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Marcus, D.M. (1998). Self-Disclosure: The Wrong Issue. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(4):566-579.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(4):566-579

Self-Disclosure: The Wrong Issue

Donald M. Marcus, M.D.

Self-disclosure is currently a lively topic of discussion in psychoanalysis. Its early history is well known (see Greenberg, 1995). Freud (1912) advised against it based on his experience, and also because he was concerned that analysts would overstep the ethical boundaries of contact with patients. Ferenczi (1932) took self-disclosure to its limits with “mutual analysis,” as part of his experimenting to find ways to help the most difficult patients. Freud (1912), was clear however, that while his technique suited his individuality, other analysts might well need to work differently. In addition, Freud, in practice, was not nearly as abstinent and anonymous as his advice indicates. Ferenczi, too, became cautious about mutual analysis, writing in his Clinical Diary, “Mutual analysis: only a last resort!” (3 June 1932p. 115). Both men retreated from their extreme positions, but their positions seemed to go with their personalities; Ferenczi was more open and Freud more secretive about himself. As noted by Stolorow and Atwood (1979), theory is derived from the theorist's personal and subjective world.

My impression is that most analysts today have a position about self-disclosure that is similar to the one put forward by Jacobs (1995): that it is generally best for the analyst not to disclose his or her thoughts and feelings to the patient, but that there are times when doing so may prove to be an effective tool in advancing our work. Gabbard (1996) takes a similar position, but believes strongly that sexual feelings should never be divulged. Greenberg (1995), Epstein (1995) and Levenson (1996) seem to agree with Jacobs.

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