Issues such as relationship problems and family bereavements are almost universal. People requiring help with such issues from social workers and counselors, however, can be incredibly diverse. A new study investigates the experiences of one particular group - self-identified vampires - in disclosing their identity to helping professionals.

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The authors suggest that self-identified vampires are probably more common than most people realize.

The study, published in Critical Social Work, seeks to understand the experiences and concerns of people self-identifying as vampires who are faced with the choice of disclosing their identity to professionals such as social workers and counselors when seeking help for various issues.

Advances in technology and social media have created an environment conducive to unique and unconventional identities, the authors state. The Internet has made it much easier for individuals to discover and work out new identities that can help them understand themselves better.

"We really need to understand some of these new identities and new ways to identify ourselves, and some of these new identities do not fit into stereotypes," says study co-author DJ Williams, an associate professor of social work at Idaho State University. "Helping professionals of all varieties need more education on these kinds of topics."

People that self-identify as "real vampires," for example, claim the need for extra energy regularly to sustain health. This energy can be obtained either psychically or with small amounts of blood from animals or willing donors.

Williams explains that while people with alternative identities may have significantly different lifestyles and beliefs to others, they can still be affected by personal issues in the same way as everybody else:

"People of all kinds sometimes struggle with relationship issues or have a death in family or struggles with career and job-type issues. Some of these people with alternate identities may come to a therapist with these issues, and if clinicians are open and educated about this group they should be able to help the individual much better."

Helping professionals should 'consider embracing aspects of diversity'

A brief, open-ended questionnaire was developed and fielded to a total of 11 adult participants who had self-identified as "real" vampires for several years. The participants were selected by vampire leaders known to the authors and adopted a vampire identity for an average of 14.2 years.

The results of the questionnaires revealed that the vampires had many worries about the disclosure of their identities to helping professionals. These concerns included fears of stigmatization, being judged as evil, being labeled as having a psychological problem and not being taken seriously.

Williams states that "without exception," the vampires were fearful of approaching clinicians for these reasons. If such fears are strong enough to prevent individuals from seeking treatment when needed, they could prove dangerous to their overall health.

The authors also note that the participants interviewed for the study all appeared to function normally from their answers to questions about their psychiatric histories, social roles and occupations.

"More education among social workers and helping professionals concerning alternative identities and practices is needed," the authors state. "We challenge social workers and helping professionals to consider embracing aspects of diversity, such as vampirism, which are not typically taught in social work curriculums."

In becoming more aware of alternative identities alongside potential biases and stereotypes, the authors suggest that helping professionals can better establish trust with clients who have alternative identities and beliefs and, therefore, provide a more effective service.

"Helping professionals should strive, of course, to become more aware of their own social and cultural positioning so that these do not unintentionally harm clients whose backgrounds and beliefs differ," they conclude. "By doing so, we may improve at practicing what we preach."