What’s the worst response we could give a young client when asked a question that’s personal but not inappropriate? “We’re here to talk about you, not me.”

The worst.

And I was taught in graduate school to say that!

Believe me, having gone through a psychology graduate school program in which all but two of my professors were psychoanalysts (!), I’ve heard all the reasons why therapists should try to maintain a stance of neutrality and not disclose too much about themselves. I don’t buy it anymore and don’t think I ever did. For one thing, it’s a bad marriage with my personality. Second, it became clear once I graduated and started seeing teenagers in therapy that this was no way for me to work. It felt — and, as a result, I felt — colorless, measured, and impersonal.

Kids don’t want neutrality in their therapy. They want to know who you are and what you think, what you like and what you’re willing to go to the mat for. Just like we want to know about them. You can show up as a real person and still be professional. You can let kids know the things or ideals that matter to you and still let their therapy be their therapy.

You can’t be present if you’re trying hard to be neutral. At best, it’s experienced by the teenager as stingy and aloof. At worst, it’s unkind, and just plain weird. The only decent client response to “We’re here to talk about you, not me” is the following: “Uh, you may be here to talk about me, but I’m not. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to talk to you in the first place. And now I’m sure I don’t.”


— Janet Sasson Edgette