Background

Self-disclosure refers to sharing information with others about the personal rather than the professional self (Zur, 2011).   The issue is contentious, with some social workers, health professionals, teachers, counsellors and therapists believing that self-disclosure can be beneficial and helpful for both clients and practitioners, while others believe it can be detrimental and should be avoided.

Deliberate, conscious self-disclosure may help to demonstrate empathy, build trust,  and encourage clients to share their experiences.  But disclosure may also be unconscious and unavoidable, because of the colour of our skin, our gender, and whether we are known in the communities where we work.  Often we don’t think about the things we disclose, because they are ordinary, everyday things that we don’t consider to be private.

Research suggests that Lesbian and Gay people may feel pressured to conceal their sexual orientation in ways that heterosexual people generally are not.  The cognitive dissonance this creates may lead to stress and unhappiness in the workplace, potentially impacting on performance.  While there may be increasing legal equality and protection for people of different sexual orientations, inequitable attitudes, beliefs and assumptions may still persist.

The study was inspired by the experiences of the researcher while undertaking social work training.

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