Teaching Social Workers Empathy

“Teaching Social Workers Empathy” Jamie Raabe Northern Kentucky University Holly Riffe- 594 Aim/ Purpose “Our society is externally oriented; we do not normally or easily see things from another person’s point of view. We are too preoccupied with our own frame of reference. ” (Patterson, 1985 pg. 53) Being empathetic should be a cherished characteristic of a person. In the profession of social work, empathy is a skill that can assist the worker understanding client’s situation.

Atticus Finch, a character in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, tried to explain empathy to his daughter- “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. ” (Lee, 1960 pg. 30) Teaching empathy to social workers may be an easy task, but social workers face many obstacles that work against them in their career. Burnout is a major issue facing social workers. Social workers who have burned out, get tired of situation, and heartache of clients they see day in and day out.

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DESIGN “Good communication is at the heart of best practice in social work. ” (Forrester 2008 pg. 42) Empathy is a form of communication whereas the listener becomes the person experiencing an emotion. To Be Empathetic: “Empathy involves at least three aspects or stages. Assuming that the client is willing to allow the counselor to enter his or her private world and attempts to communicate perceptions and feelings to the counselor, the counselor must be receptive to the communication. Second, counselors must understand the communication of the client.

To do this they must be able to put themselves in the place of the client, to take the role of the client. Third, the counselor must be able to communicate his or her understanding to the client. ” (Patterson 1985 pg. 53) 1. “Social workers, therefore, must engage with service users as individuals, in order to understand their problems and needs. ” In particular, social workers should also demonstrate active listening (nodding, smiling, positive remarks etc. ). (Forrester, 2008 pg. 42) a.

Motivational Interviewing= “an empirically supported, client- centered, directive counseling approach designed to promote client motivation and reduce motivational conflicts and barriers to change… focuses on issues such as: clients’ sense of the importance potential changes, their confidence that change can be successful, and their readiness to make changes. ” ( Wagner, 2004 pg. 152) By practicing this type of interviewing, a client will feel the counselor/ social worker is more empathetic to his or her needs. 2.

To understand communication of the client, it is important to utilize open- ended questions in the initial interview. Trevithick (2000) suggests that ‘open-ended questions should form a major part of an initial interview or encounter’. The initial interview is of great importance, using open- ended questions let clients speak and elaborate on their needs. 3. Reflecting is an important part interviewing, and communicating with clients. “A reflection is a hypothesis about what the client means or feels expressed as a statement.

They are central to the expression of accurate empathy; they encourage deeper exploration of emotional content; and they allow the worker or counselor sensitively to manage the interview. It has also been suggested that reflections are important in reducing resistance and increasing engagement in interviews. Miller and Rollnick summarize counseling research that suggested that reflections should outnumber questions by a proportion of three to 1” (Forrester, 2008 pg. 44) Evaluation Plan 1.

Pre- test: Social workers interview clients, before empathy education. 2. Social worker/ counselors are educated on empathetic techniques (motivational interviewing, active listening, open- ended questions vs. closed- ended questioning, and reflecting). 3. Post- test: Clients are to be interviewed and then rated using Carkhuff’s five levels of empathy. a. Level 1= Obstructing= “the social worker communicates little or no awareness or understanding of even the most conspicuous of the client’s feelings; responses are irrelevant.

Operating from a personal frame of reference, the social worker changes the subject, argues, gives advice prematurely etc. ” (Hepworth 2010, pg. 95-96) b. Level 2= Not listening= “the social worker responds to the surface message of the client but erroneously omits feeling or factual aspects of the messages. (Inaccurately interpret feelings, or inappropriately qualify feelings)” (Hepworth 2010 pg. 97) c. Level 3= Minimal Listening= “The social worker’s verbal and nonverbal responses convey understanding and are essentially interchangeable with the client’s obvious expressions”. Hepworth 2010 pg. 97) d. Level 4= Empathetic Listening= “Responses are somewhat additive, accurately identifying the client’s implicit underlying feelings and/ or aspects of the problem… enables the clients to get in touch with somewhat deeper feelings. ” (Hepworth 2010 pg. 98) e. Level 5= Fully Empathic and Skilled Listening= “Reflecting each emotional nuance, and using voice and intensity of expressions finely attuned to the client’s moment- by- moment experiencing”. (Hepworth 2010 pg. 8) “There is a sense in which communication skills are often taken for granted within social work: like the air we breathe, they provide an invisible but essential context for everything that we do. ” (Forrester 2008 p. 50)

References 1. Forrester, D. , Kershaw, S. , Moss, H. , & Hughes, L. (2008). Communication skills in child protection: how do social workers talk to parents?. Child & Family Social Work, 13(1), 41-51. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. 2. Harper, L. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York. J. B Lippincott. 3. Hepworth, D. H. (2010). Direct Social Work Practice- Theory and Skills (eighth ed. . Belmont, Calif. : Brooks/ Cole. 4. Patterson, C. H. (1985). Empathetic Understanding. In The Therapeutic Relationship (pp. 52-59). Monterey, Calif. : Brooks/ Cole. 5. Richards, Sally, Rush, G. , Trevithick, P. Communication Skills Training for Practice: the Ethical Dilemma for Social Work Education. (2005). Social Work Education, 24(4), 409-422. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. 6. Wagner, Christopher, C. McMahon, B. , Motivational Interviewing and Rehabilitation Counseling Practice. (2004). Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 47(3), 152-161. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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