The differences of emphasis feels most apparent with assessment work. I now ask myself if, as a social worker, I replaced listening with analysing, acceptance with judgment, and person-centred practice with meeting organisational targets, instead of balancing all the above. As a counsellor in training I listen, reflect and paraphrase, helping the client to make their own decisions. But if counselling and social work are frequently thought of as synonymous, where are the similarities?
These, I believe, are to be found in our abilities to develop and sustain relationships with people, often in times of extreme need, distress or upheaval in their lives. Building relationships is therefore at the heart of both counselling and social work, requiring common skills in empathy, listening and acceptance. There are also similarities with reflective practice. Counselling has helped me to be more aware of my own feelings and behaviours, especially my reactions and responses to those of others. As social workers we are encouraged to reflect and explore our feelings, particularly when we need to take action and make a judgment or a life-changing decision, such as to protect a child.
If we are aware of our emotions, thoughts, responses and behaviours we can better empathise with those whose lives we pass through. As a social worker I had many roles in my day-to-day practice not forgetting tea maker, chauffeur and IT expert — turn it off and on again! Both counselling and social work are founded on a combination of values, ethics and boundaries. So amid the political agendas, organisational constraints and assessment deadlines, counselling skills are significant in social work practice. The Social Life Blog is written by people who work in or use social care services.
Join the Social Care Network to read more pieces like this. Follow us on Twitter GdnSocialCare and like us on Facebook to keep up with the latest social care news and views. Rather than narrow her focus on cultural aspects alone, however, an idiographic approach allowed her to communicate with the family regarding a broad range of social and relationship factors. Using this framework alongside models of assessment, important cultural and relational factors can be included in data collection and analysis. In addition, drawing upon this model when communicating with service users, pointers as to what to be curious about in our conversations with people are thus provided.
While ever we avoid making stereotypical assumptions and focus on cultural factors above all else, we are able to integrate this framework into and alongside other models, including assessment and counselling approaches. Using a framework does facilitate focus and although eclectic practice certainly has value in that it allows flexibility, the focus of a framework prevents practice becoming too broad and diffuse. This includes, but is not exclusive to, skin colour. Wherever we practise social work, we will find that people have similarities and differences in their cultural histories, in their values, in their beliefs about themselves and the world, and in the way in which the rituals of life are practised.
Inclusive is his own chapter outlining the idiographic framework to practice. While social work practice is not the focus of the text, it is helpful in increasing understanding of the complexity of cultural factors in therapeutic relationships. While it is an older text and not specifically designed for social work practice, the book is very useful for considering gender, power and culture in working relationships. This book provides an in-depth analysis of the style of communication cross-culturally and the meaning of different styles of communication in various contexts.
This book is of fundamental importance in general social work literature. This chapter aims to achieve two objectives. Firstly, it will provide a brief overview of the person-centred approach, which will be outlined and applied to social work practice. As with other chapters, this is not all-inclusive and further reading is strongly recommended.
Secondly, some of the skills associated with this approach will be examined in detail within a social work context. Contained within this is an exploration of the three fundamental therapeutic attributes for effective communication with vulnerable people in need, building on listening skills: congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard Rogers, The Humanistic School The Humanistic School Nelson-Jones, is named as a result of its value base, advocating that human beings have individual potential that needs to be achieved in order to experience satisfaction with life.
This is referred to as actualisation Rogers, The Humanistic School firmly believes that all of us have tendencies that are unique and all of us have a capacity for understanding the self. Thinking and acting that is out of harmony with these tendencies results in distress, dissatisfaction and a lack of fulfilment in life. Self-reflection aided by therapeutic support helps to bring our lives back into harmony with these tendencies Rogers, Carl Rogers , is the dominant theorist in this perspective. A historical account of his life as such is given by Nelson-Jones , who provides the context in which his ideas evolved.
Rogers seems to have acknowledged areas of disharmony in his own life and appears to have been striving to fulfil self-actualisation and to find more internal—external harmony. His commitment to the emancipation of people from the dominant voice of society and from their parents sets a foundation for the notion of individual potential and for the challenging of authority in various forms Rogers, As with other approaches that follow in subsequent chapters, a person-centred approach has theoretical underpinnings that are based on beliefs that have been tested in practice over time.
There are, however, benefits to including elements of this model into social work practice. Individual emotional and behavioural reactions to experience and the unique meaning of those reactions cannot therefore be globally categorised or predicted, even in the context of culture. Tolan includes scope for the influence of culture in the development of personality within this approach but the meaning given to experience remains an individual phenomenon.
