Monday, September 28, 2009

Confidential Blogging

Leslie over at The HeART of Social Work is being all kinds of inspiring these days! Her most recent post is in response to a comment which was left on a post about my story, From One Mother's Arms. The commenter asked a great question about how to maintain confidentiality while blogging. Please go read the original comment quoted along with Leslie's awesome answer here!

After reading her post, I thought it might be beneficial to encourage a little more discussion about how we accomplish this important task. I hope any of you SW bloggers will write your own post or comment here on mine.


I take confidentiality very seriously here on my blog. In fact, it literally keeps me up some nights! Though I'm not sure I'm any good at maintaining my own anonymity- I try really hard to protect my clients. I alter identifying details in the original writing of a post. And, it is not uncommon for me to go back and change things again and again in a story. But it is hard to figure out how and what needs to be changed to protect the people I work with (and sometimes even just people in my real life).

Here are some of the things that I do to try to protect identities and confidentiality:

1. Names: I give almost everyone a name on my blog - but it is NEVER someone's real name! I just like being able to refer to someone by a name because I think it makes the "story" easier to read. Sometimes the names are similar to their real name - other times they are completely different. For example - I picked Zari's name off a website of Ethiopian names because I wanted it to be "realistic" but its no where near her real name. People in my real life often get a name closer to their real ones - because it makes it easier for me to remember! :)

2. Ages: I usually will tell a child's age when talking about them because its important in the context to understand their developmental level. However, I've occasionally changed it slightly if it wouldn't really matter.

3. Race and Physical descriptions: I don't believe I've ever stated someone's race... I just don't find it important to most of my stories. I don't think I really describe most of the physical characteristics of my clients - I may say they are "cute" or "small for their age" - but I don't think I'd ever say they had blond hair or blue eyes. That just seems too risky.

4. Time frames: I do this OFTEN. I tell stories out of context or change the dates/year/etc. Sometimes I will tell things shortly after they happen - but write that they happened years ago. Sometimes I will tell a story as if it happened yesterday - when it really happened 3 months ago.

5. Change family compositions: I may write that someone has older siblings, when they really have younger ones. Or I may say they have a sister, when it is really a brother. (I think I once even told a story about a boy when it was actually a girl - but that rarely works.)

So, the bottom line is that I change the smaller, less significant details in a story - but here is one thing that I NEVER DO:

I never tell a story that isn't true and that I didn't experience with my own eyes, ears, and heart.

I started this blog as a way for ME to remember the things that I learned as a social worker - the everyday trials and the multi-year sagas that challenge my beliefs, change my life, and affect my very soul. In gaining you all as readers, getting your feedback and comments, and sometimes getting to read your stories as well, this blog has become so much more - for which I am eternally grateful. It is very important to me that you all, my dear and faithful readers, see the 'characters' as I experienced them and that is what I try to convey in my posts.

But at the end of the day I still want my blog to be about the things that have opened my eyes just a little bit wider.


  1. Thank you for posting about this. I plan to use my blog for my experiences/self-reflection and I want to be uber careful about this. :)

  2. I do similar things to you I think. Most of my posts about people I work with are toned down from what actually happens! I try and write about my response to events rather than the events themselves - so if I write about an assessment, I try and veer on the side of the issues arising and my thoughts of what was happening rather than facts and diagnoses etc.
    I often switch around family composition and genders and I definitely do the time frame thing. sometimes I'll write posts soon after they happen but I never publish them at that time but leave them germinating in my 'drafts' folder for a while.
    And although I've adopted a habit of calling people 'Mr A' and 'Mrs S' they are always randomly assigned initials and never the real initials.
    As you say though, my thoughts, my feelings and my reactions are absolutely genuine.

  3. I vary how I talk about and describe patients. When I first started out, I assigned them TV show or movie character names. Then I branched out to random names and lately I've been just assigning them a random initial. Sometimes the age is accurate, other times I'll say they're in their 80s, if their age has no bearing on the story. Sometimes I'm specific about the diagnosis, ie glioblastoma, other times I stay general. I change details about their family makeup. If I share a specific story from their life review, I try not to share any identifying information. I guess I think if I change things around enough, no one will ever see a pattern. And I've worked hard not to identify my organization or the town that it's in. Other than that, I hope for the best and use it as an outlet for expression and as a resource to others in the field.

  4. This is a great discussion about balancing the importance of protecting confidential information with the process and purpose of blogging. You are staying true to your purpose and have opened others' eyes in the process. :)

  5. I'm glad to see this and think it's a very helpful discussion of how social workers can seek advice, solidarity, and relief in community with others without taking advantage of clients or exploiting people's stories. We're looking at online social work education, and this gives me some good ideas of how to discuss confidentiality measures with students in that forum.


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