Therapist self-disclosure in teletherapy early in the COVID-19 pandemic: Associations with real relationship and traumatic distress

Xiaochen Luo, Katie Aafjes-van Doorn, Vera Békés, Tracy A. Prout, Leon Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The usefulness of therapists' self-disclosure (TSD) in psychotherapy remains controversial, and little is known regarding the potential risks and benefits of TSD in times of global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and in teletherapy. We examined two independent samples of therapists (N = 1705; Study 1) and patients (N = 772; Study 2) on their perceptions of increases in TSD during the transition to teletherapy early in the COVID-19 pandemic (spring 2020). Approximately 20% of therapists and 14% of patients reported perceptions of definite increases in TSD. Therapists' top reasons for increased TSD were therapists' heightened distress and an effort to connect with patients in teletherapy. Importantly, therapist perceptions of their increased TSD were positively related to subjective vicarious trauma, real relationship, psychodynamic theoretical orientation and negatively with humanistic orientation, but not with age, race/ethnicity, length of clinical experience, working alliance, or professional self-doubt. Patients' perceptions of increased TSD were positively related with patient pandemic-related traumatic distress and their own self-disclosure, but not with patient-reported therapeutic relationship variables. Longitudinally, patients' perceptions of TSD increases predicted higher pandemic-related traumatic distress at 3-month follow-up, after controlling for their baseline traumatic distress and other variables. These results highlighted that increased TSD in teletherapy may be a potential marker for heightened distress in both patients and therapists during a global crisis and a transition to teletherapy. The findings also contrasted the literature and emphasized that therapists, but perhaps not patients, may have considered increased TSD as a reflection of genuine therapeutic connection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2915
JournalClinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • real relationship
  • teletherapy
  • therapist self-disclosure
  • traumatic distress


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