Drawn from other theorists of his time, including Maslow , , Rogers identifies that human motivation functions to assist us to reach our individual potential. In so doing, we strive to achieve internal harmony between what we feel and what we experience.
Counselling Skills for Social Workers
By a process of internally evaluating experience we Miller This includes congruent awareness and expression of feelings evoked by experience: we recognise, then express, what we feel about an experience. Self-regulation allows choosing satisfying experiences over dissatisfying ones. The actualisation process is thus a motivational system from which our individual evolution and development occurs.
Competing against this, however, is the conscious self Rogers, ; Maslow, , where blockages to the actualising process occur. The actualisation process in Humanistic theory applies over the life span. The selfactualisation drive is not a static concept but one that is continually in progress through the triad of experiencing, perceiving feelings linked to experience, and expressing or acting upon feelings in congruence with the experience.
Reaching human potential does not have a ceiling of age and is unique to each individual. The actualisation process becomes blocked and internal disharmony results when incongruence between feelings and experience, expression or action occurs. In such a situation, inner conflict is generated and emotional and behavioural problems can develop.
Immediately, the potentially conflicting elements — individual tendencies and social structures — become apparent. For example, it is a legal requirement for children and young people to participate in education. Therefore, disharmony for such young people becomes evident through their behaviour and emotionality. The education system is one example of how young people are required to fit with a system that does not meet the needs of all of the children and young people in society. This obviously highlights a conflict for social work. We are required to work within socio-political and legal boundaries.
Raising awareness can also lead to creative exploration of solutions within those social structures, even if it does not result in changing the structures themselves. Gregor presented as extremely quiet when meeting individually with Ajay, his social worker. He was known within his peer group, however, as a bold and charismatic leader who would often be the instigator of offending behaviours, especially car offences.
Gregor was a year-old young man, the middle child from a family of three brothers and a single mother, who was an exhausted woman who had been asking for help with Gregor for several years. Gregor had a long history of truanting from school, this having been a pattern of behaviour since primary school. He had gradually become involved in car theft and was recognised among his peers for his deftness and his daring for fast Continued Miller Gregor was frightened by the thought of being accommodated and these threats regulated the extent of his offending behaviour periodically.
This was enough to legally maintain him at home but did not assist in any way to understand the reasons for his behaviour, nor alter the course his life was taking. Gregor had had difficulties maintaining his focus on academic work when at school, especially with subjects that required reading, which he found challenging. He had greater interest in technical studies but as these classes were limited, his interest was not enough to encourage him to remain in school, and, when he did, he became angry and very aggressive, as he did at other times. His talents in technical subjects had little opportunity for substantial development, as this was only a small part of the school curriculum.
He often expressed boredom the community in which they lived. Gregor did experience internal conflict, which was evident through his aggressive behaviour. The self-actualising drive was being inhibited by a combination of lack of opportunity for skill development attuned to his needs, and lack of social opportunities due to living in a deprived area of a small, rural town.
Inner conflict between lack of opportunities for development alongside social disapproval of offending behaviours that did provide him with both status, a form of social development and gratification, created emotional disharmony that was expressed through aggression.
However, inner conflict was also being experienced. His mother, his social worker and the legal system were attempting to limit his offending behaviours in conjunction with a lack of alternative opportunities for Gregor to seek the same level of gratification and skill development in socially acceptable activities. Social Work Application Gregor had become known to social work services initially through poor school attendance and later through offending behaviour.
Although other approaches Continued Miller Although this approach is primarily about an individual and whether internal conflict exists, we must hold to the notion that internal conflict is usually a result of an individual adapting to an environment that does not fully meet their needs. The drive to reach our potential is strong and, as with Gregor, the motivation to meet unmet needs may eventually become apparent though the drive for self-actualisation.
We can seek to recognise where self-actualisation might be motivating an individual into activities that are not socially acceptable in the same way as we can learn to recognise when this drive is being blocked. As a fundamental principle of communicating with others, we must first learn to accept the individual nature of human development and be willing to notice that people have needs that do not always fit with social structures. This is intrinsic to social work practice.
Gail was a young woman who had struggled with feelings of hopelessness and general low mood for many years. She was a bright, intelligent young woman who had been finding it hard to make progress in her chosen career and to have her voice heard. Her participation in social activities had gradually declined, where she used to keep herself fit by regular gym attendance and had been very involved socially with other young people.
She no longer pursued intimate relationships, denying her need for this. Gail used a wheelchair since she had damaged her spine in adolescence. Gail was not congruently connecting her experiences with her feelings. Feelings of anger, frustration and sadness were pushed aside and she refused to accept these as relevant. Again, as with Gregor, Gail was not reaching her potential and this led to disharmony in her life. The social work task in applying the theoretical concepts of the person-centred approach would be to accept firstly that in Continued Miller Her feelings had not been congruently linked with her experiences.
