What was that secret? Framing forced disclosures from teen mothers
Fujimoto, N. (2001). What was that secret? Framing forced disclosures from teen mothers. Symbolic Interaction, 24(1), 1-24.
This article examines the power relationships that occur in therapy that involves self-disclosure (i.e. disclosing unpleasant or discrediting facts about oneself). The work relies on fieldwork done in a therapy group for teen mothers, who, because of educational and socio-economic reasons, were already social disadvantaged walking into their sessions. In their therapy environment, the teen mothers experienced further power differentials from their therapist who a.) knew more about the mothers than they did about her and b.) often veiled attempts to force self-disclosures from the mothers.
Data for the study were “collected through interviews and participant observation of Generations Parenting, an academic and therapeutic program for teen mothers, funded by a southern California school district” (3). More specifically, Fujimoto gathered data by serving as a tutor in the program, attending group sessions and functions with the teen mothers, and individually interviewing the therapist (Joan) as well as some of the teen mothers. In total, Fujimoto observed 100 hours of interactions. Fujimoto found that women tended to react to forced disclosures in three different ways “immediate compliance [i.e. disclosing immediately], delayed compliance [i.e. disclosing after some further discussion], or sustained resistance [i.e. refusing to disclosure]” (1). From this, she suggests that therapy that focuses less on extensively on disclosure, and more on concealing information (in the case of those who resist), or on the successes of clients, may be more conducive to therapeutic healing.
This article contributes to knowledge about the sociology of mental illness, and specifically psychotherapy, because it examines the power-relationships that may come to light in group therapy settings. Fujimoto suggests that if therapists exercise too much power in forcing disclosure, they may not be adequately facilitating the therapeutic healing process. She suggests that they should rather emphasize concealing information (if clients seem likely to resist disclosure, especially in a group therapy environment), or focus on the successes of the client instead. However, Fujimoto notes that her own research is based on an already disadvantaged group, and she suggested, that as of the early 2000s, that more research in this vein ought to focus on (non-forced) disclosure among less socially disadvantaged groups (e.g. the middle class).