• Traditional talking therapy would have involved a largely silent therapist, who didn't answer any of your questions 

  • We spoke to psychotherapist Charlotte Fox Weber to find out how therapy is changing, partly by design, partly in response to modern life

Many people wonder why their therapist hesitates, maybe refuses, to answer questions about their private life. They may want to know if their therapist has a partner, or children, has been on holiday, or watches Netflix. These may seem like innocuous questions, that it would do no harm to answer.

However, therapy has always had quite firm ideas about boundaries and how much practitioners ought to disclose. 

Traditional talking therapy was designed to provide a blank slate on which the client can express themselves. If a client knows personal details about the therapist it may change the way they present themselves, looking for approval, or putting the therapist into the place of a parent or some other person in the client’s life.

But modern life has thrown up many challenges to traditional psychotherapy. Google can lead us to words and pictures that tell us a lot about therapists, if we are determined to find out. But, in a Welldoing CPD session with fellow therapists, psychotherapist Charlotte Fox Weber pointed out that clients won’t necessarily benefit from knowing anything about their therapist.

Why do clients want to know?  “One of my clients put it very well. He said it was as if we were sitting in a restaurant with a tasting menu and I wasn’t eating at all. He said if I spoke a little about myself it would be as if I agreed to eat a little bit of bread, so they didn’t have to eat alone. Therapy should be asymmetrical but it should be a little bit like normal human behaviour.”

Strictly psychoanalytic therapists appear to have stuck to the rules of their modality; even asking your therapist how they are when you enter the consulting room might be left unanswered. But many other therapy modalities seem to have adapted to a slightly more relaxed around self-disclosure. During Covid many were seen, by Zoom, in their homes, rather than consulting rooms. Sometimes family life may even intrude.

Charlotte Fox Weber has just published a book What We Want: A Journey Through Twelve of Our Deepest Desires and she struggled with how much she would reveal about herself, and  “whether it would make it human and relatable or I would disgrace myself.”

“Some of the things I have written about are not necessarily easy to talk about. I almost published something that would have been revealing, but the fact I couldn’t talk about it made me realise that I wasn’t actually ready to publish it.”

As for the social media side of self-disclosure, Fox Weber feels there is a ever-growing divide between those therapists who are “all out there on Instagram”, and most other therapists, who stick within the broad rules where personal information is only disclosed if the therapist thinks it would be beneficial to the client and not just because they want to connect and share.

“But if a client does ask a question and a therapist doesn’t want to answer, I would always say they should not make the client feel uncomfortable for wanting to know. It just may not actually be useful to them to find out the answer,” said Fox Weber.

Charlotte Fox Weber is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist and author of What We Want

Further reading

Why are therapists so fascinating to their clients?

Why the therapeutic relationship is so different

I was sexually attracted to my therapist

Why are therapists in therapy?