When Cancer Hits Home: Providing a theoretical foundation for defining self-disclosure of personal cancer coping experience in oncology social workers’ helping relationships

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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
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oncology social work
social worker self disclosure
social worker cancer
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Social Work
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The American Cancer Society estimates that by 2020 cancer survivors in the United States will increase by 31%, rising from 13.7 million in 2012 to nearly 18 million, if cancer incidence and survival rates remain stable. This does not include others indirectly impacted by a diagnosis, such as family caregivers. Health care workers, including oncology social workers, are also increasingly finding themselves among those diagnosed with and / or caring for someone who has cancer. As cancer increasingly “hits home”, oncology social workers in such situations are also acquiring potentially valuable personal cancer coping experience. This theoretical dissertation explored how personal experiences with cancer (as patient or caregiver) influence oncology social work services. Social workers have had significant roles in research and theory development of therapist self-disclosure. Recently developed decision-making models aid in effective self-disclosure, with attention to specific populations. Recent research has correlated therapist self-disclosure with patient’s increased treatment satisfaction and a positive treatment outcome. However, to date, no such work addresses the unique needs of and opportunities for oncology social workers with personal cancer experiences, their patterns of self-disclosure and / or related potential educational needs. Such therapist self-disclosure could become a valuable clinical resource and merits investigation.

Allison Werner-Lin, PhD, LCSW
James Zabora, PhD, ScD, MSW
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