For communication to be effective, as social workers we can recognise incongruence in the way in which people speak and act. Before moving on to use this approach in a therapeutic way, we need to develop and improve our observational skills in this respect. Thompson offers a clear outline of how we can do this in his chapters on verbal and non-verbal communication. Self-concept begins during infancy as we begin to have experiences that are given meaning — whether we are fed and comforted, for example.
We could compare this with attachment theory see Chapter 4. We take experiences, attribute meaning to them through our feelings and use this as feedback to form a picture of how we see ourselves and the value that we have to others Rogers, The self-structure develops over time and is separate from actual experience, or receiving information about the world through the five senses; experience in itself and without the application of meaning, is thus neutral.
Implicit is the self-concept as part of the self-structure. She focuses on experience and the development of the self-structure rather than innate Miller However, implicit in the self-structure is the idea that tendencies develop as part of the organisation of the self-structure through a life-long evolutionary process. The self-structure is thus an individually unique organisation that allows the self to function and perceive the world. Sometimes awareness of the impact of experience is not directly available to us if we have had to adapt it to survive or function adequately in a difficult environment.
This could range from subtly difficult, i. Levels of awareness can improve gradually as we re-experience events through discussion and recall, i. For example, feelings of fear generated by repeated physical abuse from a parent could lead a child to be extremely anxious and unable to tolerate the presence of that parent if their feelings were being actively acknowledged at the time. Most often a child is aware of his or her dependency on the parent to provide basic care needs so this fear would be counter-productive.
Functional to day-to-day living is either denial or distortion of feelings of fear, where the child could make sense of the experience through self-blame, freeing the parent to continue to offer some form of care. The child then re-attributes blame to themselves.
At the time of the abusive experiences, this creates a wariness of other adults that serves to protect that child from further harm. However, once the child grows and leaves the household, and providing he or she then lives in a safe situation, denial or distortion of that fear is no longer a necessary function of day-to-day living. Therefore, where rigidity in the self-structure in childhood, for functional reasons, was useful, it can hinder emotional growth and development in later life. Therapeutic work, however, can lead to the opportunity for a loosening of that structure.
It can thus provide a window for denied feelings to be reconnected with previous experience and so loosen the level of emotional rigidity. Implicit is that a child with a functional, rigidly held self-structure will not be able to loosen their self-structure in a therapeutic setting if the experiences and the environment in which difficult experiences occurred have not changed.
This would apply similarly to an adult in an environment that generates negative feelings, such as domestic violence. Unless that person is actively seeking change and help and is therefore already experiencing a loosening of their self-structure, the imposition of therapeutic intervention will not necessarily facilitate a change in thinking or beliefs. Seeking objective truth that is separate from meaning ascribed to experience by individuals is not the concern of the person-centred approach Rogers, Again obvious limitations are striking for social workers, such as our commitment to counter racism and other forms of oppression.
These are recognised in the social work field as structural problems that have an impact on every individual. Reducing structural racism and other forms of oppression to an individual experience denies wider societal beliefs of superiority for those in privileged positions, including white, able-bodied, heterosexual people and people in economically secure positions. While we might accept that each individual will have a unique experience of prejudice and discrimination, we cannot deny that more universal experiences of oppression do not exist.
He could see no clear opportunities that he desired for either self-development within his local community or for achieving the levels of status and excitement he found when involved in car theft. Car theft did seem repetitive at times and his need for developing more skills on a broader level was stagnating. He was aware of the danger to himself and others and fully aware of the illegal nature of his activities. He believed only those like him would respect him and the influence of his peer group remained very strong. He saw the world as a hostile and unforgiving place where each person must fight for his or her own survival by aggressive means.
Gregor had little awareness of any of his talents or positive attributes other than through car theft.
Both his self-concept and his self-structure being inclusive of this and of the world in general were shaped around these strong beliefs. Social Work Application From a person-centred position, a social worker would be seeking to assist Gregor to connect his feelings with his experiences in a non-directive way. This does pose problems in that the legal system, such as the requirements of the Continued Miller He had not received an education that offered him hope of a future where he could channel his skills and improve them. He felt marginalised from society due to his social status, living in a deprived area with few amenities outside of education.
