Relationship based thinking and practice in social work

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relationship based thinking and practice in social work

Social work is fundamentally a relationship-based profession. Based Practice Unpacking the Lived Experience of Social Work Practice & Theory What the best in evidence-based thinking and relationship inspired theory. Attachment theory, child maltreatment and family support: A practice and assessment model. D Howe Relationship-based thinking and practice in social work. Relationship-based Practice, is for all those who would like their social work to be the best in evidence-based thinking and relationship-inspired theory.

Care ethics are proposed by Meagher and Parton as offering an alternative to dominant managerial modes of practice in social work.

relationship based thinking and practice in social work

Relationship-based practice and policy Increasingly, RBP can be found to resonate with the direction of Scottish public policy set out in the report of the Christie Commission Scottish Government, For example, policies such as Getting it right for every child GIRFEC emphasise the need to hear the voice of children and families in a spirit of openness and trust.

However, it is not just in children and families policy that the Christie principles resonate. They are also apparent inter alia in the Carers Strategy, the National Clinical Strategy and Community Justice and Mental Health initiatives, to the extent that they are now spoken of as reflecting a particular Scottish approach to public services.

RBP thus, potentially, becomes a cornerstone of social policy, percolating, not just individual relationships but the ways in which workers across different professional disciplines and wider communities interact and relate with one another. Features of relationship-based practice RBP draws on psychodynamic ideas, most closely associated with Sigmund Freud and developed by others. These explain human personality and functioning in terms of conscious and unconscious desires and beliefs, feelings and emotions, based on life experiences, including early childhood.

While RBP does not require a sophisticated understanding of the psychology behind this, effective social work requires that a worker tune into the emotional world of a client and be able to communicate this understanding within the relationship. It also moves the concept of relationship beyond the individual to incorporate an awareness of contextual factors such as power, professional role, poverty, social exclusion and political ideology.

A sense of purpose To stress the centrality of human relationships in social work is not to say that these are, in themselves, sufficient to ensure good practice. Relationships are not intrinsically good or bad — they can be either. They exist in a mandated context and are formed for a particular purpose Ingram, — towards a client achieving positive change.

But this is a challenge, partly because relationships are complicated and subject to a range of psychodynamic processes, which require that social workers understand and use themselves, centrally, within their work.

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Beckett and Horner tell us that change comes about through relationships. Even in situations where programmed interventions are employed, their impact is secondary to the social worker—client relationship Nicholson and Artze, Qualities of hope and expectancy that change will occur are also implicated in successful outcomes.

What clients want The literature gives clear messages of what clients value. Their conception of friendship identifies qualities of reciprocity of sharing aspects of oneself; of flexibility going the extra mile, perhaps through offering small gifts or maintaining contact out of hoursbut also straight talking.

relationship based thinking and practice in social work

Kleipoedszus suggests that relationships can be forged through conflict; genuine engagement and negotiation rather than artificial sensitivity make it possible for workers to encourage and nurture change rather than demanding it. Smith and colleagues identify the centrality of effective relationships even in work with involuntary clients.

In all of this, everyday acts of care and recognition are more important than formal standards and procedural requirements.

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Professionalism and relationships A renewed emphasis on relationships challenges many of the assumptions that have built up over what it is to be a professional. Professionalism is often associated with certainty, expertise and theoretical knowledge Brodie and colleagues, Noddingshowever, distinguishes between professionalism and professionalisation. She suggests that the latter is the result of a codified and rule-bound conception of professionalism that derives from a quest for status.

There is, however, little connection between such rule-bound professionalisation and positive outcomes. Indeed, it can create a distance between social workers and clients, that a more relational form of professionalism might work to reduce. Murphy and colleagueson the other hand, suggest that the professional role significantly compromises the ability to form genuine relationships.

