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Social worker outed a family member without their permission

Hi everyone, I don't really like talking much about personal issues but I wanted to get something that happened that made me very angry off my chest and hear what you guys have to say about it.

One of my family members (whom I shall refer to as FM to make this easier to read) is currently seeing some social workers who do psychotherapy and counselling with them. My family member made a casual comment and one of the social workers (let's call her J) responded by asking them what their sexuality is during a private session with them. My family member told them their sexuality. I should make it clear that their sexuality has nothing to do with my family member's situation or reason they were undergoing psychotherapy. According to FM, J told them that she would not tell anyone about their sexuality without their permission. J implied that they could try and 'test' other FMs to see how they would react, but said that this would be FM's choice. FM said that they would prefer the SW sessions and meetings to be about the main issue at hand, not their sexuality. FM said that it was not an important issue for them and that they were not ready to reveal their sexuality. FM made it known to them that we come from a Christian family and was worried about how people would react.

Later on, FM was in a meeting with some other family members, the social worker in question, another social worker (let's call him A) and their doctor. I wasn't there at the time but heard about what happened from the family members who were there. The social workers said that in order for my family member to be able to talk to the rest of the rest of the family, they have to tell important things about themselves. Both A and J said that by being able to talk about FM's feelings, it would help improve their situation. Then A piped up and said, 'Should I tell them FM, or you?' According to FM, they had no idea what A was referring to and just said 'Uhhh, you?'.

A then proceeded to reveal FM's sexuality to the group. Now, I believe that one of the family members, along with myself, already knew about FM's sexuality and were accepting of it. But there were people in the meeting that did not know about it. They were apparently accepting of it at the time, but many people in our family, including the ones present, are Christians and generally very homophobic. According to my family members, the outing caused FM to cry and feel very stressed and embarrassed. They asked for my opinion about it and whether what J and A did was right. I said, 'Hell no!'

I rarely get angry about things but I found what J and A did crazy and unjustifiable. I told FM that J should not have asked about their sexuality and told A. It was also wrong of A to then force FM to come out. I feel that FM should make a complaint about it. I have a lot of reasons in my head why I think this is wrong of them and explained them all to FM but I'd like to know what other people think. I don't have a lot of LGBT friends I can talk to for advice and opinions about issues like this. Thanks for reading. Heart

Just to add, the same SWs have also asked me before to meet with them and share my worries and concerns. I have had bad experiences in the past with other SWs, so I was initially distrustful of them and have been trying to avoid contact with them. Now after what has happened with FM, I am even more reluctant to speak to them because I see what they did as a massive breach of trust that did nothing to improve my opinion of them.


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@WheresMySquishy they did WHAT?!?!


I have no words strong enough... that was undeniably and incredibly.. just wrong of them.

Honestly reading that made me very angry, I can't even imagine how you and FM must me feeling!!


I'm going to try to put together a list of resources for you and FM, if that's okay with you.


And yeah, my original case manager who I think I told you about was a social worker as well..

I'd kinda like to know the requirements to be one, because the bar seems to be set pretty damn low.

Is FM able to stop seeing them at all? They sound like horrible, horrible therapists and I'm not sure I'd trust them to look after a goldfish...


Also, I think you or FM should report them if possible.

I can find resources or pathways into doing that if it'd help you.

Just... if they keep doing s*** like that they could be putting other queer people in genuine danger...

Not to mention the massive and possibly illegal breach of confidentiality and the recklessness of their actions.


I'm so sorry that this whole situation even happened...

Just..... 😠


Idk if there's going to be any fallout or drama within your family as a result of this, but if there is then please take time to look after yourself.


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@Tiny_leaf  Thanks so much for your support. FM and I were just discussing what happened with another family member who wasn't at the meeting but knew about FM's sexuality beforehand. They also got very angry about it when we explained it. The social workers have always gone on about how it's important for FM to trust them, but I think that what they did totally ruined the therapeutic relationship. FM was asking me whether J and A think badly of them to do something like this and whether this was their fault. I told FM that they should not have disclosed this without discussing this first and getting their permission. I don't think that it was their role to take matters into their own hands and force FM to come out against their will.

We are pretty sure what they did was a breach of their code of ethics and confidentiality. I clarified with FM whether at any point they indicated their consent about the disclosure of their sexuality. FM said to J they were not yet sure about revealing their sexuality. To me, that isn't enough to indicate consent. At no point did the social workers say they were definitely going to discuss FM's sexuality with family members or anyone else and FM said that they were not expecting them to bring it up. I don't understand why they would reveal something like this unless it was a child protection issue or someone was at risk of harm. I think what they did was totally not on.

