I recently received a request from a reader to write a post on transparency. The reader was curious what I meant by this term and was hoping I could define it. It’s a term that I commonly use in my blog writing and it’s a core tenet in my dance/movement therapy (DMT) approach. Transparency is also a term used in DMT literature, a therapy buzz word, but as it often happens, it’s also one of those elusive terms that is hard to define. So I’m going to give it a shot- I’m going to be transparent about how I personally define transparency.
One of our goals as dance/movement therapists is to increase our clients willingness to self-disclose in the therapy process. Traditionally self-disclosure is done verbally, as in we share things about ourselves. Yet, as dance/movement therapists we know self-disclosure can happen non-verbally too. Regardless of how self-disclosure manifests, it is crucial for therapeutic growth. Our clients’ self-disclosure gives us an opportunity to learn more about our clients, it helps us tailor our intervention choices, and it also gives us an opportunity to reflect our reactions to our clients. The self-disclosure and reflection loop, what Dr. Daniel Siegal calls the contingent communication/collaboration, is fundamental to healthy interpersonal relationships.
Although we encourage our clients to share information about themselves to help along the therapy process, it is not a requirement for therapists to self-disclose. In fact, some psychological theories discourage therapists from self-disclosing as this may discredit the therapist as the expert or leader of the therapy process. Transparency is when a therapist chooses to self-disclose to a client, as in the therapist is allowing the client to see into the therapist’s personal self (group therapist guru Irvin D. Yalom is a big supporter of this). The therapist is disrobing, if you will, the idea that the therapist is an expert or a blank slate for projection, but rather a real person with real emotions. For me, transparency refers to the dance/movement therapist’s mindful choice to self-disclose with clients while maintaining and respecting the boundaries of the therapist to client relationship.
Here is what I wrote about transparency in a former post titled, “Dance/Movement therapy as an embodied approach to psychotherapy,”
As a dance/movement therapist I choose to be transparent with my clients on a daily basis. I am open with them about how I feel and my own process in group. I do not share about my process to direct the groups’ attention on me, but rather to model what it looks like to be a self-reflective person. I try to model what it looks like to be an embodied person. I am, after all, in the room and a part of the group’s process so it would seem dishonest to NOT share about my own experience in group. I feel as though my sharing may also give a group member permission to share too, as in maybe he/she felt similarly to me but did not have the courage to name it. It’s important to note that I feel as though I am able to do this BECAUSE I am an embodied person and I know that my sharing comes from a safe place. My sharing comes with clear boundaries, is focused on the present moment during DMT group, and is NOT about what is happening in my personal life. The transparency of my process both models embodiment for my clients and allows me to practice my embodiment skills. I am embodied so I am able to be transparent.
Let me give you an example. Unfortunately, a program participant recently passed away. Naturally this has impacted my clients, myself and my co-workers. In response to the passing, the creative arts therapy team has helped our clients process the loss of the participant and loss in general. In the days following the news, we allowed clients to make condolence cards for the family during group time. I was helping one specific gentleman who uses a computerized communication board. He wanted me to transcribe what was on the board’s screen to make a paper card. I was going about transcribing when a particular part stuck out to me, something along the lines of, “at least we know she is in a better place now, up in heaven where angels don’t have handicaps.” When transcribing, I noticed how this had impacted me but I kept my cool and regulated myself. However, when I read aloud the client’s letter back to him I began to choke up. At that moment I had a choice: I could stuff my feelings of sadness in order to preserve my image as a blank-slate therapist, or, I could allow myself to express my feelings in a healthy way with healthy boundaries. I chose the latter.
After reading the words, I paused and allowed myself to cry in front of this participant as well as two others. It was the first time I have cried in front of my clients. When the moment passed, I told the client how his words had moved me to sadness and how meaningful his words were to me. In this exchange, I was able to honor my client and honor the fact that although I am the therapist he is the one who has brought about an emotional catharsis. He is important enough to impact how I feel in the present moment. Another client who had witnessed me cry, came over and gave me a hug in support. This action too allows for a role reversal in that it gave this client the opportunity to support someone and an opportunity to be altruistic. In a sense, it also gave the client an opportunity to hold the container for my emotional experience.
I find transparency in the therapy process to be vital in the therapist-client relationship. However, transparency is a personal choice for dance/movement therapists and it is often a heated topic among professionals. I have witnessed interesting discussions among professionals about whether transparency is appropriate for therapists. It is important to consider the negative aspect of transparency since, as therapists, we do hold a certain power or authority while in the therapy room. We are NOT in the therapy room to air our personal problems. If we are transparent for this intention then we are certainly exploiting the authority we hold. Yet, I truly believe that if dance/movement therapists are able to keep self-disclosure relevant to the group topic and grounded in the “here and now,” we provide an opportunity for our clients to witness an integrated self. I am a dance/movement therapist, but I am also human and I think it’s important for my clients to see that. I am just a human being trying to make it in this crazy world too.