropriate.
As with most aspects of this type of work, there is no clear-cut “right” or “wrong” answer and as someone who works with young people or adults you would need to make a decision yourself how much, if at all, you would share and how you would integrate this into your work.
I do share my own story but I do this on a case by case basis. No two people are the same so no two relationships are the same. Therefor, the need to share information is based on different criteria each and every time.
To gauge if I should or not come down to a simple question:
Who am I sharing this information for?
Self disclosure within a helping relationship should solely be for the purpose of the person you are supporting. If it is, in any way, for your own benefit then it is your need, not that of the other person. In making the session about your story it will become more about the you than the person you are supporting, and that does not serve their needs.
This is something that I find myself doing constantly throughout a session with a young person. The most significant time I find myself asking this is when a young person is speaking about bereavement. My own story includes several significant bereavements and when I find a young person speaking about their own experience of bereavement I may recognise some of their story in mine. When this happens I am acutely aware that I need to not project my experience onto them or to make assumptions about how their story will end.
In this situation it may help the young person to know that I have had an experience that is similar and promote trust between you and the young person. In contrast they may become too comfortable with you and begin to view you as a friend instead of a professional helper. Alternatively they may feel less isolated know that there is someone who may understand or recognise their feelings or responses. Yet in extreme circumstances they may feel that you are now focused on yourself rather than them.
As you can see there are pro’s and con’s. However, if you do feel that you want to share anything don’t forget the question: Who am I sharing this for. Then, if you have decided that this could help speak in the first person. Use “I” statements. Make sure that they know that you are talking about your own experience, that you don’t know what it’s like to be them, or how they must feel. You can’t possibly. Just make sure that you keep things short and to the point and limit just how much information you share. Remember it is about them and their need.
If you are in any doubt, my suggestion is always, don’t share. Just remember to be mindful of who you are there for.