Self-disclosure refers to sharing information about ourselves with other people. Most people share things all the time without thinking much about it, including what they had for tea last night, what they think about social issues, and more personal things, like their past experiences and their personal identities.
It is these last two types of disclosure – experiences and identity – that tend to cause most controversy, especially in professional settings. How much should a therapist share about themselves with a service user? What about doctors, nurses, and social workers? What should they share, or what is acceptable for them to share?
Opinion is divided between those who think professionals should be a neutral, blank canvas, and those who think judicious disclosure can be beneficial to the therapeutic relationship. The divide isn’t always that neat, of course. Practitioners might decide to disclose some things, in some settings or roles, but not in others. The decision on whether to share information might also be affected by how personal it is. For some professionals, though, disclosure about the self is an integral and necessary part of their job.
Peer Mentors share (or disclose) information about their “lived experience” automatically because of the job they do. This can help to build relationships with service users in ways that they might find helpful, beneficial, and an aid to recovery. If service users benefit from Peer Mentors sharing information about themselves, then sharing lived experience by other professionals might also be beneficial and welcomed by service users. On the other hand, disclosures made by doctors and nurses, for example, might be seen as unprofessional, or unwelcome.
There is little training, guidance or research available on the subject of self-disclosure and sharing lived experience in mental health interventions to help people make decisions about what to share and when. To address this issue, the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research at the University of York, and Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, are working together to find out what service users and staff think about self-disclosure (or sharing lived experience) so we can produce guidance and training that will be delivered and evaluated.
The research will involve recruiting service user researchers to collaborate in all aspects of the research. Views will be sought about self-disclosure and sharing lived experience from both practitioners and service users through a survey, and focus groups will examine emerging themes. From there, a collaboration between practitioners, service users, and researchers will develop training and guidance that will be delivered and evaluated. Discussions are also taking place with a mental health service in Australia, with a view to undertaking the research out there too, to get wider perspectives and provide a comparison to the UK investigation.
The methods and tools for undertaking the research are in the process of development and, after ethical approval is gained, it is anticipated that the field work will begin in the summer of 2014. One service user has come forward with an interest in being involved as a researcher, and one mental health practitioner has offered their services too, which is great news (thank you for getting involved!).
Consultation about the research took place at the Lived Experience in the Workforce conference in Leeds in December 2013, and with Leeds Researchers (the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust service user research group) in January 2014. The comments and suggestions received have been integrated into the research design.
Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome at any stage, so if there is something that you’d like to say, please get in touch with the Lead Researcher, Jonny Lovell, PhD Student in the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research, in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find regular updates about the study, please follow Jonny’s blog.