Expressing the unexpressed: self-disclosure as interactional achievement in the psychotherapy session


  • Joanna Pawelczyk Adam Mickiewicz University
  • Richard Erskine Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy, New York City



self-disclosure, discourse analysis, relational psychotherapy, discourse of psychotherapy, discourse markers, repetitions


Self-disclosure is endemic to psychotherapy. Though clients themselves disclose their experiences and emotionala states during the course of a psychotherapya session, they typically do so with extensive prodding on the part of their therapists. Thus, the therapist’s interactional role is an agentive one, facilitating a client’s verbalization of therapeutically-relevant material. In this article we will discuss how the therapist manages such facilitation locally when the client (unexpectedly) ceases his/her self-disclosure, often at potentially therapeutically relevant moments. As a locally managed interactional practice, the therapist’s intervention resumes the client’s self-disclosure. Since such intervention emerges amidst ongoing, emotionally-loaded revelations on the part of the client, they should be interactionally aligned with the client’s contribution. This paper describes how the psychotherapist enables the client to verbalize significant aspects of self, aspects that may never before have been verbalized or, if verbalized, failed to elicit any empathetic response from an interested listener. This paper presents how specific communicative strategies and language forms take on therapeutic value in the discussed context, underlining that the communicative function is not pre-ordained but rather remains to be actively constructed in discourse. Data taken from a corpus of audio recordings of actual therapy sessions conducted in August and October, 2004, document the practical application of a Relational Psychotherapy approach based on such categories of methods as, among others, inquiry, attunement, and involvement (Erskine et al. 1999).

Author Biographies

Joanna Pawelczyk, Adam Mickiewicz University

Joanna Pawelczyk holds a Ph.D. in English linguistics. She is currently a lecturer in sociolinguistics at the School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, in Poznañ, Poland. Her research interests focus on language and gender, discourse of psychotherapy, media talk, and discourse analysis.

Richard Erskine, Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy, New York City

Richard G. Erskine, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Psychoanalyst and both a Certified Transactional Analyst and a Gestalt therapist. He is Training Director at the Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy in New York City, NY. He conducts training programs, seminars and supervision groups for psychotherapists internationally.



How to Cite

Pawelczyk, J., & Erskine, R. (2008). Expressing the unexpressed: self-disclosure as interactional achievement in the psychotherapy session. Communication and Medicine, 5(1), 39–48.