His mother was in receipt of benefits and did not have the available resources to allow Gregor to travel to become involved in activities. His environment had not offered Gregor opportunities for gratification through skill development, which had become a need and a tendency as part of his self-structure. There are times in social work practice when a less directive stance through an approach such as this is more helpful. Gregor would have the opportunity to make sense of his frustrations by reflecting back on missed education and the feelings that had generated for him.
Being 16 and no longer required to attend school, he had a changed environment which could allow a loosening of his self-structure enough to reconnect feelings and experiences. Adult education, which tends to be broader in vocational terms, was more of an option and so the limited opportunities of childhood could change in adulthood.
Most importantly, though, Gregor was starting to feel limited by the constant repetition of scenarios through car theft and was therefore experiencing a greater degree of inner conflict. Through a non-directive person-centred approach, Gregor could re-evaluate elements of his self-concept and self-structure that were both negative and limiting his personal progress.
The communication skills required for effective non-directive listening are outlined below in the section on application of the person-centred approach. However, key skills exist at this stage for recognition of where inner conflict might exist and where timing as to when to use this approach is crucial. Gail had always been a determined individual whose self-structure included a self-deterministic view of the world. She would focus her time and attention to achieve whatever she set her mind to.
She had not encountered social barriers to achievement and success until the accident occurred. She saw herself as a strong independent individual who had no need to rely on anyone.
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Following the spinal injury, she continued to view herself in the same way to the point that she refused any practical help and developed coping skills through the use of her arms to manage day-to-day life. She also refused to acknowledge the accident had an emotional impact. Only as time passed and Continued Miller Her self-structure of beliefs that she could achieve anything she set her mind to had been seriously challenged.
Most of all, she noticed that often people would ignore her in the wheelchair and speak about her to a companion standing next to her. Rather than accept feelings of anger that were evoked, she denied them. Eventually her mood became so low that she left her job, started to neglect her personal care and was referred by the family general practitioner GP for help. A social worker taking a non-directive approach to listening provided her with the opportunity to reconnect her denied feelings with her experiences.
This had become possible as she had a changed social environment and the denial was no longer functional to her needing to tolerate working. Positive Regard from Others Self-concept is influenced by our sense of worth, learned and developed from feedback from others over time Rogers, Elements of this fit closely with cognitive behavioural theory as outlined in Chapter 3. Positive regard from others is an important concept that can motivate action. It thus intertwines with self-concept to influence behaviour.
Rogers suggests that we are motivated by the need for positive regard. Feelings can easily be denied or distorted as we attempt to meet this need, leading to behaviours to continue that do not necessarily fit with the experience of the true self. This might include being very quiet when angry for fear of being rejected, or distorting feelings of anger after being highly criticised into inadequacy and self-blame.
When we repeat behaviours for acceptance from others to continue feelings of worth, we can find ourselves acting incongruently with our tendencies intrinsic to our true selves. Self-actualisation becomes blocked if we continue to recreate conditions that result in specific forms of positive regard from others. For example, compliant behaviour in school could be motivated by fear of recriminations if a teacher became angry. Further, spontaneity and creativity could become blocked and development might be hindered. Likewise, a young person repeatedly involved in offending behaviour could be strongly influenced and motivated by the need for peer acceptance, following negative or conditional regard from family.
The positive regard from the peer group has the more powerful voice to the individual and positive regard from them is sought after more than that of the family. Continuation of this form of offending behaviour, even when the peer group has changed, fits with denial of other positive aspects of the self. This denial minimises any conflict between perception and experience, i.
Denial also allows previous patterns of need-fulfilment to continue. Receiving positive regard from others, be it real or perceived, is the central motivating factor for behaviour that is linked to the self-concept McMillan, Further, the level of congruence between feelings attached to behaviour and selfregulatory reflection and action, will determine the level of individual harmony and satisfaction in life. For example, a young person who chooses to join a specific club, e. He or she might experience a level of social isolation within their own community but this does not motivate behaviour that would generate positive regard from the local group.
We could refer to attachment theory here see Chapter 4 , which would suggest, in humanistic terms, that the young person receives adequate positive regard, or a secure enough base, from his or her social experience to resist the need to seek it in other areas of life. In most instances, acting in harmony with our tendencies is viewed as positive, i. There are some types of behaviour, however, Miller Self-actualising therefore requires limits based on restricting that which might harm others. Gregor received status and admiration from his peer group for his daring feats and for his charismatic leadership.
This positive regard was completely conditional, however, upon certain forms of behaviour, and thus his continued involvement in car crime maintained his position and leadership within the group. Gregor received little positive regard at home. His older brother was mainly dismissive of him and his younger brother, the only one without any history of behavioural problems, feared him.