Some of my family members and I are thinking about raising the issue with a 'higher up' or making a complaint. We were already not happy with the standard of care because J had previously tried to punish FM for expressing their emotions. This occurred without any kind of warning such as 'If you don't stop crying, then I'll prevent you from doing something fun', she just told FM how she was going to punish them after their outburst. We raised this issue and J was apologetic, but then J and A went on to do this. Additionally, none of what they are doing is helpful and were the kinds of things that FM and our family were already doing before their involvement, which we have explained to them many times already. If my psychologist had treated me like how FM was treated, I would have looked for a new one. I'm really hoping that there is some way for FM to request other people, hopefully ones who are better trained, have more experience and are more compassionate.

I feel bad that you also had a bad experience with a social worker. Smiley Sad I know that there are good social workers out there, but most of the ones I have encountered or heard of seem to be dodgy. I have found a lot of them to be very interfering and judgmental. I think J and A seem to think that they are gods and don't think or care about the potential consequences of their actions. I was telling FM that breaching confidentiality like this could have resulted in a client coming to physical or psychological harm, especially because the LGBT community is stigamatised and possibly persecuted in many cultures. Many of our family members migrated from a country where the LGBT community is not accepted and often persecuted. I'm not sure how to go about reporting J and A, but I'm trying to look into it. Thanks for offering to put together some resources. Heart


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@WheresMySquishy as a rule, I don't trust people who want to make me trust them, rather than make themselves trustworthy. People's priorities are just.. really backwards when that's the most important thing to them...


And definitely. Coming out is a really personal process, FM alone has the right to decide how, when and if they come out to people, and J and A should have respected that.


And yep, it is. I don't know about legally, but according to the internal codes of most organisations, there are like three situations confidentiality may be broken.

1, if the person's at risk of self harm or suicide, 2, if the person is planning on hurting/ killing someone else or 3, someone's life is otherwise in danger.

They... definitely aren't meant to put someone at risk of harm..


They were possibly living in some lovely daydream of  "FM will come out, their family will accept them, a weight will be lifted from their shoulders and they shall be cured!!"

Though of course it doesn't always work like that, and people can have some really valid reasons for not coming out. It's not J and A's place to decide how valid those reasons are.

Arg the whole code of confidentiality was designed to protect people from this sort of thing!


And that sounds like emotional abuse... especially if FM is asking if it's somehow their fault, that raised a couple of red flags for me and punishing FM for their emotions is just... no. 

Ugh those people shouldn't even be allowed to be dog trainers, yet alone therapists...

I think it's definitely worth a respectful but strongly worded complaint....

And I hope so too.. it sounds like FM really needs to get away from those two...


And I know that logically there have to be some really good social workers somewhere... I'd really like to meet one though..


And yup.. I've heard some absolutely horrific stories of hate crimes which I won't repeat here..

But yeah, homosexuality is illegal in like 70 something countries I think, and heavily stigmatized in a lot more. Whenever I dream about visiting a certain country, I always find myself checking the chances of me being arrested/ killed, and have a mental list of "safe countries" that I could visit one day.

Even though Australia isn't like that, there can still be a lot of hate here. J and A really need to know that before even thinking about working with queer people.


And no problem, do you think me doing that would be useful?

And there's a government website somewhere that lets you lodge a formal complaint. Other than that maybe the organization's website?


Also I just want to say that it sounds like you're being really supportive of FM as they're going through all this.

I wish someone in my family had been a little more like that... but the point is, it can really mean a lot. And even though the situation is terrible, it makes me kinda happy to know that there are people who.. care so much when something like that happens to a family member.

No idea if that makes sense though  sorry... 


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@Tiny_leaf  Yeah, I found some of what they said to be strange. They had previously said that they want FM to see them as their family. I don't see how that's going to happen as long as they keep treating them like this. Smiley Sad

Exactly! As well as your points, I think FM and other family members would be less likely to confide in them in the future. We will always be thinking about what we should or shouldn't tell them, when the social workers should be open to us coming to them for advice and telling them our wishes and concerns, especially as they want to have regular family meetings. It made me wonder what other information they could be taking upon themselves to repeat or announce, and who else they are telling. We don't know what they could be revealing about FM and other family members. I met with A once in support of FM and tried to be friendly towards him despite my distrust of social workers but I don't think that there is any way I will speak to either of them again.

