Therapist Concerns and the Interface with Clinical Issues
In the fall of 2015 I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion with other members of the Illinois Psychological Association’s Ethics Committee, at the Illinois Psychological Association’s annual conference. The panel consisted of a number of experienced psychologists and an attorney specializing in mental health law. The focus of our discussion was on how personal issues that the therapist may have in his or her life impact/interface with concerns that clients are seeking assistance for. The panelists discussed a number of examples of these issues ranging from: therapists struggling with parenting issues with their own children to therapists facing issues of aging and health concerns to therapists struggling with relationship problems, who encountered clients struggling with similar issues.
The challenge identified by several of the panelists was how to keep their personal values from impacting their responses to their clients. This is often an issue in parenting decision making. Panelist and audience members discussed how our family values influence our reactions to parenting struggles our clients may face. Examples of this ranged from what (if any) video games to let younger children play to appropriate rules on dating and sexual behavior, with adolescents. Similarly, work with couples can be quite challenging for therapists who are struggling with their own relationship issues, or if therapists encounter families whose values/lifestyle are quite different than the therapist’s.
One other challenge that was identified by the panel was how much, if at all, should therapists share about their own life challenges. There was some difference of opinion on this, but panelist agreed that the decision to share personal information needs to be evaluated carefully. Risks of sharing one’s personal issues with a client included: the risk of clients perceiving the therapist’s story as an implying how the client should react/manage the challenges he or she is facing; and the risk that the client may view the therapist’s sharing as the therapist using the therapy hour to meet his or her own needs, rather than focusing on those of the client.
The panelist did not offer specific rules or guidelines, but instead focused on highlighting that clinicians need to be sensitive to how our concerns and values can influence how we view and react to our clients. Therapists were encouraged to be particularly aware of this dynamic, and to not minimize its’ impact, even on seasoned clinicians.