Skip navigation

Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology

Psychology Matters

Diversity Matters

mcgrathBy Maggie O'Reilly-Treter, Amy Dominguez, Leah Grande, and Naomi Wright
Graduate Students, Clinical Psychology, Multicultural Interest Group



 The recent #MeToo movement is the latest demonstration of the widespread prevalence of exposure to interpersonal violence, abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Indeed, most of us will have (or have already had) the experience of responding to someone else's disclosure of a challenging or upsetting experience: My loved one passed away. I was harassed. My boss is discriminating against me. I was assaulted. Despite the high likelihood we will need to respond to another's disclosure, many of us have never considered what words, body language, other cues, and resources are most supportive when someone makes a disclosure.

Building on the idea that we should all take time to build a toolkit of knowledge and resources for responding to disclosures, four graduate students from the Psychology Department will be leading a workshop on the topic of effective responses to disclosures at University of Denver's 2018 Diversity Summit. The workshop aligns with the Summit's theme of creating inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable communities, positing that effective disclosure responses foster inclusive communities. Scholars, including researchers from the University of Denver, have documented that better disclosure responses lead to better outcomes for those disclosing (Ullman et al., 2008), and investigated which strategies for responding best support the disclosing person (Foynes & Freyd, 2011). Effective listening and responses are of particular importance to disadvantaged and marginalized populations, both because of their increased risk for exposure to adverse experiences, and because of the added impact of a negative social reaction for someone who is socially marginalized at the outset.

Using this knowledge base, the workshop intends to proactively equip community members with empirically supported skills to respond to disclosures of adverse experiences in a supportive manner. These include engaging in the conversation using your body language, by leaning forward or having upright posture and avoiding fidgeting; encouraging the person who is disclosing using verbal cues such as allowing for silence or asking open-ended questions; and supporting the person who is disclosing with words that express belief, validate emotions, and highlight disclosers' strengths. We will also introduce attendees to a pattern of negative response to disclosures that should be avoided: D.A.R.V.O. (Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd, 2017), or Denying the discloser's experience, Attacking the disclose for voicing their experience, and Reversing the Victim and Offender's position, such as by stating the disclosure was an attack on the perpetrator. Beyond understanding that D.A.R.V.O. is a harmful response to a disclosure, this knowledge can be helpful in processing the negative reactions received from others. Additionally, attendees will think of how their different roles—as a friend, family member, teacher, colleague, stranger— may influence how they can respond to disclosures. The group will also practice the newly learned techniques using mock examples in the safe and supportive environment of the workshop.

Foynes, M.M. & Freyd, J.J. (2011). The Impact of Skills Training on Responses to the Disclosure of Mistreatment. Psychology of Violence, 1, 66-77.

Harsey, S., Zurbriggen, E., & Freyd, J.J. (2017). Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 26, 644-663.

Ullman, S. E., Starzynski, L. L., Long, S. M., Mason, G. E., & Long, L. M. (2008). Exploring the relationships of women's sexual assault disclosure, social reactions, and problem drinking. Journal of interpersonal violence, 23(9), 1235-1257.