I get asked about the issue of self-disclosure a lot in training. It is one of those difficult grey areas where people are never sure of the boundaries or the parameters of revealing aspects oneself to a client. A practitioner who is asked a direct question about themselves by a client is placed in a difficult moral position. One the one hand it is commonly believed and promoted by many therapy models that there must be no disclosure. It is about the client and not the practitioner. However, this can leave a client feeling cheated. Alternatively, self-disclosure easy mutate in "Well what I would do if I was you... " kind of response. This is called "everday advice" and is rarely helpful.
This restrictive use of self stems from a (mis)quote by Freud. He stated that new therapist should conduct their therapy as if they were performing heart surgery. It should always be remembered that Freud tried to block the English translations of his work as he felt it grossly misrepresented him. And this is a case in point. The English translation suggest he meant with cold dispassion. What he meant was with due diligence and care.
Self-discourse is useful in one specific aspect. Where a client is struggling to take a risk, the practitioner can model that risk taking with their own disclosure. it says to a client I will meet you in this. As such, there are many therapeutic benefit in modelling behaviors that the client struggles with themselves. int his respect, so much therapeutic work may not be what we say as practitioners but what we do.
Self-disclosure does not work in other ways. It is not a replacement for the empathetic understanding of the clients own unique experience and meaning making. The same thing can happen two people with very different responses. Self-disclosure is also not a qualification to help people. The practitioner's suffering does not change another person's suffering by default.
So what happens when a practitioner self discloses? A fascinating study examined this very question. To read the results click here.