I'm not too familiar with their policies, but that's what I would have thought. We had this drilled into us during the courses I did at uni and every counselling service I have come across has explained to me about how the sessions are confidential except for the reasons you mentioned. Even then, they usually have to tell people whom they are going to disclose information to. It is the same in the places I have volunteered at. I've had to sign agreements that I would not try to get information out of clients or tell other people confidential information about them. It was not vital for FM to come out at all. Their sexuality had absolutely no bearing on their treatment and wellbeing. I told FM that family members don't need to be told everything. The SWs should have respected their wishes and kept their sexuality private. They turned what should have been a personal thing into their own thing. Smiley Mad

I think that was their reasoning behind their actions too, not that it's a good or ethical reason. While they may have had good intentions, they can't know or control how other people are going to react to these kinds of disclosures. I think just telling people added to FM's stress and worries. It created a new problem rather than helping to alleviate FM's other issues. They did more harm than good and should have considered these issues before doing what they did.

I have no idea how some social workers and counsellors are qualified when they cannot even grasp the main ethical principles of their profession. Surely they were assessed on them before receiving their credentials. What I've heard about their behaviour makes me wonder what else J and A could be doing and saying to FM. Perhaps they have been doing other things that FM doesn't realise are wrong and hasn't told anyone about. Smiley Frustrated

I totally get your hesitance about not visiting certain countries. I'd love to travel the world, but I also find myself looking up these laws. I've heard a few horror stories about people getting into serious trouble regarding issues like these when travelling abroad.

I think the resources would be helpful to us and other people in similar situations. Thanks for offering to point me towards them. Heart I know that their workplace has a complaints process. I'm looking up what that involves and will discuss it with FM and the others so that we can decide on what to do together.

Thanks for all your support. Heart I was wondering whether I was being unreasonable or overreacting about the situation. FM was very confused about J and A's actions while I was more angry. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when my family members told me what happened. One of them told me not to ask FM about it, but I felt that I had to in order to hear their whole version of events and what they felt about it before I expressed any judgment. It just didn't sit right with me and it went against my expectations of how a therapist should behave. It was so helpful to have your support and a third party's opinion. I know what you mean about the importance of good supports. When I was going through therapy, I didn't get much support from other family members and it really affected me. FM doesn't like bringing up the issues they have with the SWs and usually asks us to talk to them about it, so it's really important that we support and advocate for them.


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@WheresMySquishy well that's... a weird thing to say.. I don't even know what to say to that honestly, other than that I feel kinda bad for their real family...


And there is the option of talking to them in a slightly less friendly way.. (not aggressively, but also letting them know that behavior's not on).

But I can definitely understand not wanting to talk to them at all....


And yup. Every single place I've been to has had that policy, even the kinda crappy ones respected confidentiality. The only variation I've seen is whether or not they report "minor" self harm.

And exactly!! Your family won't be harmed by not knowing FM's sexuality, and the SWs don't get to swoop in and "save" the day by outing them...


And my theory is a game of bingo. First 90% to finish get the qualification. Smiley Frustrated

(honestly that would explain a lot......)


Same... I want to visit Siberia one day, but I also like not being beaten up by angry homophobes and/ or Russian police, so.. 

Honestly even the US freaks me out a bit, even though there aren't any of those laws...

I mean.. intense homophobia/ transphobia mixed with bad gun control seems like a bad combination to me....

You're welcome, I'll go find some now. There are a few that I've looked at in the past, so I'll try to track them down.


And I really don't think you're overreacting.. a lot could've gone wrong in that meeting, and if A and J had thought then they'd understand that.

It's good that everyone seems supportive, but it could've really easily gone the other way. 

Plus the importance of confidentiality, plus the fact that they ignored FM's right to self determination, plus punishing them for showing emotions...

Honestly "dodgy" is a nice way of describing them...


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@WheresMySquishy Okay, found some.


1) On coping with being outed


2) An article explaining why it's not okay to out someone

Possibly a good resource to send A and J so that they might understand why you don't do that to someone, or to help the organisation understand the seriousness of what happened.




On therapist abuse:


1) A full article on therapist abuse (this website really helped me out while dealing with some of my previous therapists)


2) A checklist-style article of warning signs and red flags:

FM might also find this useful in helping establish what is and isn't okay for A and J to do.


