Sometimes I Also Feel Lazy: A Clinician Reflects on Self-Disclosure By Steve Alexander, LMHC on 7/6/21 - 11:48 AM

“Sometimes I also feel lazy,” I calmly mentioned to Chris. I noticed his chest instantly decompress with a sigh, as a slight smile took shape at the corner of his mouth. As a clinician, I make calculated decisions about how and when to disclose to my clients.

Chris is a Black man in his early 20s who struggles with symptoms associated with anxiety and persistent depressive disorder. He is currently living with his parents and saving to purchase a condominium. He works in the highly competitive industry of data analysis and takes an interest in both playing the guitar and learning new languages. However, Chris has ongoing thoughts and concerns associated with where he “should” be in life compared to his peers.

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My self-disclosure came after multiple sessions of hearing Chris berate himself, thinking he is not “doing anything with my life.” According to Chris, he should be earning more money and proactively searching out new places to live. We have all dealt with clients who appear to be doing better than most but seem to treat themselves as if they are the worst.

At the moment and in looking back, I felt conflicted. Should I have revealed how proud I was of him? No, that might be taken as gratuitous praise that he believes I “say to everyone.” Or should I have simply sat back and normalized his thoughts and concerns? Well, I tried that in previous sessions. This time I had a different idea.

I recalled how Chris had seemingly put me on a pedestal in the past. He had sometimes made remarks about how “you own your own business” and had “written books.” Now was a moment that I could come across as more relatable. I have noticed that power differentials present significant challenges when working with male clients.

Chris mentioned feeling “lazy” due to his perceived lack of initiative. I responded briefly with, “Sometimes I also feel lazy.” I aimed to be succinct so that my intervention was not taken as an attempt to monopolize his session.

Self-disclosure is not without controversy. Some colleagues argue that it helps, while others suggest that it may be harmful. With Chris, I wanted to convey that I go through periods of indolence as well. As it turned out, this led to a rich discussion about how routines might work better for him than relying on motivation.

One of my concerns prior to disclosing was my experience that mental health disorders are often associated with stigma, and this may delay clients from entering therapy. Chris could have suggested that it was “easy” for me to say that I go through periods of inactivity, as I don’t struggle with anxiety and depression (though inaccurate, I was not willing to take up his session with my issues).

I have found that self-disclosure —when used appropriately—has been a powerful tool in my practice to reduce some of the stigma associated with mental health issues and their treatment, normalize my client’s experience, offer different ways of thinking and behaving, and deepen the connection between me and them.

Below are some considerations for the appropriate use of self-disclosure that I have found in my clinical work:

Cultural Sensitivity

The use of self-disclosure can be problematic if I make assumptions about my clients based upon a real or perceived similarity with them. Culture goes beyond race and ethnicity. Chris and I are of the same race, but that does not mean we have the same worldview, so I must be careful to disclose only after having a thorough understanding of the cultural factors that impact his worldview.


My clients appreciate me when I am real, which is also when I think I am doing my best work. I fear that my professional licensure and other symbols of my presumptive clinical expertise sometimes create distance as opposed to allowing clients to connect with me. Sharing something about myself—when relevant—can help minimize this barrier. My clients come for the clinical interventions but stay for the relationship.

My goal is always to help my clients meet their needs, as opposed to having my own needs met. The above-mentioned session could have easily become a discussion about me. However, this is not what Chris was there for.


It is their session, not mine. I do not want to elicit a caretaking response from my clients. I have written elsewhere that good therapists are in therapy themselves. Another point is that disclosure should not happen frequently, for the same reason mentioned above.

Eliciting feedback

I have found it to be important to carefully observe my client’s reactions (facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language) in order to obtain a sense of how my self-disclosure affects them. It helps when I ask clients directly how they perceive my disclosure. I was able to pay close attention to Chris’ bodily response and noticed that he found comfort in my disclosure. Further, my observation was validated by asking him what the disclosure was like for him.

Some questions that I have found helpful prior to self-disclosing include:
  • What need is driving me to share this information (is it for me, or is it for the client)?
  • How might this information be helpful?
  • Is this helpful to share now (perhaps the disclosure may be better suited for a later time)?

I have also discovered that my use of self-disclosure has not always been as helpful as I had intended. One example stems from a time when I tried to normalize medication compliance with one of my clients who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I mentioned the fact that I have asthma and am required to take my inhaler regularly in order to maintain optimal health. The client responded by saying that he would much “prefer asthma over schizophrenia.” I attempted to salvage the moment by admitting that it was not appropriate for me to compare asthma to his lived experience. I also allowed the client to give me feedback on how the disclosure made him feel (I learned that it came across as slightly dismissive). I have found that these lapses in clinical judgment have actually strengthened my alliance with clients when I am willing to admit them. Through self-awareness and honesty, these moments have become opportunities for a deepening in my therapeutic relationships and for my client’s self-awareness and growth.


In my clinical experience, carefully planned self-disclosure has been a transformative tool in the relationships with several of my clients. Chris viewed my personal revelation as a breath of fresh air, and it made our work together more effective. He respected and appreciated my authentic humanity—even if it meant I was sometimes lazy.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy