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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some more privilege from the social work front lines

Something that gets discussed a lot in the "helping professions" (and specifically I'm going to talk about those who work as or plan to work as, therapists) is "disclosure."

"Disclosure" (as I'm going to talk about it, and as mostly discussed in social work) is the act of telling a client/patient something about oneself which is personal/not physically obvious (sort of, we'll get to it a little more in a sec). Freud believed that therapists (well psychoanalysts) should be a totally blank slate for their clients/patients and therefore it was necessary to not tell them anything humanizing/personal.

Now, Freud's an asshole, and most social workers (thank goodness) that I've met also agree that he's an asshole (though apparently there are far too many who think that "yes, but, for the time he wasn't"... no no, really, he rather was), but the field still tries to keep things a little more professional, a little more aloof than a friendly relationship would make, in keeping with some of his ideas about disclosure.
Which makes sense, it's harder emotionally to try to bill a friend than it is to bill a client/patient. Plus, some of our clients have a tendency to take the things they learn about us and sometimes use them in inappropriate ways (not that this isn't often the case for friends and family). Lastly, there's the fact that telling a client all about our father's recent death (or whatever) takes the focus off of them and places it onto us, which makes it harder for both client and social worker to you know, figure out what's going on for the client. So, lots of potentially good reasons to not disclose too often, or without some solid thought behind the reasons for doing it.

However, let's think for a second here about what constitutes "disclosing." Being straight? Not something usually disclosed. Being cisgender? Also rarely if ever disclosed. Being socially normative in a desire to have children? Not generally disclosed.

And it isn't that they aren't disclosed because straight people and cis* people, and people who fall into socially normative desires to have children are really good about keeping those things hidden/secret. HAH! (I laugh at the thought).
No no, they aren't disclosed because there is literally NO NEED to disclose in our society. It'd be like me disclosing to my clients that I'm human.

REALLY??? My social worker is HUMAN!?! I had NO IDEA (They would say).

They aren't disclosed because, except for in very specific situations (working at a center for trans/queer youth, for instance), everyone assumes those things to be true. Some identities are already known, and you have to prove them otherwise, by disclosing.

I'll give another example. I was chilling with a client the other day (like ya do) when she asked me whether I have children. My only decision at that point in time was "do I tell her or not?" It didn't include "do I tell her I don't want to raise children?" I didn't even think of the second idea, because it's a) "normal" to want to raise children, and b) I do want to raise some, maybe, someday. I have that privilege, of being able to let people assume I want to have kids, without even thinking about the fact that they are assuming it.

So in class we're talking about Freud, and someone in the class thinks he's just a peach, and had really ground breaking ideas, blah blah. And I mention that I think he's rather an asshole. And then later as we're about to move on from a discussion of disclosure, I bring up the fact that though I agree that it's important to not overshare with clients, that it seems really unfair to me that only certain groups are asked to be constantly on guard like that.

Which is when "Freud is awesome" classmate pipes in that it isn't the case that only certain groups are meant to not disclose, but that everyone is meant to not do it. She then goes on to tell me that as a former teacher, she also had to keep certain things about her life hidden from her students and that "you just have to get used to the idea of putting certain things about yourself up on the shelf".

As if I didn't just say that disclosure is a touchy subject. As if I was a wayward child who just is greedy, wanting to not feel like I have to keep my trans status, my sexual orientation, my atheism, the fact that I'm poly, hidden.

Yeah. Social workers sometimes don't talk about their kids with their clients, but a lot mention that they have them. (And, as a kid of a teacher I call TOTAL bullshit on just about ANY teacher not talking about their kids, my mom has a picture of me and my sister up on her door ya'll). And when you say you have kids, the client assumes you're straight. So if you're straight and have kids you just disclosed that you're straight, without even realizing it. Because you have that privilege.

My classmate is certain that she'll be a better social worker than me because she doesn't have all this "baggage." She understands that when you're a social worker you have to hide parts of yourself and keep identities hidden and not put lots of stuff on your clients by telling them all about yourself.

But the fact is, she's already told EVERYONE that meets her that she is straight/cis/what have you. She just doesn't realize that she did it.

So who's the overly disclosing one now, asshole?


  1. ...I snerked at the last line. I really, really did.
    Very interesting, I read blogs like this for food for thought (and because things are very different in my social environment than those of most trans bloggers, the majority of whom are American it seems). It definately made me stop and think about what's being communicated when not much at all is being said.

  2. Hey, your classmate is wrong! Baggage makes good social workers. How could we really be of any assistance to our clients if we had lived a totally uncomplicated life? Baggage is fine. Disclosure is tricky.


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