Gregor valued the acceptance and admiration of his peers above all others and denied any need to be accepted within his family. Thus his motivation to continue with offending remained high. This was too high a goal for Gregor to achieve at that point to attain her approval of him as a worthwhile individual. He stopped trying. Ajay recognised that Gregor had not received any form of acceptance as a person in his own right, regardless of the behaviours he presented.
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Ajay, through drawing on a person-centred approach, demonstrated that he accepted Gregor as an individual and that his behaviours did not lead to him to be either critical or rejecting of him. Social Work Application In social work, our interest in positive unconditional regard is twofold: we can model this form of acceptance in the work we do within the remit of communication skills; and we can recognise where those with whom we work have received positive regard where it has only been conditional. Her parents had high expectations of her — she would go to university, have a successful career, achieve financial independence.
The times when Gail was struggling with her focus and had wanted to receive comfort and nurturing were met with dismissal of her feelings. Gail shaped her self-structure around this feedback and found herself shaping her behaviour around ways in which she would receive positive regard.
This was functional until she lost the use of her legs. Some of the barriers that she faced included people using patronising language and tone when speaking to her; and ignoring her and treating her as if she could no longer think in the same ways as she did previously her job being one that involved a lot of thinking. One of the greatest impacts of her disability was the loss of positive regard that had motivated her for so long. Both Gregor and Gail had one experience in common. They had both experienced conditional positive regard from parents and peers. Understanding the theoretical component to this is an element of the person-centred approach that is most useful, even when the approach is not being incorporated into practice in full.
How to use language and feedback to place ourselves in an unconditionally accepting position is offered below. However, if we can find ourselves integrating this principle into our thinking with people, then immediately we can free up an avenue of acceptance that might allow people to share with us their own thoughts, feelings and opinions. This only gives the message of rejection. This is different from stating the legal position or the stance in which our role places us, which might not be condoning of the behaviour.
To help service users resolve inner conflict by congruently matching feelings with experience, we need a level of congruence of our own. Practice becomes dangerous and potentially harmful to vulnerable people when we loosely apply concepts to situations without an understanding of their meaning and of our impact on the process as individual practitioners.
The Working Alliance In practice, the person-centred approach relies on a working alliance between service user and worker Rogers, This is largely the crux of the approach in practice. The medium for facilitating change is engagement with people; this is also crucial in a person-centred approach, and is termed the working alliance. This is not a passive stance taken by practitioners, but a highly active one that requires ongoing thought and attention to our own position, emotional reactions and behaviour.
Too often we are caught up in the belief that engagement is an area that requires brief attention at the beginning of contact with someone, and then, once formed, it remains sufficient for some form of intervention to occur. Thinking of the engagement process in terms of forming a working alliance allows us to think beyond our first contact and embark on a process of constantly reviewing our own position within the working relationship.
First Steps to Engagement Tolan suggests that all relationships have a set of rules that govern how relationships progress. The working relationship is no different: it has a power imbalance, the social worker having a knowledge base upon which problems are understood and intervention often, although not always, being of a statutory nature. With this in mind, a service user is reliant on the worker to set boundaries around what is and is not acceptable behaviour within the working relationship, such as how much a worker discloses about him- or herself, the context in which the worker and service user plan to meet, i.
Other rules which need to be thought about prior to meeting with an individual are frequency of contact, worker capacity to be available and reliable, and the purpose of contact. All too often someone experiencing a problem is allocated to us and we make contact, without giving prior thought to these matters. We find ourselves in a turbulent ocean of problems, desperately trying to find direction. This is neither time-efficient, confidence-inspiring nor helpful to a vulnerable person in distress.
The primary concern before meeting an individual or a family is then to be extremely clear about our Miller A contract between service user and worker provides a foundation for agreement from which both parties can make explicit such matters as boundaries to the relationship, and practical arrangements such as frequency of contact, how to manage cancellations and the opportunities and limitations of the service.
This is requisite, using a person-centred approach, during the initial meeting but does not need to be within the first few minutes. Judgement is required in timing to allow a service user to feel at ease as much as possible and to be acknowledged as an important person in the process. Thus beginnings are not purely about meeting people and gathering information. They have an essential role in building elements of safety and some certainty about what will happen and why for service users.
Ajay was introduced to Gregor after his previous worker had left. Ajay decided to use a person-centred approach in communicating with him and spent several individual sessions trying to form the basis of a working alliance that was borne out of clear boundaries, listening intently to what Gregor did and did not say, being clear with him around the social work role and legal framework, and exploring of the limits of confidentiality. Social Work Application The focus of the first sessions with Gregor was to form a working relationship with him.
