Self-disclosure of sexual orientation by social workers with clients
On my first placement for my Masters in Social Work I was instructed to hide my (gay) sexual orientation, and if asked, deny it, because clients might not want to work with me if they knew, and because self-disclosure was unprofessional and potentially dangerous. Although this struck me as wrong on a number of levels, trying to articulate a coherent response was surprisingly difficult. I had never really thought about the issue before. Having taken it for granted that I could be out in my personal as well as my professional life, I’d never had to justify it.
As a student, I had to write an essay on reflective practice for my course, and I chose to reflect on this experience so that I could try and work out my position on the issue of self-disclosure, especially regarding sexual orientation. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s not much written about it, and in my search I got some negative reactions from people when I raised the subject, which led me to believe that the attitude I had experienced might not be uncommon.
I chose to explore the issue further in my Masters dissertation. Was my experience a one-off, or are views about the undesirability of self-disclosure of Lesbian and Gay, compared to Straight, sexual orientation common among social workers? And if so, why?