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Part of the difficulty in reconciling different understandings of professionalism is the tendency in the UK to conceive of separate personal and professional selves. Practice traditions such as social pedagogy introduce a third element, the private. This poses challenges for workers and for organisations that operate to a narrow understanding of what constitutes acceptable personal and professional boundaries Maidment, It is important to distinguish between boundaries, which are dynamic and can be deployed flexibly, and barriers, which are static and prioritise consistent application.

In practice, individual practitioners act in ways that might be thought to be subversive of practice norms Alexander and Charles, Coadyfor instance, offers examples of the kind of flexibility required in negotiating everyday care practices.

relationship based thinking and practice in social work

One of the difficulties that can arise in increasingly managerial and regulated practice cultures, however, is a tendency to minimise the complexity of such boundary work and to operate fixed understandings of the lines between professional, personal and private domains.

This leaves workers vulnerable to disciplinary action should they cross externally determined boundaries McLaughlin, This is not fixed and, as we enter relationships, we draw upon what we feel is required to engage with others within a given context.

In social work, this is made more complex by the addition of professional values, roles and expectations. Hennessey argues that this balancing act should be explicit and not shied away from; rather, it should be harnessed and used to bring about change. Barnes and colleagues go further and underline the interdependence between social workers and service users, where both parties bring their own experiences and contexts to the encounter, laying the foundations for a trusting and dynamic relationship.

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This requires a social worker to be able to develop a relationship that has a level of trust and which facilitates the sharing of emotions. This may require a degree of emotional exposure in order to truly understand the feelings of another and be able to express this in a genuine and attuned manner.

Transference and counter-transference A psychodynamic perspective can help social workers consider the impact of unconscious previous experiences within relationship building.

The concept of transference reminds us that individuals can unconsciously transfer past feelings into the present.

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Ruch illustrates this with an example of previous negative experiences of parenting being transferred by some service users into the relationship with their social worker. This dynamic can often be difficult to understand and manage and social workers can, in turn, find themselves reacting unconsciously, in a process known as counter-transference. Equally, social workers need to be mindful of their own unconscious transference and how that may impact on dynamics within relationships they form.

Such dynamics can be powerful and frightening, but can also be hugely helpful for social workers in understanding the inner worlds of service users and themselves. In turn this can lead to more positive relationship building Agass, Emotional intelligence Ingram highlights the role of emotional intelligence as a trait and skill that can help social workers manage the emotional complexities of practice. Emotional intelligence can be briefly defined as the ability of an individual to: Such capacities are crucial for RBP, as they underline the existence and importance of emotions as a stream of information within social work relationships and practice Munro, Reflection and reflexivity Reflection has a long and important role in social work education and practice Knott and Scragg, Here, she answers some questions about her new book, Relationship-Based Social Work: A number of different theoretical positions can contribute to an understanding of relationship-based practice.

relationship based thinking and practice in social work

Social work is never a neutral activity but can, at its best, offer a vulnerable or distressed person the experience of being valued, supported and understood — perhaps for the first time.

What are the biggest structural and personal barriers to placing the relationship at the heart of practice?

relationship based thinking and practice in social work

The biggest structural barriers are probably time, targets, and systems and structures that appear to prioritise procedure over direct work with vulnerable or distressed people. We are not suggesting that formal procedures and frameworks for practice should be abandoned but many commentators, researchers and practitioners feel that the pendulum has swung too far and that systems that should be supporting practice are, rather, constraining it.

Most practitioners probably went in to social work because they were interested in people rather than paperwork so, while good records are clearly necessary for practice, an over-emphasis on this aspect of work can leave them feeling frustrated and de-skilled.

Pressure to meet targets, particularly in relation to assessment, similarly contributes to a situation where completion of forms can become almost an end in itself, and it can feel like the person for whom the assessment was initiated has become increasingly peripheral.

In terms of personal barriers, I suspect that the less time practitioners spend in direct work with service users, the less confident they then feel about their ability to do this work. So a kind of vicious circle can be set up where it is easier and less stressful to concentrate on completing forms and managing systems than it is to keep on trying to make the space and develop the skills for focused relationship-based work, and those skills in turn become increasingly hard to hang on to.