As many attempts to bring about changes in his behaviour had failed over the years, Ajay did find himself under pressure from his department and from the legal system to bring about change quickly. We might question how we know whether we have formed an adequate engagement with a service user. As individuals are unique, there are no uniform responses that allow this judgement to be made. However, spending time with service users to explore their understanding of our involvement with them, their feelings about it and what motivates them to meet with us is a starting point.
Exploring these matters might take several meetings. Taking time here is effective as it begins to build elements of trust and of mutual understanding that can make the difference between effective and non-effective intervention. Congruent Practice If one of the aims of using a person-centred approach is to help people to reduce inner conflict that causes emotional problems affecting behaviour, then congruent practice is a means to assist people to this end Rogers, If a person has spent many years believing in a distorted self-concept of their strengths and abilities, to begin to match feelings and experience involves learning a new skill.
A person can learn to recognise their own feelings linked to both past experiences and present experiences as they are felt in the present. Caution is required here for congruent practice to be both timely and useful for a vulnerable person. Indiscriminately offering our own feelings could easily be perceived by a vulnerable person as judgemental, patronising or rejecting. To model linking feelings to experiences requires a high level of skill and practice and an equally high level of self-awareness of what we are feeling, to what it appears to be linked and the possible impact of sharing our feelings with a service user.
Reflexivity in action requires all of these elements to be processed by us as practitioners while discussion takes place so that a measured response can be given. We need to be continually monitoring our own responses to events that occur within the service user—worker relationship and then use our judgement to assist us to know when sharing our own thoughts and feelings would be helpful to a service user and when it would not.
It is always possible that we might catch ourselves having thoughts or feelings that are not based on values that are in keeping with social work. Any such judgemental or prejudicial feelings should not be denied or distorted by us, leading to incongruence in our own feelings and experience.
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We need to accept their occurrence and challenge the basis of our prejudice during our own time for reflection. Supervision should be a forum in which these matters can be freely discussed and resolved. During the conversation and as these responses occur, these need to privately become symbolised in our awareness, acknowledged by us and then filtered through our own Miller We can then choose not to share any judgemental responses that are likely to be unhelpful. As a general rule, if we are not sure whether to share our feelings, then to err on the side of caution is likely to be least detrimental.
Self-awareness is the first and foremost step to the way in which the personcentred approach uses the self as practitioner. It therefore follows that as social workers we need to have a highly developed level of self-awareness to help us to use elements of this model successfully and become congruent practitioners. It might be that many of us require an opportunity to reflect upon our own life experiences in a therapeutic environment before we are ready for this.
After several meetings with her social worker, Gail started to describe her low mood and the impact this had on her motivation to find another job and to socialise.
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She explained in detail how people had started to treat her differently after the accident and how she no longer saw herself as an important person. During the meeting, her social worker, Barbara, found herself feeling angry that an intelligent woman such as Gail should find herself so marginalised. Barbara reasoned that Gail possibly could be angry, contributing to her low mood, but was denying that feeling and blaming herself as inadequate instead. In an attempt to assist Gail to connect her experiences with her own feelings, Barbara decided to share her feelings of anger with Gail about this social injustice.
Had she shown high affect, either by raising her voice or using hand gestures to express her feelings, this could have been interpreted by Gail as either aggressive or as imposing her views. Making reasoned and well-timed statements in this way simply models to others that feelings can be connected with feelings and then verbalised. Social Work Application There are many situations that as social workers we find ourselves in, evoking emotional reactions within us. Often we are meeting the most vulnerable Continued Miller Emotional reactions to difficult events are not wrong.
We too are human organisms, and hearing about trauma and where people have been abused and excluded from mainstream society is extremely emotive. Our awareness of our feelings is fundamental to our work, whether using this model or others outlined in later chapters. Time spent in supervision or with trusted peers to share our emotional responses to the encounters we face can allow our experience of social work practice to be symbolised into awareness.
Taking time to do this goes some way to prepare us for working with service users and to guard against untimely and reactive emotional responses that are more about our own needs than those of service users. In busy environments, time for reflective supervision is an oft-neglected task. However, to use a person-centred approach effectively, it is arguably the most important element of the work, without which we are likely to revert to the demands of our own actualisation drive for precedence. Empathy To be an empathic practitioner we must learn to see the world as another person sees it. It is more than the spoken word, but that which is communicated alongside non-verbal communication such as body language, tone of voice, facial expression and overall demeanour.
