You’re trying, you’re sighing, and you’re even crying.
But for some reason you just can’t get through. Why not?
If in addition to your sniffling you are doing any combination of the following things, you are doing your job incorrectly.
I’ll preface this post by noting that I know almost nothing about social work; I am merely an unpaid intern who has undergone a week of lengthy trainings alongside other rising professionals in the field. Therefore, my advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I feel as though I have gained valuable knowledge from my week of training, and I am more than willing to share this newly acquired information with all of you.
We as humans have the capacity to empathize with others, to take on their feelings and circumstances as if they were our own. Though as a social worker you are obviously equipped with this ability, it is not your job to use it. I repeat: IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO EMPATHIZE WITH THE CLIENT. I know you may have heard otherwise, but consider the negative repercussions of such an impassioned bond. Assuming you understand a person who doesn’t feel as though you do can lead to unnecessary strife. The foundations of a good social-worker client relationship are built on cultural competency, rapport, and a shared understanding of the relationship. That said, it is nearly impossible to attain such a connection if:
1. You refuse to acknowledge your beliefs and biases.
- Many people make the mistake of assuming that because they do not define themselves as a “racist,” “sexist,” or any umbrella term of the like, they do not harbor any preconceived notions based on an individual’s identity. The first step to understanding a culture different from your own is acknowledging the difference. This variance is complicated by your own personal beliefs, which may take some courage to confront. That said, be compassionate with yourself when these biases crop up, because no one can truly exist without belief in something, nor should he/she want to. We are human, after all.
2. You remain ignorant about the client’s culture.
- It’s one thing to be ignorant, but it’s another to be aware of your ignorance and continue in your lack of knowledge. A client may come to session extremely disagreeable and unwilling to cooperate. He/she may refuse to comply with your “safety plan” and threaten to return to a dangerous situation. However, the problem may be you, not them. If you continue to suggest solutions contrary to the client’s culture/beliefs, you will continue to struggle in the relationship. A good way to get to know your clients better is to ask them questions. How does your family do this? Would it be acceptable for you to do this? In this situation, how would you respond? Be creative. No question is too small.
3. You feel yourself more responsible for the client’s welfare than the client him/herself.
- This one is pretty self-explanatory. You are not responsible for the client’s well being. He/she is. You are responsible with providing them ideas for safety, and sometimes catering to their legal/psychological needs, but you are not responsible for their happiness. Clients have to be responsible too.
Keeping these things in mind, you can really begin to work for effective change. My observations have suggested that the social services work best when those in a position of power are logical, detached, and unemotional. Though the empathetic impulse may come in handy in some situations, it may not always be effectual. Challenge yourself to be more than a social worker—be an efficient catalyst for change.