Saturday, November 3, 2012

Am I Adopted at Work? Social Work, Adoption, and Personal Self-Disclosure

Yesterday, the blogging prompt at Lost Daughters asked in what ways being adopted comes into play in my professional life.  I decided to cover the topic in today's post.  The question is extremely relevant for me in social services, despite the fact that I do not work in adoption.  Technically, I do work in adoption but not in the traditional sense as a micro-level adoption worker.  As an adoption activist, I could be seen as doing macro (State/National scale) and meta-macro (global scale) adoption-related work.  It's funny because people always say to me, "Oh I bet you got into Social Work because you want to work in adoption and help other people have adoptions as wonderful as yours."  Adoption work is not why I got into Social Work, but that is beside the point.  That statement, the assumption of why an adoptee would go into Social Work, is loaded with complexity.  Even for adoptee Social Workers who don't work in adoption at all.

Not working in adoption work does not mean that adoption will not occasionally fall into my lap.  When you work in social services, people will come to you with their problems even if it has nothing to do with your field or specialty.  Sometimes, considering adoption is the topic that is presented.  Alternately, someone may have an issue that already involves adoption.  For example, someone might have an adopted sibling they'd like to strengthen their relationship with.  They may come to a Social Worker they know or at a social services agency they already interact with to talk about it.

So, the big question is, do I tell them I am adopted?

The two big no-nos of personal self-disclosure in a Social Work setting:

1.  Never tell your client something for your benefit, especially if it is of no benefit to them.

2.  Never tell your client anything that would compel them to feel sorry for you.

If I feel the need to tell someone I am adopted, I have to ask myself, "Why?"  How does it benefit them?  Is my desire to disclose it because I need to get something off of my chest (not appropriate) or because I think it will help them in some way (appropriate)?

The fact of the matter is, some people would feel sorry for me if I said the words, "I'm adopted."  Some people readily understand the issues of loss, gain, resiliency, and even ambiguity in adoption.  Some people might not want to tell me how they really feel about the issue of adoption because they're afraid of hurting my feelings.  Some people might project onto me how they believe the adoptee or potential adoptee in their life may turn out.

Self-disclosure in a professional setting is never automatic.  It is done on a case-by-case basis, only when it is absolutely appropriate, and only when it is of specific benefit to the person seeking help.

Of course, this is tough in rural Social Work and Social Work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.  I see my clients outside of work on a regular basis and I am sure many of them know by now that I have an adoption connection.  Some people may be really strengthened by knowing I am adopted.  It may give them a sense of universality and comfort of having a shared experience with someone else.  Again, it depends on the situation.

Back to the statement,

"Oh I bet you got into Social Work because you want to work in adoption and help other people have adoptions as wonderful as yours."

Even if I had a desire to do micro-level adoption work in an adoption agency (and I cast no judgement on those who do), the answer would be, "No."  It doesn't matter what I think someone seeking help should or should not do.  It is not my place to use my narrative to convince others to make the choices that I think they should make.  Ultimately, Social Work is not about leading people in the way they should go.  It is about recognizing the strengths within each person, and helping them interact with support systems to solve their problems.  I do not go into my office every day thinking that I know better than my clients about their own lives.  It is a partnership; it is an opportunity to walk side-by-side with someone who is struggling and give them someone to lean on while they choose the path that is best for them--no matter what the situation in life is.

I have never approached a helping agency of any sort thinking I had the answers everyone else should follow.  Ultimately, when it comes to talking about adoption with someone in my particular professional setting, it is never about me.  It is not about my beliefs.  It is not about my experience or perception.  It is not about my feelings.  It is not about my opinions on adoption being right or wrong.  It should never be made to be about me.  And that's the way I prefer to keep it.

NaBloPoMo/NAAM Day #3