Non-verbal communication skills are explored in greater depth in Thompson There are several important stages to becoming an empathic practitioner Tolan, We need to learn to be able to summarise statements made to us and reflect them Miller Added to this is the skill of listening for feelings, which are rarely explicitly given. Effectively it is a hybrid between an informed guess and a question that is then communicated back to the service user. We need to resist giving in to any desire to interrupt by giving advice or offering a solution. Doing so takes us back to our own frame of reference and not that of the service user.
This includes thoughts, feelings or beliefs that have not been voiced. The service user takes the lead in the direction of the conversation. We must be open to the service user correcting our reflections of that which has been perceived. We might have our own objectives for a meeting with a service user, which are dictated by either statutory concerns or policy objectives.
In such a situation, our role requires that we use some structure to discussions in order to meet our statutory objectives. However, we can incorporate empathic listening into a non-directive part of a discussion. This can assist a service user to feel heard in what is often an extremely powerless position for them. We do not become empathic practitioners by reading about a concept and testing it only.
It is a highly developed skill that becomes fine-tuned as we use it and then evaluate our progress through honest critique. We require also a willingness to examine the quality of our feedback as a valuable source of learning. Gregor and Ajay were meeting on a regular basis. Gregor had made a level of engagement with Ajay, in that he continued to attend sessions, although he would share very little. Ajay had been tempted to revert to using a different approach from Continued Miller Ajay was reticent to try approaches that had already had limited success.
Gregor had clearly expressed he did not want a career within the adult criminal justice system but could not explain why he carried on with car theft. Ajay listened intently, tuning in to two major indicators of where Gregor had not been meeting his potential. He explored with Gregor what it was about school that he hated, using open questions, pausing to allow him to reflect and tolerating what often felt to Ajay long and painful silences. Over the weeks, Gregor started to connect his long-standing anger and frustration with school. He had denied these feelings, believing instead that he had no talents and that his intelligence was very low in learning.
The only exception was with his peers when stealing cars. Gradually, Gregor began to remember times when he did do something well, small incidents that dated back to primary school. As he recognised that he had other strengths, he started to show some interest in developing himself in ways other than offending behaviour. Other workers had often been very positive and given him lots of praise.
Social Work Application We are often charged with the task of offering a timely service and of bringing about change quickly. If these expectations are not explicitly given by our agencies, then caseload matters often lead us to impose this upon ourselves. We can miss a vital opportunity that using this approach offers if we rush in to a situation and impose our own timescales and our own agenda for change. In all circumstances we are meeting with people who have feelings and vulnerabilities. For social workers, the art of the profession is being able to hold on to this notion, while making clear our remit and reason for involvement.
However, we could argue that attempting empathic listening is possible within any social work situation. Unconditional Positive Regard Learning to have unconditional positive regard for the people with whom we work is also a skill that we need to consistently develop Rogers, , This necessary condition in a person-centred approach requires that practitioners accept a person and their feelings in the present without conditions imposed. Implicit is that we need to accept that people have their own reasons for their behaviour, albeit not always consciously known.
We have learned by looking at congruent practice that as practitioners we must not deny our feelings or distort them as they occur through the worker—service user relationship. We need to be able to catch ourselves having thoughts and feelings that are generated through therapeutic conversations and moderate whether we share them or not. Any judgemental thoughts, which are born out of prejudiced opinions held within our own self-structure, need to be noticed as they occur. They can then be metaphorically put aside so that they do not directly impact upon feelings of acceptance for the service user in the therapeutic encounter.
This use of labels, globally ascribed, blocks us from being able to hear and acknowledge the minutiae of Miller To clarify a commonly held myth, unconditional positive regard does not mean we should be seeking opportunities to offer praise to a service user. From a person-centred perspective, this moves us into responding from our own frame of reference rather than from that of the service user.
If we are seeking to assist the service user to connect with his or her feelings regarding experience we need to be cautious not to impose our own. The self-structure can then loosen enough to allow their own feelings regarding an experience to move into symbolic awareness — not ours. In time a person can develop confidence in their own feelings and perceptions of experience. If we can consistently use moderated, congruent practice alongside empathy we are taking steps towards accepting a person with unconditional positive regard.
Instead we can create an environment in which a person can become more aware of their own thoughts, and in which a practitioner will accept them with these thoughts unconditionally. Rather than try to console the person with some form of praise, which inadvertently undermines the person-centred therapeutic process, we refrain and listen to the whole context of what is being communicated. This validates them as worthwhile individuals in the process. We must offer a consistent emotional environment of genuine warmth and acceptance for our acceptance to be congruent.
