Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the interesting experience of sharing with both clients and research participants articles that I’d written about them. Working in LGBT counseling agencies with beautifully unique client experiences, I’ve asked a few of my clients, as we were concluding the work, how they’d feel about having a description of our work shared with other professionals via a journal article. Within this, I include a lengthy description of confidentiality and how it would be maintained, the use of an alias, etc. They have all generously agreed to this. One of the things I appreciate the most about counseling in the LGBT community is the spirit of helping others that pervades.
As it happens, I had a client email me recently to say hi and let me know things are well, and to ask if I’d finished an article I was writing in describing our work together. In fact, I had, and it was in its final stages of publication. Because we’d agreed beforehand that I would share the article with him at the time of its completion, and because it was about to become public domain, I happily emailed him back the copy of the current draft. After doing so, I immediately had some pangs of remorse- should I have asked him to make an appointment to read through it with him? What if he had questions, or was concerned about something I’d said (it was an article about EMDR in a relational-cultural model, so it was, by my estimation, non-pathological). However, when people see descriptions about themselves in written form, it can have invite a variety of responses. We have laws about this in regard to client files, but what about information we’re disseminating in the public domain that, while confidential, is nonetheless an intense story of client experience?
My concerns have been brought home to me this week as I’ve been doing final member checks with participants of case study research I’m concluding. In sharing the article write-up as part of my member check (and because including them in the review is the right thing to do), it’s been interesting to see how they’ve responded (I’ve shared with two of my three participants, so far.) The first was surprised to see her information, including a trauma history, presented factually- her specific reaction was, “Wow, girl- it’s like, ‘there it is- my life, right in front of me.’” My second participant told me that I made her sound “much better than I see myself,” which was surprising, since I was able to show her statements that linked to the logical development of the themes for her case.
All of this is to say, we really don’t know what people will experience in reading research- or practice-based articles that are about them. This leads me to believe that we really do need to consistently deliver the final write-up in person, simply because it allows us to answer questions or simply reflect on the impact the data as on the client or participant. One thing I’ve discovered is certain- there is always an impact of reading a retelling of one’s own story, regardless of the format. I think I’ll give that client I emailed the article to a call….
Stacee Reicherzer is a counselor, a faculty member at Walden University, and a private consultant with special interests that include: transgender issues in counseling, lateral (within-group) marginalization, and sexual abuse survival.