The progression of self-disclosure for college men and women within a simulated therapy session

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

A. Rodney Wellens - Committee Chair


This study focused on the developmental process of self-disclosure within a simulated therapy session. Subjects were 64 college students who expressed a willingness to discuss a traumatic experience with a graduate student therapist. Male and female subjects were equally paired with male and female therapists. Each 40-minute session was videotaped and rated by pairs of judges in 5-minute segments. The first, third and fifth 5-minute time segments for each session were utilized in analyses designed to detect changes in disclosure over time. Predictions regarding increases in breadth, depth, and negative affect disclosed were based on the author's interpretation of Altman and Taylor's (1973) social penetration model.A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and a series of 3-way repeated measure analyses of variance (ANOVAS) were conducted on measures of emotional expression, depth and breadth of self-disclosure with gender of subject and gender of therapist as between subject factors, and time as a within subject repeated measure. Depth of self-disclosure significantly increased from the beginning to the end of the session. Breadth, in terms of the accumulated number of topics discussed, increased significantly throughout the session. Positive affect expressed also increased significantly over the course of the session, although this was contrary to what was predicted. Negative affect expressed did not change significantly over time, nor did ratings of subjects' nonverbal discomfort. A significant interaction emerged for ratings of nonverbal discomfort, indicating that both male and female subjects were rated as displaying more discomfort in the presence of a therapist of the opposite gender. A significant positive correlation was found associating therapeutic qualities of the therapist and ratings of depth of subject self-disclosure, suggesting that subjects' felt more at ease to disclose intimate information with therapists who were judged to be warm, genuine and empathic.Overall, results support the application of the social penetration model to a single therapy session. It was speculated that the model might also be suited to longer-term therapy as the relationship between client and therapist develops. A combination of both self-disclosure process and outcome research was proposed to address future research questions.


Education, Guidance and Counseling

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