In busy work environments we often thrust ourselves into meeting people with little if any preparation, either on a practical level or an emotional one. Without some form of mental and emotional preparation, we are more likely to make reactive responses rather than moderated ones through a reflexive process. Reactive responses can often be prejudiced or judgemental, as they arrive directly from our own self-structure. We therefore need to allow time for preparation if we are going to make full use of this approach.
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We need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the therapeutic encounter. Boundaries to unconditional positive regard exist, for example where a service user is physically or verbally aggressive to a practitioner. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe. With statutory responsibilities, we can expand this boundary to include forms of behaviours that are harmful to others and which the legal system defines as prohibited in our society: for example, child abuse and other offending behaviours.
He believed that his highly dangerous behaviour put both himself and members of his community at risk. He found a way to give unconditional positive regard that was sustainable throughout their contact. Social Work Application Engagement with service users requires us to show some level of positive regard, otherwise a working relationship could not be formed.
There are very clear restrictions for social workers being able to offer unconditional positive regard when directed at accepting behaviours. In a social work context, to usefully incorporate a person-centred approach into our practice, either as a form of communication with service users or as a mode of intervention, we need to be absolutely clear about the nature of our role and task.
If we have a clear mental framework of what we can accept in a non-judgemental manner and what we cannot, through therapeutic discussions, we are more likely to achieve a workable balance between congruence, empathy, unconditional positive regard and directive engagement. We can accept the person unconditionally, however, if we are unable to accept the behaviours of a person. This would mean separating out behaviour from the core self, accepting that the motivations people have for their behaviour are, in this model, born out of the self-concept and the self-structure.
We can accept that as a human being in his or her own right, a service user will have feelings linked to experience that impact on the day-to-day functioning of life. For example, we might cut short a session where a service user becomes verbally abusive to us, but allow them the dignity of choosing not to behave in such a manner before we do.
It is okay for you to be angry but it is not okay for you to swear at me. We can carry on if you choose to stop swearing at me or we can finish now and meet again at our regular time next week. Which would you like to do? Within the boundaries set as above, we can continue to show unconditional positive regard only if we genuinely feel it. If we do not, then our verbal and non-verbal responses will be perceived by the service user as insincere and engagement will be sabotaged.
In this respect, if we as Continued Miller Endings The person-centred approach requires that ending involvement is given significant emphasis if the work undertaken is to be consolidated Tolan, Abrupt endings, in which the service user has no part in decision-making, leave room for the event to be interpreted as a rejection or abandonment.
Continuing to offer unconditional positive regard requires involving the service user in a process of working towards an ending in a planned, staged manner.
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He had mentioned to Gregor at their first meeting that their contact would be time-limited, and revisited this from time to time. He and Gregor negotiated when to start reducing the frequency of sessions until the final meeting. Often service users disengage from services, workers move on to other posts and workloads can often result in harsh decisions regarding who can receive a service. However, as far as is possible, endings should be planned and allow service users to retain some degree of control.
This is not to advocate that endings should be postponed to avoid the often painful emotions felt during goodbyes. This only dilutes the focus of the work and increases the risk of service user dependency on the service. Trevithick discusses this further in a social work context. Limitations of the Person-centred Approach As outlined above, the person-centred approach does have limitations for social workers. If we are clear about our role and remit, it is possible to include elements of this approach within our work. However, we need to be assured that if we are embarking on using a person-centred approach as a form of intervention, then our role and responsibilities do not interfere with the non-directive flow of the work.
As with other models for using counselling skills later in this book, we need to be selective about what we do and how we do it. Oppression and the forms it might take are only implicitly threaded through this approach. To take a feminist stance in the work that we do requires a more directive approach than the person-centred model would advocate. We would be challenging gender oppression and raising awareness as an integral part of our practice. This does not easily fit with this approach, which suggests that people need to come to their own conclusions about the meaning of their own individual experiences.
To take an anti-racist stance as part of this approach poses similar difficulties. As there Miller This highlights the need for us to be very clear about the stance we take at the beginning of any meeting with a service user. An overview of some of the most relevant aspects is included within this chapter. A clear theoretical understanding coupled with clear reasoning for using some or all of the concepts within a person-centred approach can allow effective incorporation of the model into our use of counselling skills in social work practice, if at times in a selective manner.
However, the directive stance often required for social work practitioners can conflict with a person-centred counselling model. At its best, we can incorporate key elements of this model to engage with individuals, families and groups to assist them through change. However, later chapters draw upon the person-centred approach as a useful model for themes of problems, including race, bereavement, abuse, disability and health-related problems.
For this reason, the approach has been included as integral to this book. However, the model can only be successfully incorporated into practice with an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings to the approach.
Related Counselling Skills in Social Work Practice (Counselling Skills S.)
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