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Therapist Self-Disclosure - Page 4

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Maintaining Standards and Connection

A year after Peter had recovered from prostate surgery and treatment, he and his wife asked me to speak to the prostate-cancer support group with which they'd become active. I went to rural New Hampshire and talked to the couples, mostly older people, about the psychological impact of cancer. I came away with deep admiration for Peter and Isabella's openness in the group and the degree to which they were willing to help others. The following year, Peter, an avid kayaker, began training for a month-long trip paddling through lakes, rivers, and old canals for hundreds of miles to raise awareness about prostate cancer. After a couples session, he said shyly to me as the three of us were standing in the doorway to my house, "How about if you and your partner go kayaking with Isabella and me sometime? Or . . . we're not supposed to do that, right?"

This is what it often comes down to in therapy. Self-disclosures on my part and contact outside the office at the support group had created a strong personal relationship within the professional-multiple connections for Peter, his wife, and me-which supported all of us in our therapeutic journey. Now he was trying to stretch the boundaries between us, which was a human thing to do. I realized, however, since we were still working together in therapy, that boundaries must be maintained.

I said ruefully, "No, we can't go kayaking with you." Peter looked crestfallen. I gave them each a hug good-bye, and said, "But it sure would've been fun!" They headed out the door, and I called out to Peter, "That's one of the sweetest things a client has ever asked me." A huge baby-style grin spread across his face.

Janine Roberts, Ed.D., professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is associate editor for international scholarship for Family Process. She's the author of Rituals for Our Times and Tales and Transformations. Contact: Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at, or at Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.

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