3) This one focuses more on therapy for people with ADD/ ADHD, but I think it has some ideas that could be useful here as well. It's about "types" of therapists to avoid


4) And this one is a list of harmful stuff that therapists sometimes casually say. I don't know if it'll help FM or not, but it might be validating if FM was told these things but thought/ were told that they were overreacting

(this website has some really good articles on chronic and mental illnesses, therapy, and related stuff, so there's most likely some other useful stuff on there)


5) This website which helps people who've experienced therapist abuse



And finally, for complaints:


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@Tiny_leaf  Thanks for all the resources! They're really helpful. I'll show them to FM.

I was just talking to FM and found out some important information about the whole thing. Apparently J had met with FM before the meeting and asked who knew about their sexuality. FM told J which family members knew. J then told FM that they should come out to other family members. FM told J that they were not yet sure about coming out. I should note that there was a gap of a few weeks between when J initially asked FM about their sexuality and when the meeting happened.

I think this makes it even worse. They clearly forced FM to come out against their will and planned the whole event. It was not their job to decide whether and how FM was going to come out. I think they crossed a boundary and went outside their role. I think they were living in some kind of bubble where they thought that coming out would magically solve all of FM's problems, despite the fact that it had nothing to do with them. FM was not struggling with their sexuality and was not bothered by it. They latched onto the fact that FM was not heterosexual and made it into a big deal, probably thinking that they were going to 'help the family to bond', 'cure' FM and be heroes. People like that make me sick. I can't believe they would treat vulnerable people like this and rob them of their self determination. I have no idea how they could not have foreseen the potential consequences of their actions Smiley Mad I think the article you linked explains why their actions were wrong really well.

I think what we will do is raise the issue with a higher up next week. I'm thinking of writing a letter that FM can give to them summarising the events and explaining how the behaviour was problematic as FM doesn't feel confident enough to confront anyone themselves. Then if we aren't satisfied, we will raise it with the people in charge of complaints. I found a number for the organisation that you can call to provide feedback and sort out issues.

In my opinion, I think the best solution would be to replace the social workers. There's no coming back from the fact that they damaged the therapeutic relationship. Now that they have breached confidentiality, who knows what else they could do? They are always going to be bad therapists. FM told me that they were assured that J and A were the best out of all the people who could be in charge of their therapy from that organisation. I don't think a good therapist would do something like this to a client.

I have decided not to bring up FM's sexuality and what happened to the anti-LGBT family members. I was anxious that they would bring it up and that I wouldn't know what to say, but thankfully they haven't (yet). These family members are the type to make things into a drama, harp on and on and tell the world about these kinds of issues. They have also previously said some bad things to FM about their support of LGBT rights, and told FM that this meant that they were not Christian in the past. I'm also a bit worried that they will tell their church about it as the people there tend to be drama llamas and have bullied and picked fights people in the past. J and A should not have assumed that FM would be accepted.

Like you, I am also concerned about visiting the US. I think a lot more could be done to prevent gun violence. There is a really interesting documentary on this called Bowling for Columbine. It was made in the early 2000s, but the issues it talks about are still relevant now.


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

@WheresMySquishy  you're welcome, I'm glad they were useful!


And damn.... that's just.... 

The word "premeditated" comes to mind. (so do a few other words if I'm honest...)

I absolutely agree that they crossed multiple boundaries, both as professionals and as people...


I know what you mean about latching on to something...

I have to explain to people all the time that I don't need therapy because I'm queer, I need it because I'm depressed.  I'm a little sick of seeing "struggles with gender issues" in reports/ referrals... Smiley Frustrated

And I hate the whole concept of "magical family bonding!!!". It seriously worries me when therapists push it on people without question. There's this.. assumption that all parents/ family are good parents/ family, and it's just not the case sometimes unfortunately...


And that sounds like a really good idea! 

I had no support complaining about my case manager, it's really good that FM's getting that opportunity.  

And yeah... what they did was really not okay.. imagine if they'd done something like that in a family that was violent.....


And that might be a good idea. Drama llamas are weird.. 

Another option if to talk with FM about what they'd like you to say/ not say if someone does bring it up. It can be good to know what they want you to keep to yourself and what they don't mind you saying, plus give you some peace of mind if you're one of those people who likes having a plan.


Re: Social worker outed a family member without their permission

Hey @WheresMySquishy, I'm not a member of the LGBTIQ+ community but work with and have close relationships with people who are. I think it would be great to encourage FM to make a complaint and/or ask for a referral to another SW if possible, but also respect that they may not want to, or it may make the situation worse in their eyes. All we can do is support the people we love to make their own decisions and trust that they make the right call for them. I feel your anger deeply, I would be SO angry too.

“Your now is not your forever."
― John Green, Turtles All the Way Down